Nearly 70 percent of farmers and agricultural managers are self-employed. Most work in the area of crop-production management, while others are responsible for managing livestock and dairy production. Some organic farmers work independently on small farms; others may work on large farms and may oversee many farm workers and staff.
Volunteering or working part time on an organic farm is an excellent way to learn what it takes to succeed in and enjoy being an organic farmer. A willingness to relocate to have the farm experience can also broaden the range of opportunities. Farming internships may be available through ATTRA, an organization that offers a national directory called "Sustainable Farming Internships and Apprenticeships." (You can find the directory at: https://attra.ncat.org/internships.) Interns live and work on the farm, along with a small team of workers. Their tasks are varied, including helping with plantings, harvestings, and greenhouse work; pitching in at the greenmarket; and tending to the chickens (and the eggs).
The nonprofit organization Worldwide Opportunities in Organic Farming (WWOOF) lists farms around the world where volunteers are needed. Visit the WOOF-USA® site to learn more about opportunities within the United States (https://wwoofusa.org), or if you're more adventurous and able to travel and spend a summer, or longer, away from home, visit the WWOOF headquarters' site (https://wwoof.net).
The path of advancement in the organic farming business depends on the farmer. For some, advancement can come in the form of expanding into different products (such as offering baked goods in addition to produce), or increasing the size of the farm and the crops, and adding more staff. Advancement can also include participating in more farmers' markets, or starting up a community-supported aspect of the farm. For some farmers, government service as a representative of one of the state or federal agencies is a possibility. For other organic farmers, advancement may take a more meditative, educational path, one that might lead to writing books and articles, or teaching, lecturing, and mentoring young farmers and students. Some even start restaurants on or near the farm. Keep in mind that many of the above activities can still be combined with being a part-time organic farmer.
Tips for Entry
To get a taste of life as an organic farmer, investigate volunteering through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms-USA.
If you like what you experience as a volunteer, consider an internship through Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA). You can browse through its directory online at https://attra.ncat.org/internships.
Get to know the organic farms in your area. Visit them and sample their produce. Talk to the owners about their work.