CORVALLIS, Ore. — Justin Moran had his heart set on farming from the moment he arrived in the United States.
“I wanted to be an active participant in society. I wanted to do good in the world,” Moran said at the 2018 Oregon Small Farms Conference at Oregon State University. “Farming seemed to be the best fit for all those interests I had.”
Moran, 35, met his wife, Teagan, at a farm in his native England before they decided to move back together to her home in Portland in 2013. The couple now manages Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Ore., a small community in the Willamette Valley.
For several years in between, Moran honed his skills through hands-on fieldwork and apprenticeships at local farms, experiencing everything from 55-hour harvest weeks in the hot summer sun to artificially inseminating pigs during just his second day on the job.
Without that immersion, Moran said he would not have the confidence to manage an entire farm operation so early in his career.
“I literally got thrown in at the deep end,” he said. “We got to develop a whole bunch of practical, hands-on skills on the farm.”
Moran spoke Saturday at the Small Farms Conference as part of a seminar on agricultural internships and apprenticeships. Meghan Fehrman, education program director for Rogue Farm Corps based in Ashland, Ore., said on-farm programs provide valuable training for the next generation of farmers.
The average age of Oregon farmers is approaching 60, Fehrman said, and as those older farmers begin to retire, more than 10 million acres — or 64 percent — or Oregon’s agricultural lands are set to change ownership over the next two decades.
Rogue Farm Corps works with host farms in the Portland metro area, central Oregon, the south Willamette Valley and Rogue Valley to ensure young farmers are ready to take over those operations and keep them in production.
“The aging farmer population is a huge concern across the nation,” Fehrman said. “We’re really in a situation where we’ve got to figure this out.”
As a core member of the National Ag Apprenticeship Learning Network, Fehrman said Rogue Farm Corps has spent the last year and a half sorting out legal and program requirements for farms to host interns and apprentices. The so-called Ag Apprenticeship Toolkit should be released within the next week, she said.
“There’s a lot to consider for these programs,” Fehrman said. “We really want to make sure apprenticeships are upholding that environmental justice part of our work.”
Internships through Rogue Farm Corps run for one season, from April through November, and include between 1,200 and 1,500 hours in the field with a mentor. Apprenticeships are more intensive, lasting two seasons and incorporating more managerial experience and business training.
Moran said he believes the structured framework of an apprenticeship provides a rich experience for both the mentor and the student. But he said it is not for every farm.
“For people considering hosting interns, if you just need labor, it’s not the right idea,” Moran said. “Be prepared to equip yourself with those skills to offer a rich experience.”