FREEPORT, Maine, Jan. 23, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The first three apprentices have graduated the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program at Wolfe's Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment. Kelly O'Connell, Lauren Robertson, and Josh Harlan recently completed the two year, first-of-its-kind residential training program, offered in partnership with NH-based Stonyfield Organic and the WI-based Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship. This comes at a time when an aging farmer population and loss of small family farms is challenging the sector nationwide.
"The dairy grazing apprenticeship has not only taught me how to work with and feed animals," says Robertson, of Portland, Oregon, "but has also taught me about management, animal health, how to operate equipment, and how to work and make decisions with other farmers."
Robertson came to Wolfe's Neck Center after apprenticing at Aldermere Farm in Rockport, Maine and was drawn to the public nature of the program. It gave her the confidence to walk onto any farm and "just pick up where I left off at Wolfe's Neck."
As an apprentice, that's exactly what she did. Since graduating the program in December, Lauren has been living in Leeds, ME where she is beginning her own small farm with a herd of Katahdin sheep, meat rabbits, and pigs. She milks at a local dairy farm both mornings and nights two days a week, as well as completes chores for the farm between milkings.
O'Connell was one of the first apprentices to join after the launch of the program in 2015. Her interest in cows grew while working on a small family farm near her hometown in upstate New York. After earning an undergraduate degree in Ag Business from SUNY Cobleskill, she applied to the program to pursue her interest in dairy farming.
The program gave her a better understanding of how proper grazing management can add nutrients back into the soil, a key educational component of the program. She states, "In addition to basic dairy herd care and management, the Apprenticeship offered many opportunities to learn about other facets within the agricultural and dairy industry. Days spent riding along with professionals within the industry reassured the fact that I wanted to work with farmers." O'Connell now works as a Projects and Operations Assistant at Casella Organics in Herman, Maine, where she helps farmers improve their soil health while also managing and recycling resources.
Harlan came to Maine from Mexico, Missouri after college. He too completed an apprenticeship at Aldermere Farm and found Wolfe's Neck Center as the next step in his farming experience.
"Two years ago, I started this journey looking to investigate the potential of organic agriculture and how the dairy industry fits into that realm of production," says Harlan. "Now I am a full-time employee looking hard at how to begin the transition into a manager or owner. Wolfe's Neck has been instrumental in furthering my real-world education in the industry."
Harlan graduated the program in November 2018 and is now a herdsman at Roseberry Farm, an organic dairy in Richmond, Maine.
Two additional apprentices are set to graduate in early 2019. Wolfe's Neck Center is scheduled to complete construction of a new organic dairy facility in May 2019, designed to be a model training center for current and future farmers to learn from and replicate.
"We're so excited to see the apprenticeship program at Wolfe's Neck enter the next phase, as apprentices begin to graduate and become professionals in the organic farming community here in New England," said Britt Lundgren, Stonyfield's director of organic and sustainable agriculture. "Stonyfield has a long term commitment to this region and we're glad we can help to support the next generation of farmers here."
ABOUT THE APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM
To address the growing number of challenges facing the dairy industry, nonprofit educational farm Wolfe's Neck Center partnered with leading organic yogurt producer, NH-based Stonyfield in 2015 to develop the Organic Dairy Research & Farmer Training Program. Their shared vision was to create a pathway for farmers into a career in organic dairy, and to support increased milk production from family farms across Maine and New England. The training program is offered in partnership with Wisconsin-based Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship, the first accredited farming apprenticeship in the nation.
ABOUT WOLFE'S NECK CENTER FOR AGRICULTURE & THE ENVIRONMENT: Wolfe's Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment is on a mission to transform our relationship with farming and food for a healthier planet. Situated on over 600 acres of preserved coastal landscape in Freeport, Maine, WNC uses its setting to connect people of all ages to the food they eat and where it comes from. Encompassing a demonstration farm, oceanfront campground, wooded trails, and historic buildings, WNC's vibrant campus serves as a unique hub for education and exploration. As a nonprofit, Wolfe's Neck Center draws upon a rich history of innovation and experimentation to continue the legacy of this place today. Through regenerative farming, innovative soil health research, and visitor interactions, the land is now used as an educational resource to create a healthier planet for all. WNC hopes to inspire active participation in a healthier food system and build a community of people who care deeply about the future of food.
For additional information about Wolfe's Neck Center's Organic Dairy Apprenticeship Program, visit https://www.wolfesneck.org/learn/dairy-program/.
As the nation's leading organic yogurt maker, Stonyfield takes care with everything it puts into its products and everything it keeps out. By saying no to toxic persistent pesticides, artificial hormones, antibiotics and GMOs, Stonyfield has been saying yes to healthy food, healthy people, and a healthy planet for 35 years. Stonyfield, a Certified B-Corp, is also helping to protect and preserve the next generation of farmers and families through programs like its Direct Milk Supply and Wolfe's Neck Organic Training Program as well as StonyFIELDS, a nationwide, multi-year initiative to help keep families free from pesticides in parks and playing fields across the country.
SOURCE Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment