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Walden effect internship?

View from inside the peach tree

Mark and I have been tossing around the idea of interns.  On the one hand, I think we know enough that a homesteader wannabe could learn a lot from us, we certainly have plenty of extra work, and it would be great to have more like-minded people around.  On the other hand, we're dyed in the wool introverts and the idea of having even a low-maintenance, fascinating person on the property seven days of the week gives me shivers.

There might be the possibility of housing the intern somewhere else and/or sharing them with another farming group so that we don't overwhelm our people-sensors --- we probably won't even give the idea a shot if we can't find someone to fill that gap.  That said, I wonder if the idea even holds water.  Time for a poll!


Trailer homestead

(Those of you reading this on Facebook or via an RSS feed will probably have to come directly to our website to participate.)

Our current idea is to give the intern a place to stay and plenty of hands-on mentoring in exchange for 20 hours of work per week.  (They'd have to buy and cook their own food, but might have a place to grow a garden.)  The work would involve learning, but would probably also involve a lot of repetition, because that's what farms are like.  If you were a potential intern, would that sound good?

That sounds perfect. (85%)


Too many hours working. (9%)


Too few hours working. (4%)


Total votes: 21



We actually have two different potential internship ideas: the living homestead and the microbusiness.  Mark could really, really use an inventor's apprentice, while I could really, really use someone good at weeding and mulching.  Do you think the same person would be likely to be interested in both or are the farmer wannabes different from the people who want to be financially independent?

A joint microbusiness/homesteading internship would work. (52%)


Split them apart and have both. (47%)


Split them apart and just have microbusiness. (0%)


Split them apart and just have homestead. (0%)


Total votes: 23



How many interns do you think we should have at one time?  On the one hand, starting with one intern sounds much less scary.  On the other hand, maybe interns are like chickens and goats --- more self-sufficient in flocks?

1 (40%)


2 (59%)


3 or more (0%)


Total votes: 22



I dream that an intern would take some training, but then would make work happen faster.  On the other hand, my nightmares involve interns who take more time to teach than they give us back in labor and who are so needy that I never get any alone time.  I'm especially interested to hear from those of you who have managed interns.  Which reality is most true?

Interns are usually more trouble than they're worth. (7%)


Interns really pull their weight. (7%)


It's a mixed bag. (85%)


Total votes: 14



We're trying to decide on the best time of year for an internship.  Presumably,  most potential interns would be young, so the summer when they're out of school might be a good season.  But I'm not convinced that any of our readers other than Jalen are under 25.  What do you think is a good time period for the internship?

Summer (86%)


Fall (0%)


Winter (0%)


Spring (13%)


Total votes: 15



How about length?  We'd really like to try the idea on a short term basis, maybe a month at the most, but we learned our lesson by soliciting WWOOFers --- the people who are interested in short-term internships are also the people who call at the last minute and cancel.  How long is the optimal internship period to attract serious candidates?

1 month (20%)


2 months (20%)


3 months or more (60%)


Total votes: 20



Are you or someone you know interested in being a Walden Effect intern?

No (35%)


I am (47%)


I know someone who might be (17%)


Total votes: 17



Do you think we're crazy to even consider this?

Yes (13%)


No (54%)


You're crazy in general (31%)


Total votes: 22



As usual, feel free to add in your more in-depth response in the comments.



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I'm 23 and an avid reader. Maybe there are a few more under 25 : )
Comment by Lauren Tue Oct 11 10:13:18 2011

I think something like this sounds like a good opportunity for a family like mine. I'm a 27 yr old stay at home mom interested in gardening and raising anmails for self sufficiency. My husband is an electrical apprentice interested in energy sustainability and inventing.

We're both willing to work for room and board.

--Souls Searching for a way out of the city.

Comment by Amanda Tue Oct 11 12:55:52 2011

Interns are a really mixed bag - but you should try it! I would suggest that interns may be more like chickens - do better in small groups. But then again if they came as a pair that would be better - you know how snarky chickens can be when they have to determine the pecking order themselves.

I would think that most people would expect and significantly value the opportunity to also eat off the land. I know that two people eat ALOT, but just giving them space outside of your own planning and developed space might not be sufficient. Maybe if you developed some type of intro garden modeling that you could work with them when they arrive so that they can modify it for their own tastes - and help them to build out the labor requirements and planning to make sure it all happens.

I would post on Rodale Institute website and maybe ask for a 6 month commitment. You might start spring and go into fall. You might find 'wanna be' homesteaders who want the experience but can't yet make the plunge themselves. If you get a couple or good friends, then they can entertain themselves. Alternatively caretaker gazette and caretaker jobs.org are also interesting places to find longer term assistance. There are some off the beaten track kind of folks looking for barter arrangements there as well.

Comment by Anonymous Tue Oct 11 13:20:10 2011
I am 25 and a stay at home mom of 2. If I could get away for a month I would totally be your intern. I know somewhat of gardening and I dream of homesteading. I don't think I have even the slightest idea of how much work it would take. That is why a month would be a great start. Slap me in the face of how much work it is.
Comment by Kathleen Olsen Tue Oct 11 13:33:19 2011

Interesting that 57% of you so far think that I'm crazy in general. :-)

Lauren --- Glad to learn we're corrupting younger minds as well as older ones!

Amanda --- What we really wish is that we had the infrastructure so that we could have a couple like you move, long term, onto a piece of land near ours. Unfortunately, we're just not there yet! If we could figure out the housing for something like that, I agree that it would be even better.

Anonymous --- You've got great points about looking for interns who come as a pair and perhaps not really calling them interns so much as joint caretakers. It would be a lot more feasible to help them start their own garden to feed themselves if they were longer term --- otherwise, I'd be planting and tending a huge garden and driving myself crazy all spring so that they could eat all summer. Which brings me back to my real dream of buying another plot of land not too far from us where we could let a couple like that live for free in exchange for a bit of labor. That might take a while to mastermind, though, even with cheap local land....

Comment by anna Tue Oct 11 13:41:26 2011

Some points to keep in mind;

  • If you cannot delegate, don't get interns.
  • Realize that jobs will take longer when you're training interns.
  • Personalities matter. You have to get along.
Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Oct 11 14:37:11 2011
Great points, Roland! We're getting better about delegating and would be okay with jobs taking longer as long as the net work on our end is less than or equal to what it is now. :-) Your last point is probably the most important, and would require some kind of interview, probably. Definitely the most tricky part....
Comment by anna Tue Oct 11 15:55:51 2011

Part of my point was that the work on your end will not be less, at least not initially. Mistakes will be made and need to be fixed.

And saying that you're fine with delegating is something altogether different than actually doing it. You'll also need to let go of your inner control freak. :-)

Also realize that your competences are mostly the results of a lot of practice. Don't expect others to reach your level much quicker than you did.

Practicing a craft is different from teaching it. Once you reach a certain level in a craft, skill or discipline, you might not be a good teacher anymore. It becomes difficult to imagine the mind of someone who doesn't have your knowledge. You will take too much for granted.

OTOH, I believe it is imperative for any person to share their knowledge with those who ask. That is the only proven way to improve the human condition.

So I applaud your efforts, be it on this blog or by teaching directly. I will say that I think blogging reaches a bigger audience and can be done at your leasure.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Oct 11 17:52:51 2011

It would be nice if there were more opportunities such as an internship where people can get hands on learning. I believe this is the true way to aquire such skills as required to operate a homestead. I understand the difficulties that could arrise to an internship, since of course you are dealing with PEOPLE. And people can bring their own problems. But in the end i think it is all up to how deep of an interest the intern has of getting back to the land and learning the skills necessary. An intern should be willing to learn everything and do the hard work it takes to learn it. Mutualism should be the relationship. The intern learns while providing the teacher with the free labor and the extra hands. I believe you should give it a shot. I wish we had something like that around where i am from. I'd be asking for an internship as often as possible.
Just my 2 cents. I'm just a 17 year old with no experience whatsoever in internships but with a desire, as many others do, of living more simply and learning what is necessary to do so.

Comment by Jalen Tue Oct 11 18:43:14 2011

Roland --- That's probably the reason why many places actually charge interns. I guess the trick would be finding the happy medium --- making the internship long enough and the tasks repetitive enough that the intern could get good at some of them and pull their weight by the end, while keeping it interesting enough that they didn't get sick of the experience.

I tend to agree with you about the utility of teaching via the blog --- I definitely won't stop that any time soon!!

I also agree with you about the level of experience of the teacher. I like to teach things when I've done them enough to feel competent, but not so much that they're old hat. That way I remember the possible mistakes and also am not bored with the whole thing.

Jalen --- You've got it right that the difficulties on my end would be due to dealing with people. You might consider looking into less long term apprenticeships than an actual internship. I know that I got a huge amount out of helping a friend process her pastured broilers one year --- it really got me over the hump of being afraid to take responsibility for my own meat supply. I'll bet there are similar possibilities in your neck of the woods.

Comment by anna Tue Oct 11 19:52:29 2011

You could probably allay fear of putting more work into an intern than you would receive benefit from by agreeing on an initial trial term...say 2 weeks or a month. Most people interested enough in homesteading to attempt this would at least be able to weed effectively for you without much training/supervision. If you had a few hours each day devoted to simple manual grunt labor, you could be guaranteeing yourself at least some benefit. And as far as your readership goes... I just turned 22 but have been following your blog for over a year. :]

Comment by Caroline Tue Oct 11 20:35:46 2011
I'm 58 years young and can out work most any 25 year old person. I have experience in electrical, plumbing, carpentry, gardening, canning, logging, bailing hay, and just about anything you can think of. I have owned and lived on this property for over thirty years now and have worked endless hours developing what I have now in addition to working my regular job. Never under estimate the ability of and older person.
Comment by zimmy Tue Oct 11 22:00:50 2011

I'm not sure about an internship, but I still want to come back and visit again so you'll let me build that suspension/swing bridge across the creek. :P

Also, another thing to consider about season is whether or not the people interning will be acclimated to the heat of your summers. I'm not sure they are as severe as here, but even I have difficulty working in the summer heat here and I've been here most of my life. If a "yankee" came down here during the summer, there is no way they could contend with the heat and still get work done in many cases.

Comment by Shannon Wed Oct 12 00:30:39 2011

Roland, so much of your post above rings true with me.

I too have experienced the difficulty expressing a craft or practice which I have practiced a long time to a novice... It's often useful to me in addition since it makes me think about how to express the ideas and concepts, which often causes me to learn something new.

Also, with respect to improving the human condition, I believe the times we live in now it is crucial for folks to preserve the older more simple ways and transmit this knowledge to present and future generations... I fear we will be forced to go back to a more simple life willing or not in a couple short centuries unless humanity starts reflecting on what we are doing to this culture and planet soon.

Well, I'm tired and am having a hard time expressing just how your post struck me, so I'll just say that I agree with you.

Comment by Shannon Wed Oct 12 00:40:09 2011

Caroline --- I feel like the intern might not like being on trial, but it would certainly make it nicer from our end. Especially since we could see if our personalities meshed or clashed. Glad to meet another young reader!

Zimmy --- I certainly didn't mean to suggest that older people would get less work done. Actually, I'd prefer someone older. The trouble is that older people tend to be engrossed in their own lives and less interested in pulling up roots for an extended period of time. I know I was much more footloose and fancy-free at 22 than 32.

Shannon --- You'll have to finish the zipline first, which we never seem to have time to work on... :-) Excellent point about the heat (which would also cover cold in the dead of winter.)

Comment by anna Wed Oct 12 11:07:56 2011
I have some experiences now with farmers, interns, retreat centres, etc -- the whole world of non-tranditional living and the people who manage best are the ones who are comfortable with themselves, and have the mental and emotional space to let others be themselves. There is way to plan better, interview better, survey in advance, design a fail safe system when you're dealing with people. As for food, I think shared food is hugely important. If you eat at different tables, then you're creating a divide where none ought to be, on a small farm. From what you've described, and the detail that went into your survey, you're not ready for interns :-) They'll drive nuts. You've been operating for five years, but are you "elders" yet? To manage apprentices and really give them what they need to succeed, I think you have to have most of your years behind you, so you're coming from a real place of wanting to give back. I'm actively looking for an place to intern with now, and I'm not going with young farmers for that reason. There are more older people, who understand human nature, and embrace it -- I think that's what you need to really teach. Otherwise, it's an employer/employee relationship, and since interns are working for free, you can't really blame them when things go wrong. If I'm an intern, I'm working for free so you have to be nice to me and want to each me:-) That's why I'm working for free. If I'm working for someone, then they pay me, and I work harder to do what is expected and not be a nuisance. I have seen situations where neither side 1) communicates and 2) probably isn't even clear in their own mind, what the relationship is. If someone is an employee, and they suck, you fire them. If someone is an intern, and they suck, well - did you communicate clear expectations? Have you trained them properly? Are you giving them time to learn or is instant success demanded. I have seen many, many postings where farmers seem to want slaves, that is, work sun up to sun down, don't ask for training, we'll get to it if we have time, and don't expect us to talk to you after hours. I'M NOT SAYING THAT IS YOU GUYS :-) but I'm just saying, there is a lot of rigidity and lack of communication out there. It's a big step. I know some farmers who just say "two weeks maximum" and build their network of people slowly. People are people, much more annoying than goats that try to escape and dogs that chase chickens. That's why most people on this list want to live a simpler life, away from other people, right :-)
Comment by J Wed Oct 12 18:19:13 2011
J --- You may be right that we're not ready interns. We certainly wouldn't be looking for slave labor, but our 500 square foot trailer just isn't set up for having lots of people cooking together and eating together. And I just don't have the capacity for dealing with people day in and day out.
Comment by anna Wed Oct 12 18:38:44 2011
I don't think J has the right to determine if you are "ready" or seasoned enough to have interns. From the time i've been reading your blog, i can definitely say you have a lot of innovative and traditional methods you can share with others seeking to learn. Just saying.
Comment by Jalen Thu Oct 13 21:15:52 2011
After thinking about what J said, I think there are really two kinds of internships, those which are all about the social/philosophical and those which are about hands on learning/science. We were really talking about the latter, but I think that J was talking about the former. I appreciate you chiming in, Jalen, and reminding me that we might be ready for the latter.
Comment by anna Fri Oct 14 07:51:49 2011
been away from the computer for a month and just catching up on posts. I am 25 and would love an opportunity like this. For 6 months or less during the warm seasons an intern could camp out in a tent if nothing else.
Comment by phil Sun Nov 6 16:56:25 2011
It's funny you should comment on this post four weeks later...on the same day I was walking a 58 acre tract of land that we might turn into a higher quality intern experience than the one we mentioned in this post. Stay tuned!
Comment by anna Mon Nov 7 08:13:27 2011