Those aspiring to start their own small-scale farm can now apply for a one-year apprenticeship to bolster their abilities to start and run their own small-scale operation. The new Nevada Farm Apprenticeship Program being offered by the University of Nevada, Reno is now accepting applications, which are due by Aug. 31. Those chosen for an interview will be interviewed Sept. 11-12, and two applicants will be chosen to begin the apprenticeship Oct. 1. The program provides a $40,000 stipend to participants, based on an average of 32 hours a week, and will be hosted at the University’s Desert Farming Initiative, which is part of the Experiment Station’s Valley Road Field Lab in Reno.
The program is not just for University students; anyone can apply. Minimum requirements for the positions are at least two seasons of farming experience, or a degree in agricultural sciences or closely related field and at least one year of related work experience.
“We are really pleased to be able to offer this hands-on, intensive farming apprenticeship program, to help fill in the gaps for those with a degree or some background in agriculture, but not quite enough knowledge or experience to start and run their own small-scale farming business,” said Bill Payne, dean of the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources. “Our Desert Farming Initiative team has put together an excellent program that I am sure will help establish some new small-scale farms in our state.”
Apprentices will be guided through a science-based curriculum taught by a team of specialists from the College and partners in the agricultural industry, as well as will receive hands-on practical farm training at the Desert Farming Initiative and partner farms, including Holley Family Farms in Dayton. The program emphasis is on certified-organic and climate-smart practices for small-scale outdoor farming.
Each apprentice will manage a farm incubator space at the Desert Farming Initiative, where they will execute a crop and sales plan according to their particular farming interests. They will be allotted approximately one-eighth of an acre for growing field crops, temperature-controlled greenhouse space for starting seedlings, and half of a hoop house for season extension. Incubator spaces will be managed under the Desert Farming Initiative’s organic certification and Nevada producer license, as well as rigorous food safety requirements.
“This program will be a springboard for people who are serious about pursuing a career in fruit and vegetable production,” said Jill Moe, director of the Desert Farming Initiative, adding that it’s for those who intend to do small-scale farming, meaning a gross farm income of anywhere between $25,000 to $350,000. “There’s a lot to know before jumping in. It’s not just understanding how to grow crops. It’s also creating a business plan, marketing, food safety, legal requirements, accounting, software, collaboration within the food system and managing people. Our program will cover all that and more.”
The Churchill Entrepreneur Development Association and the Churchill office of the Nevada Small Business Development Center will provide education in business principles and practices. The program will prioritize underserved community members and is working with tribal communities and the College’s Extension unit to incorporate appropriate information and guest instructors.
Team members for the program include Anna Miller, education program coordinator; Garrett Menghini, farm production manager; Felipe Barrios Masias, associate professor focusing on agronomy; Staci Emm, Extension professor managing the Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program; and Kelli Kelly, agricultural business advisor with the Churchill Enterprise Development Association.
The program is expected to be the first certified farm apprenticeship program in Nevada, pending certification from the Nevada Department of Labor. It is being funded by a $256,000 three-year grant from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, as part of its Regional Food Systems Partnership Program, along with contributions from the College. Next summer, applications will be taken for another three apprenticeships, with those chosen beginning October 2024.
“We want to provide practical information and hands-on training for those with some farming knowledge and the burning desire to get into the business,” Moe said. “It’s about equipping them with the knowledge they need to start a successful, sustainable enterprise, while contributing to our state’s healthy local food supply and economy. It’s what a land-grant university should be doing, right?”