The Organic Farm School on Whidbey Island, Wash., is accepting applications for an eight-month training program that will begin in March for people who aspire to own or manage a small organic farm.
Students learn about organic agriculture on a 10-acre farm about 30 miles north of Seattle. The tuition is $6,500, and students put in full days in the field and in classrooms.
“What we want our potential students to know is that farming is an honorable profession and that we want to get them prepared to do it for the long term,” the farm’s executive director, Judy Feldman, said.
The school started a decade ago to train Whidbey Island residents for a community supported agriculture program. There are, however, only so many people on Whidbey Island. The school now draws students from around the country.
This year, Feldman said, there are students from Arizona, California, Iowa, Montana and Pennsylvania. They range in ages from 20 to 43. Some are getting started and some are looking to make a mid-career change.
The school takes applications into December, but caps enrollment at 12 to 15, so Feldman encouraged applicants to apply by Thanksgiving. This year’s class, which graduates in November, is a small one, six students.
Limiting enrollment keeps running the farm from being too easy, Feldman said. Students put in 8- to 10-hour days during the week. “Most farmers would say, ‘That’s easy,’ ” she said. “We want them to get at least a taste of a farmer’s workload.”
The school covers crop and livestock production, business planning and direct marketing.
Students grow vegetables, and seed and cover crops and raise poultry, sheep and pigs. They sell products through a community supported agriculture program, a farmers’ market, grocers and farm stand.
Students learn skills such as basic mechanics and carpentry, operating equipment and greenhouse propagation. The school’s production manager is Raelani Kesler and the classroom instructor is Aaron Varadi.
“Our goal is to expose students to as much as possible,” Feldman said.
For housing, students have the option of renting a shared room in the farm’s five-bedroom house. Rent is reasonable and the house is a two-minute walk from the farm, she said. Not everyone chooses to live in the house, she said.
Scholarships are available. More information and applications are available online at organicfarmschool.org.