On November 14, 2012, NABDAP hosted a gathering of 30 mentor farmers from across the United States and Canada at Angelic Organics Farm and Learning Center in Caledonia, IL. The gathering took place just before the North American Biodynamic Conference, and was concurrent with two pre-conference workshops at Angelic Organics. The day featured two sessions with Craig Holdrege of The Nature Institute, a tour of the farm, collective story harvest about working with apprentices, and small group discussions exploring how we can support each other as mentor farmers.
From the collective story harvest and small group discussions, we harvested the following insights and ideas:
Collective story harvest – overcoming challenges in working with apprentices
- Communication is key. Breakdowns in communications between mentor/apprentice, owner/manager, apprentice/apprentice were the most common origins of challenges
- Building bridges between apprentices using life stories and biography can help diffuse tension and create common ground
- Connecting with our interest and curiosity in the person with whom we have a challenge can help
- Apprenticeship is a biographically important moment. Our trainees are often at a threshold in their personal development
- Outside events can lead to an inner shift
- Boundaries are essential. Know your own capacity for what you can carry. This may change over time.
- Refine roles of people who come to the farm – What are they coming for? What can we offer?
- Demonstrating moral and ethical behavior is important, though not covered in NABDAP skills checklists. Remember the spiritual element of mentoring.
- Arts and eurhythmy can be an important complement to farming
How can we support each other as mentor farmers? How can the BDA support NABDAP mentors?
Suggestions for improving mentoring
- Learning to listen
- Mentors can ask “Why are we doing this?”
- Create good structure, form for apprenticeship, schedules with flow for a day and week
- Keep people in the loop, share information
- Carve out one-on-one time with each apprentice
- Create a weekly time for concerns, announcements, praise, can include a reading
Structures for support
- Have regional mentor gatherings more than once per year
- Offer social/artistic experiences for mentors and apprentices
- Foundation studies for mentors in anthroposophy
- Hold regional field days
- Create standards for mentor farmers, and a manual
- Create and share how-to bulletins on specific topics
- Facilitate conversations online
- Use website for FAQ’s, create a forum
- Make skills available at each farm into a searchable database
- Create process for older and younger mentors to learn from one another
- Create a sister farm program
- Develop a tool box for mentors – ways to work with perception, communication, biography
- Mentors could write down what they do every season and share
- Mentor self-evaluation – New England Small Farm Institute has a tool for this
The Biodynamic Association is grateful for the collective wisdom shared by all and looks forward to incorporating many of these ideas into our future work.