Here at Wollam Gardens some of our help comes from an internship program. It’s been interesting for me to have once been an intern on this farm, and now 10 years later, here I am in charge of them.
Our basic program runs for 10 weeks (or 50 working days), but we are flexible and have shorter stays available if need be, for people with special situations who want to learn but can’t do that long a period of time. Those stays don’t necessarily have the same benefits, though. The age and type of people we get varies greatly. So far this year we’ve had a 21-year-old woman from Minnesota who’s studying anthropology and has very little gardening experience. Then a 35-year-old newly pregnant woman, who lasted only 10 days or so. She seemed to find the farm very enjoyable with its fresh air, good exercise, pleasant environment, etc. Or so she said, until she left for a few days to go to a doctor’s appointment out of state and never came back.
A 20-year-old from Ohio is our latest arrival. She’s gotten a grant from the American Floral Endowment to subsidize her stay here and she is very interested in pursuing some type of career in production horticulture. I can tell already that she’s got the “bug”, because even after doing a market in the morning and then working until 7 p.m. to get ready for the 2 markets we have on Sunday, she still brought flowers in the house to arrange in vases that night.
The first two gals found out about us through and were just here for the “experience” of working on a cut flower farm, so it’s nice to have someone here now who has a genuine interest in what we’re doing. She’s much more focused and asks lots of good questions.
Interns are paid a stipend of $30 a day plus room and board. We try to eat pretty healthy here, though I wouldn’t say we never buy prepackaged junk food type stuff. Since we attend 5 farmers’ markets a week we buy or trade for a lot of our food there. Cooking is shared, with everyone making dinner at least once a week. On the other nights it’s FFY (fend for yourself). Whoever cooks gets out of doing the dishes for that night. I do most of the grocery shopping, so we all contribute to a list of what’s needed.
General cleanliness is expected to be practiced by all, whether in the kitchen or your own room. Cleaning chores in the shared living spaces are shared by all. I did not sign up to be anyone’s mother when I took this job, so I look at it as “If you’re old enough to come to the farm on your own, you’re old enough to take care of and clean up after yourself.”  So that’s what’s expected. All the interns share the 1½ bathrooms and a washer and dryer are provided for everyone to do laundry. No pets are allowed to come to the farm, since we already have 3 outdoor cats, and an endearing neighbor dog who spends most of her day over here.
All interns work a minimum of 40 hours a week, but this time of year it’s more like 60. They do get one day off a week, unless they choose to use up their 50 days faster. If someone wants to stay past their scheduled time and there is room in the house, and most important, they are a good worker and pleasant to be around, they can stay on at an hourly rate, which is determined by what kind of a job they’ve been doing.
We try to make sure everyone gets exposed to all the many things there are to learn on a flower farm. Planting, seeding, watering, all the different ways to cut the flowers, how we make beds and run irrigation tape, getting ready for the markets or the florists and how that can be different. Also going to the markets, and hopefully they are responsible enough they can even do a market by themselves. This especially helps them to understand why we do some of the things we do in getting ready, like not packing the flowers so tightly in a bucket so they are easier for the customer to pull out, or why signs should be clearly written and prominently displayed.
The fine line for me, since I also live in the house, has been maintaining a level of professionalism, while still trying to “not be the boss” during non-working hours.
One of the problems we had when I was here before with one of the interns and now with another intern recently is that they come to the farm with the notion that this is some kind of summer camp. We certainly want them to have a great experience here, but they also need to understand that this is a real business and a real job that needs to treated with some sense of seriousness. It was a good lesson for me to learn that that issue, and others as well, are best dealt with right away before other intern or employee attitudes are affected as well. Otherwise, by the time you recognize it as a problem, it’s easy to say there’s only a few weeks left of their internship and we can put up with it until they’re gone. Not a very good solution.
It’s best, I think, to have policies, house rules, and expectations clearly written down so everyone understands what’s what. That way everybody’s experience living and working on the farm can be enjoyable.