Advanced Farm Experience: Cultivating Responsibility & Independence

May 17, 2023

The nature-based approach at Green Chimneys, in its simplest form, is structured to enable students to interact with nature as they learn about and become responsible for plants and animals, while discovering new personal skills. The teamwork practiced in the barns, paddocks and gardens facilitates interactions with peers outside of a classroom or dorm, and students learn to apply the lessons of this setting to help them build the skills needed for everyday life.

Green Chimneys’ Farm Apprenticeship is a growing program that offers a more immersive experience to older students who have a special interest in management and leadership practices. Students can apply to apprentice under a farm caretaker to gain further experience as part of their individual therapeutic goals. The apprenticeship is an advanced application of Green Chimneys’ popular Learn & Earn program, where students attend weekly sessions with staff and interns, earning a stipend while assisting with care of the farm and gardens.

Apprentice Luke and farm staff Danielle Zalewski administer deworming medication to goats.

What sets the apprentice program apart is the high level of independence achieved by the students. Typically, applicants have already participated in other on- or off-campus jobs, and go through an interview process. Students selected for these limited spaces are those who demonstrate skills in independent learning, have a strong work ethic, and are open to following guidance from staff. Apprentices are responsible for getting themselves to program on their own, managing their time, and developing and tracking goals.

High School Senior Julian has had a Learn & Earn job throughout his time at Green Chimneys.

High School Senior Julian likes his expanded apprentice role because of the increased responsibility. “I’m part of bigger tasks like maintenance and building things,” he says. “I’m trusted more, with activities like using tools, and I have to make sure I get here on time.”   

Structure and Guidance for Genuine Employment Experience 

There are currently six apprentices working hard across all areas of the farm. Apprenticeship offers them the opportunity to pursue individualized vocational goals in a welcoming and supportive environment that helps them to develop skills that will carry over into future jobs and endeavors. By working closely with the farm caretakers and staff, students also strengthen their communication and comfort in peer interactions. Job expectations are clearly laid out and ongoing coaching and feedback support continuous improvement and skill-building. 

Each student brings their own unique skill set and ideas to the farm and garden, enriching their own experience and that of the farm staff. “This is my third year as an apprentice,” says Luke, who will graduate in June. “When I first came to Green Chimneys, I was fascinated with the farm because I didn’t know much about animals but I was quickly drawn in. I had a Learn & Earn but I wanted more independence. The apprenticeship is much more serious; we do more medical care, which can be a lot to handle. I get work experience but it also makes me happy being surrounded by the animals.”

It’s a particularly fulfilling opportunity for students who wish to explore a future in animal care and education, but the skills gained are applicable to any career interest or personal pursuit. Learn more about how our students gain skills and prepare for their future with work-based learning opportunities