Swallowtail Apprenticeship Program
Who We Are
The farm is situated on some of the most beautiful land in Florida, on rolling hills of fertile pasture and forest. The land entire is 30 acres, and we cultivate about 7 acres of vegetables, herbs, flowers, perennials and fruit. We also manage about 10 acres as pasture for our livestock. We tend a flock of 300 laying hens that are rotated on pasture behind our dairy cows. We have a mixed herd of Jersey & Dexter cows for milk & meat. We also have a motley pack of dogs including our two farm guard dogs/love bugs Falcor (Maremma) & Yeti (Great Pyrenees).
Swallowtail Farm is a young aspiring biodynamic farm currently in its tenth (!) season of growing. Each season, from October through June we raise food for 100-200 families in our Community Supported Agriculture program. We also work closely with Gainesville area chefs to distribute our food in local restaurants, and to collaborate for our Farm to Table dinners. Each season we host two big lovely festivals on the farm and invite the community to come experience diverse workshops, delicious food and drink, great music, art, and tour the farm. We also host many groups visiting the farm throughout the season, including two 3rd Grade classes that camp out at the farm, veterans, schoolchildren from local schools, and many others.
Our longterm goal is to cultivate the farm as a model of sustainable and appropriately-scaled agriculture and as a whole and self-sustaining organism.
Noah Shitama founded the farm in 2009 with Zach McLean and Rick & Jane Nesbit. His work includes keeping perspective with regard to the longterm aspirations of the farm, managing infrastructure improvements, design and maintenance, stewardship of the budget, field preparation and tractor work, keeping everyone motivated and inspired, and keeping everything running smoothly. Apprentices will work alongside Noah to learn tractor skills, building skills, biodynamic practices, composting, business management concepts, and systems management. He is currently working on cultivating an arts, food and cultural center in Gainesville, and will be spending part of each week furthering that endeavor.
Joelle Wood came to Swallowtail in 2014 as an apprentice interested in working with animals and quickly demonstrated herself as a fast learner, strong leader, and dedicated steward of the land and all its creatures. Now, Joelle manages the farm’s flock of laying hens and our pigs, sheep, and cows. She also manages our Farm to Table dinner series, assists with all types of field work, and helps teach our crew of apprentices each season. She is a lady of many talents and is passionate about butchery, chickens, pigs, succulents, roses, cooking, hide making, building things, old trucks, and has recently started her own homestead just down the road from Swallowtail.
Melissa Muller is the farm’s new CSA , field, wholesale, and floriculture manager. Apprentices will work closely with Melissa on a daily basis managing the seeding and planting schedule, calculating harvest goals, learning proper and efficient harvest techniques, post-harvest handling, and all the nitty-gritty details of CSA management. Apprentices will also have the opportunity to learn food preservation recipes and techniques, knowledge of herbs, and gain lovely life skills with Melissa.
Nicholas Meadors grew up in Central Florida and attended the University of Florida before moving out west to Colorado in 2010. He began his farming career in Paonia, Colorado after becoming more conscious about what he was eating and acknowledging his love for working hard outdoors. He interned at Swallowtail Farm in 2013/14 and returned to Florida to join the crew again in 2017. He is passionate about flowers, woodworking and spoon carving, knives, backpacking, saving seed, snowboarding, vinyl records, mushroom hunting, knowledge, traditional archery, attempting to play trumpet, repairing things, his 1985 Subaru, his dog Sandy, his cat Killer, and his girlfriend Margeux.
The Swallowtail Apprentice Program is designed to empower the next generation of farmers. Apprentices should be passionate about farming as a career and will learn to carry out all aspects of farm operations – soil amendment and revitalization, propagation, planting, weed management, pest management, floriculture, irrigation, the use of tractors, implements and other machinery and tools, customer relations, packing, delivery, billing, groundskeeping, maintenance, communications, & pastured livestock management.
*We are looking for (4) apprentices to start September 2, 2019 and stay through June 30, 2020.
There will be a one month trial period for both farm managers and apprentices to determine whether the fit is right for all.
Skills & Qualifications
Passionate about a career in farming
Able to lift and carry 50 lbs and work outside in adverse weather conditions
Patience, flexibility, strong communication and interpersonal skills
Current driver’s license and a solid driving record
Familiarity with power tools/carpentry a plus
Tractor familiarity a plus
Applications open until positions are filled.
Please be patient with us in responding to applications. We do our best to acknowledge receipt promptly. Phone interviews will be granted for select applicants. If proximity and or serendipity allow, we will invite applicants to the farm for a visit.
The daily work schedule is 6:45 AM-4:30 PM with these notable exceptions:
Animal chores often begin as early as 5:00am. Apprentices will rotate through animal chores.
Breakfast preparations begin at 5:30, to be shared at 6:15. Apprentices will rotate through breakfast preparation.
This may be adjusted according to seasonal workflow with slightly shorter work days in the first and last month of the season. Each week the task of preparing breakfast is rotated among the team. Everyone is expected to be finished eating and ready for the morning planning meeting promptly at 6:45AM. We will enjoy one hour for lunch. Preparing lunch is rotated among apprentices and is expected to be prepared in 1 hour. This can be challenging. Cleanup from lunch is the responsibility of the cook, but everyone will wash their own plate, utensils, mugs and cups. Cleaning expectations are posted in the barn and will be reviewed in detail.
Apprentices are expected to work 5 days per week on the farm, at least 1 Saturday market per month and all Saturday Farm to Table dinners and Fall & Spring Festivals. Apprentices can expect to work with Melissa, Noah, or Joelle about 60% of the time and expect to work independently about 40% of the time.
We host dinners 9 Farm to Table dinners, one each month throughout the season, beginning in October and ending in June. Farmers Market and CSA distributions occur on Wednesday evenings from 4-7, Fridays from 4-6, and Saturdays from 8:30-noon. Farmers Markets and CSA distributions are rotated among apprentices and staff, and apprentice responsibilities will grow during the course of the season.
Apprentices take part in our weekly chore rotation including, greenhouse management, animal care taking, preparing breakfast, preparing lunch, and maintaining cleanliness in the barn, and general tidiness of the farm as a whole. Detailed expectations for each of these chores is posted in the barn. Some chores, such as animal care taking and greenhouse management, carry through over the weekend. Apprentices are free to barter or exchange with one another to cover those chores. Morning farm chores take place outside the scheduled work day. On certain days, the farm team will put in extra hours to accomplish a time sensitive task. We will do our best to give advance notice of this whenever possible. We value both our working time and our leisure time, and will do our utmost to cultivate a high quality of life for all at the farm.
Swallowtail strives to serve as a robust educational resource to the community, and maintains an open door for volunteers at the farm Monday-Friday 8-4. Apprentices will have the opportunity to work with and direct individuals or groups of volunteers on small or large projects throughout the season.
There are occasional opportunities for additional paid work experiences on the farm, including weekend and evening educational programs and events, weddings, etc. These opportunities are encouraged but not required.
The farm is available as a venue for weddings and special events. If an event is booked, the farm staff will have the opportunity to work the event for an hourly wage.
All staff will be given Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day off.
Apprentices can take 10 days off for personal reasons and 5 days off for illness/emergency without impacting their compensation. It may be possible to trade weekend/evening work for additional personal days off as needed, but this is on a case by case basis.
Below is a monthly breakdown of the rhythms of our farm season. Please be aware that while farm work is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding, it is also inherently repetitive and laborious. Our goal is to develop smart and efficient work and living habits and to have fun while getting a lot done!
All of this work during August will be taking place before apprentices arrive!
August marks the beginning of our growing season. Although the days are still long and hot, we begin germinating our first cool weather greens and fall crops during this time. Most of these crops have a 50-70 day to harvest window, so we feel the need to “hurry up and wait” with these crops to strive for maximum diversity during our first week of CSA share distributions. This is also the time of year we begin sowing many of our long-standing crops such as onions, and some flowers.
During this time we will also begin preparing the fields for planting. This process includes mowing summer cover crops, spreading and incorporating manure and compost, raising beds, establishing, repairing and maintaining irrigation, and stale bed cultivation.
During this month there is typically little harvesting or transplanting, and no public events at the farm. This allows precious time for other projects, preparation, and maintenance of equipment and infrastructure.
We will welcome apprentices to the farm in the week(s) leading up to September 1st. The first week will be amazingly transitional, as settling in, orientation, and full-throttle work will all take place at once! Be prepared for long days of seeding, getting accustomed to our seeding schedule, and learning to prepare our seedling soil medium. By September we will have our first transplants ready to move from the greenhouse to the field! By late September, we begin to direct sow some of our first winter roots including carrots, beets, and turnips if the days have cooled down a bit. This month we begin counting down the weeks and days until our first CSA distributions begin. Long days of seeding and prepping beds will continue during this month, and we will continue to incorporate cover crops, spread manure and compost, and re-establish irrigation throughout the fields. We will also focus on developing weeding and cultivation techniques this month. There are a lot of weeds to be pulled!
Throughout the month we will also conduct basic training and orientation with apprentices. Any remaining improvements, repairs, general maintenance of equipment and infrastructure should be completed at this time, fingers crossed. Preparation for our fall festival will also begin during this time.
The workload will increase this month. We will begin attending farmers markets during this month. By the second week of October, we will begin delivering our CSA shares. It’s crucial to continue accomplishing our scheduled fieldwork during this time as we shift staff off the farm to markets three days each week.
This month will have a heavy focus on developing familiarity with crops, mastering harvesting techniques, product standards, and building efficiency as individuals and as a team in the field. Apprentices will also begin to learn the ins and outs of how we process and store vegetables in the packing shed during this time. Seeding of transplants continues during this month.
Large plantings this month include strawberries, onions and garlic. We expect our cows will be giving birth to calves sometime this month, so the creamery will begin its delicious work as the milk begins to flow!
October also marks the beginning of our Farm to Table dinners. One Saturday each month will be dedicated to these lovely events. Fall Festival preparations will pick up considerably heading into the end of the month.
By this time we are well into the swing of things. Seeding, weeding, bed prep, harvesting, and processing continue. We will host our Fall Festival this month, which will bring a wonderful crowd out to the farm to enjoy music, food, workshops, games, art, tours, local beer and other goodness. November also brings the threat of an early freeze, in which case frost cloth, sand bags and hoops will need to be brought out to protect crops. Sweet potato harvesting begins this month.
During December successive sowing of winter crops continues, and early sowings of slower growing spring crops, including peppers and eggplant are also scheduled. Low temperatures are expected, and apprentices will master the skills of protecting the fields with frost cloth. We will break from CSA deliveries over Christmas and New Year’s so that we can all enjoy the holidays as well, whether on the farm or with our families.
January and February are typically our coldest months. Timing plantings becomes more tricky as we do our best to manage the cold weather and still serve our CSA and markets. We will harvest all of the male lambs born this past season on the farm during this month. Our work continues with slowed growth in the fields, and lots of greens and roots to carry us through the cold, and the beginning of our strawberry harvest!
February will have a similar feel to January. During this month we have a scheduled break in CSA distributions. The intention of this break is to allow us time to catch up on the bulk of our spring sowings that are scheduled for this month, and to mitigate the slowed growth of winter by taking some pressure off our production. Summer and winter squash, cucumbers, melons and the first rounds of sunflowers are all sown during this time. Potatoes are also planted around Valentine’s Day. Peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes sown during December and January are stepped up. We will enjoy field trips to several local farms during this time to gain some perspective and camaraderie. Lambing usually begins in February as well!
CSA distributions resume this month. During March there is a big push to get ALL of our spring crops transplanted and sown. There is a narrow window of time to accomplish this and longer work days may be required to do so. March is a month of welcome warming and the full arrival of Spring, so life will abound! As the days grow longer and warmer, the crops growth will accelerate as will the weed pressure. We will be welcoming new signups for our Spring Shares too.
April is our busiest month of the season. Brace yourself for exhilaration and exhaustion! It is typically our peak month in terms of diversity of crops in the field as cool season and warm season crops overlap. This makes for long and fast-paced harvest days. Harvesting, processing, cultivation, planting, and bed prep continue. April is also the month of our wonderful Spring Festival. During this month we also plan to host a small group of 3rd Graders from Suncoast Waldorf School for a week long camping trip.
The rhythm of work will begin to shift a bit in May. Most of our leafy green crops are no longer able to thrive in the heat and our fruiting crops and flowers begin to dominate the fields. As crops finish, beds are reclaimed and we begin preparing some areas of the field for their first summer cover crop and some fields for sweet potato planting. May is typically our peak month for flower production with Mother’s Day being our biggest day for flower sales at the market. Friday night before Mother’s Day is a late night arranging bouquets.
The end is in sight! Our CSA distribution will officially finish the second week of June. Typically we will continue attending markets through the end of this month and offer CSA members a chance to make up pick ups.
There is much less crop diversity in the field at this time and the focus of work shifts towards putting the fields to rest, reflecting back over the season, signing up folks for next time, and lots of planning for the next go-round. We will have a Season’s End banquet for our CSA, and will enjoy a farm crew trip to wrap up the season.
Farming never stops! We usually have less to do in July but animals still need to be cared for and plants need to be watered. This is also a great time to clean, organize, make repairs, fix fences, maintain vehicles, etc.
Fieldwork will begin promptly following the daily 6:45am meeting. Our main harvest and processing days are Tuesdays and Fridays, although small amounts of harvesting may take place each day to keep up with our CSA, market, and wholesale orders. We race the sun to get as much product out of the field before noon! Afternoons are spent processing, packing, delivering and catching up on fieldwork. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are dedicated to everything else that needs to happen on the farm including seeding, weeding, planting, irrigation work, and other projects.
Compensation is $200 per month to offset basic costs of phone, car insurance, etc. We offer a generous bonus for apprentices who stay the entire season (September-June) and fulfill their responsibilities. In addition to in-kind payment, included is weekday breakfast and lunch, lodging, utilities, household consumables (toilet paper, sponges, soap, etc) and unlimited access to farm produce, dairy, meat & eggs. We will provide a captivating spreadsheet detailing the value of these in-kind benefits. Health insurance and disability insurance are not provided. Apprentices are encouraged to carry their own health insurance. Massage therapy and yoga is available to all farm staff through our CSA trade program. We endeavor to offer an educational program that does not create debt, but instead is based in a mutual exchange of deep commitment toward cultivating future farmers.
Education and Leadership
Apprentices can expect a thorough orientation and clear daily instruction in the “why’s” and “how’s” of farming tasks. The farm management staff will ensure that apprentices have exposure to a wide variety of farming tasks. As much as possible the farmers will strive to provide a thorough training on each task in advance to minimize the need for correcting mistakes later on. We also ask that apprentices adopt a “learner’s mind” - being open to the farmer’s methods, striving for mastery, and welcoming feedback. Apprentices are included in weekly farm planning meetings and will have access to farm planning documents and the farm’s library, including literature on agriculture, food preservation, and sustainable living. Our apprenticeship curriculum will also include field trips to local farms, opportunities for self-directed projects at the farm, canning and preservation facilities and tools to use, and introductions to many wonderful and brilliant folks in our local community.
Apprentices will have a safe and comfortable place to sleep. There are four small private rooms above the barn for apprentices. There is also a shared kitchen, toilet, and shower/bathtub in the barn. The large open space in the barn is a SHARED space. When there are programs at the farm (which is often), participants and guests will use the open space and the bathroom/kitchen for their personal needs. When there are no programs, apprentices can spread out into the open space and use it as a living room. We encourage apprentices to spend time socializing with all farm residents and guests so as to build a connected, caring farm family. We request that noise be kept to a minimum between 11 PM and 6 AM.
Any issues with lodging should be brought to the attention of Noah or Melissa promptly so they may be addressed in a timely way.
Apprentices and farmers collaborate to prepare breakfast and lunch, which are shared. All ingredients are provided by the farmers and the labor of planning and cooking is shared among apprentices and staff. A balanced meal includes a full plate of 50% vegetables or fruits, 25% grain/starch, and 25% vegetarian protein. While we will do our best to accommodate special diets, apprentices may need to purchase some of their own food if their requirements are significantly more expensive that the family’s standard fare. We eat a whole foods diet with a preference toward food grown on the farm and low cost staple foods. Processed foods and luxury bulk items are to be consumed sparingly, e.g. snacks, or when packing food for time off farm. We will provide a document which offers more details of what is defined as staple foods and those considered limited or luxury in our whole foods diet.
Dinner, weekend meals, and additional snacks are the responsibility of the apprentices. Unlimited vegetables are provided for your use. The resident farmers are all generally excited to collaborate on these extra meals – just ask.
Apprentices may use the barn wireless internet on their own personal computers.
There is no public transportation in Alachua. Apprentices are welcome to join in on family car trips already headed into town. The farmers will make small detours or schedule changes to accommodate the needs of the apprentices. At the farmer’s discretion, responsible apprentices may borrow the family car at a cost of $0.56 per mile including fuel. If an apprentice causes damage to a family vehicle, the apprentice is responsible for paying for repairs. If an apprentice is driving a family vehicle for approved farm business, any accidents are the responsibility of the farmer. Apprentices are also encouraged to bring a bicycle to facilitate transportation independence.
House Chores and Cleanliness
Household chores such as cleaning, trash removal, maintenance, etc. will be shared equally among apprentices. Apprentices are expected to complete their chore obligations in a timely and thorough manner. In an effort to reduce clutter, please keep personal items out of the common space unless actively using them.
Drugs and Alcohol
At no time should apprentices be intoxicated during working hours, in order that we maintain a safe workplace for all.
Open Communication and Assessment
Farmers and apprentices alike share a commitment to open, honest, and non-violent communication, and solution-oriented dialogue. A weekly meeting will be held where apprentices can bring appreciations, feelings, concerns, and questions to the space and expect respectful listening and response. There will also be a one-month reflection meeting between staff and each apprentice when progress toward each apprentice’s goals is assessed. In addition to this structured time, please bring up concerns and questions in a timely and direct manner.
We are generally a welcoming farm. Apprentices need to request accommodation for their guests at least 3 days in advance if the visit will impact the crew in any way (shared meals, shower, sleeping in barn.) For short stay guests, a little help around the farm is adequate in exchange for food and lodging. Longer or recurring stays will require a separate agreement.
The farmers plan the season around the commitment of apprentices and turn away many competent applicants for each position. We ask that you carefully consider your commitment before signing this agreement, as early termination is disruptive and stressful to all involved. We value your commitment, and are ourselves committed to creating a truly empowering apprenticeship experience for everyone. That said, either party can terminate the agreement with 2 weeks notice. Whether or not the apprentice completes his/her term, we request that he/she take the time to complete the apprentice evaluation process.
Completion of Apprenticeship
We want your feedback on working with us. We ask that you complete the apprentice evaluation process, which will most likely consist of a written and verbal feedback, to give us more insight into your time here. Your evaluation will be used to continue to grow our program into the best it can be at meeting the needs of participants. Apprentices can also expect the farm to respond in a timely fashion to request for letters of recommendation or forms verifying the experience. We will seek to fully support your future endeavors, and expect to provide letters of recommendation, advice when solicited, and general support in finding placement after the apprenticeship. Occasionally, we seek to hire more permanent staff at the farm, and we will always look first to our apprentices when considering new hires.
Thanks and love,
The Farmers of Swallowtail Farm
Noah, Joelle & Melissa
Apprenticeship Alumni Stories
I apprenticed at Swallowtail for the 2013-2014 season a year after graduating from college. After a summer of homesteading I realized I knew nothing about growing food and needed to work on a functioning farm. My 10 months at Swallowtail gave me the education I needed to start my own farm on my family land. I learned all the essentials from work ethics to field production, cooking to hosting farm to table dinners. My season there equipped me with the resources and confidence to begin laying the groundwork for my own farm. I will always treasure my Swallowtail family for their patience, hard work, dedication to teaching, and commitment to growing practices that produce the best food for our bodies and this earth we all call home. Thank you!!!!
Casey Muncy, Mulberry Family Farm in Ashland KY
The Swallowtail Apprenticeship is the full-immersion experience in organic farming & communal living. I learned technical aspects of farming, such as tractor operation, the subtle art of thorough weeding, and proper methods of vegetable processing & storage. I also learned valuable life skills, such as how to live with people, how to cook for large groups of people, and how to barter/trade at farmers markets. At Swallowtail you have the privilege of learning from three unique teachers: Noah, Emily, & Mariana. They each have their own teaching style and each will teach you valuable lessons, with patience and humor. When I was a new apprentice, Noah, Emily, & Mariana met me where I was farming-wise and were incredibly patient with me as I made mistakes and tried to overcome a steep learning curve.
My apprenticeship at Swallowtail was a very positive and transformative experience, both professionally and personally. I came to Swallowtail as a part of a year-long experiment in farming and hands-on, experiential learning. I came out of it with valuable farming & life experience, rich friendships, and a new perspective. I learned a lot about myself that year on the farm--some hard & uncomfortable lessons as well as newfound joy & dreams. The folks at Swallowtail, my class of apprentices, and the extended Swallowtail community of friends made an indelible mark on my life and I am so, so grateful for my apprenticeship experience. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in pursuing farming and/or food justice work.
What I do now:
I currently live & work in Philadelphia, PA. I work for a company called Recyclebank, where I do community outreach & education around recycling & waste issues. I hope to return to farming some day--I'm currently dreaming and envisioning what that might look like.
Erin Cartwright, Philadelphia PA
I apprenticed at Swallowtail Farm soon after I turned 19 years old. I was in the middle of my 2nd semester of my freshman year in college when I came across the Swallowtail Farm Apprenticeship online. As a student majoring in sustainable agriculture I felt eager and restless to get more hands on farm work. I started working on farms when I was 13 years old and fell in love with everything about agriculture. I wished that I had grown up living on a farm, but knowing I couldn't change the past I set my heart on changing the future and began planning how one day I would own and live on my very own farm. So in the midst of summer of 2016 I packed up my old Ford with some farm clothes, my favorite stuff animals, and my surfboard and I traveled from Westport, Massachusetts to Swallowtail Farm in Alachua, Florida; my new home for the next 9 months. My experience within the next 9 months was life changing. Never had I felt so connected to the land and the community. I learned so much about sustainable living and was surrounded by beauty. There's truly nothing like waking up to a farm sunrise every morning. I couldn't be thankful enough for all I learned and all the incredible people and animals I met while completing my apprenticeship.
I recently returned back to my little hometown after completing my apprenticeship at Swallowtail. I'm continuing with my college education in agriculture and taking small steps to start running my own farm. I currently started my own little business called "Homegrown Blooms" where I'm making bouquets using organically grown, local flowers. I was especially interested in flower farming in Florida and had an amazing mentor, Marianna, who taught me so much about it. I'm looking forward to graduating in 2020 and working towards finding property and starting my own farm.
Cady Arruda,Westport Massachusetts
I came to Swallowtail Farm after I finished obtaining a degree in organic horticulture. My goal was to gain practical experience farming to aid my knowledge of the theories I had learned in school. I had prior experience in growing food but i had never seen the whole cycle of a farm. (Warm season to cool season and back to warm). During my time living on the farm, I learned irrigation, animal husbandry, preservation of food, floral design, marketing strategies, relationship building and tractor driving. Although the majority of the days were filled with the same activities (harvesting, weeding, processing, cooking) there was never the same monotonous workday. To be clear, it was hard work from dawn till the end of the workday. However, we ate like royalty and had the enthusiasm of people who genuinely enjoined working with the earth. If you want to learn to grow food, this is the place to be.
Hannah Westergaard ,Winterpark FL