Pay Dirt Farm School is our 501c3 non-profit educational program that was founded in 1996 for the purpose of offering farm apprenticeships. The program provided practical experience for dozens of individuals who lived and worked at MaryJanesFarm until 2004. It was our way of introducing them to the operations of an organic farm in a hands-on way. Originally, the school’s mission was to cultivate organic farmers (and eaters) over the course of several months, but has evolved into week-long educational stays (things like how to care for a backyard cow) or classes (wild bread making, or sewing, or cheese making). The school was founded with the belief that the elimination of deadly pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers, along with the maintenance of healthy living soil and the rebuilding of local communities, all play a major role in the development of individuals whose thoughts, dreams, and actions create positive change.
During those early years, apprentices planted, grew, harvested, marketed, stored, and preserved wholesome food. As they shadowed us on our daily farm tasks, they also learned how to repair broken equipment and build fences, even things like mending clothes on a treadle sewing machine. Several of them were here during the construction of our food facility and learned building construction. Our apprentices gained training unattainable any other way, new friends, incredible memories, and in some cases, academic credit. Our beautiful rural setting with sweeping mountain views provided an ideal environment for those wanting to learn how to develop a lifestyle in touch with the land and benefit from MaryJane’s marketing expertise.
Joe Dagostino and Caroline Eells giving each other spaghetti-sauce facials in our bunkhouse kitchen.
August 18, 1996
You asked me the other day, “What kinds of things have you learned during your apprenticeship?” Overwhelmed with possible responses, I’ve decided to write them out for you.
I’ll start with the tangible and practical skills I’ve learned. Coming from life in the suburbs of Connecticut, I’ve had few opportunities to learn farming skills. Studying the academics of organic farming at the University of Vermont gave me theoretical knowledge on the subject. But I needed something to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Coming to your farm has done just that. Right from the start, my days were filled with working, planting seeds, transplanting kale, and forming a positive attitude.
It was clear within a couple of weeks that you wouldn’t settle for merely teaching technical farming skills. My first evaluation enlightened me to the hard fact that I actually had responsibilities to manage. I had to follow-up on my previous work and projects. Basically, I had to grow up and make my jobs my focus in order to carry them out fully and with success. This was no 9-to-5 job where my responsibilities ended at dinner.
Eventually, I got the hang of things around the farm, and that is when my love for farming grew. I realized I had the duty and joy of nurturing life from seed to harvest. My smile grew wider each morning, seeing the growth from the previous night.
Because of my experience here, I want to eventually own an organic farm and make at least part of my living from selling healthful food to people. Learning these skills in a classroom setting hasn’t been real enough for me. Working here has helped me realize the benefits of a farming way of life, both for myself and the community. If I hadn’t come here, there would always be that unsure feeling in the back of my mind as I graduate from college. My last year of school would be filled with questions like, “Am I headed in the right direction?” I can truthfully say, after working as an apprentice at your farm, I am confident and directed towards a goal.
June 6, 1997
Yesterday, I cracked open my Idaho photo album. Every time I look at my photos or reminisce about my time there as a six-month apprentice at your farm, I get a huge smile on my face. Of my 21 years, it was by the far the greatest experience I’ve ever had in so many ways! I just wanted to let you know how appreciative I am of you for giving me the opportunity to learn so much and to carry out one of my dreams.
In addition to cultivating a love of flowers and gardening that would last her a lifetime, Caroline also learned how to drive one of our grain trucks during wheat harvest. We cherish this photo of her atop a load of our wheat.
And live out her dream, she did! Caroline has become a well-known, successful flower and floral-design farmer, serving clients locally, regionally, and nationally.
“More than anything, MaryJane taught me to be more independent, which in turn, gave me more confidence. I didn’t understand what running a business entailed at the time, so it was difficult for me to understand the intensity and devotion that MaryJane displayed toward her business,” Caroline explained, “Well, I get it now!”
—Caroline Eells, PassifloraStudio on Facebook
Pay Dirt Farm School Today
Although it’s been a few years since we’ve actively invited apprentices to spend several weeks or more attending our Pay Dirt Farm School, we’ve continued to teach classes and three-day intensive workshops as time allows. In our experience, it’s a joy for all involved and we have grand plans for doing it again once our B&B construction projects are completed, hopefully by the year 2021.
For those who inquire, we temper their interest by saying, yes, the days are varied, active, and pleasant, but each individual is expected to take on new responsibilities and be willing to work hard and long, possibly get wet, hot or cold, and dirty. It is real work that needs to be done. It is not a vacation.