The North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program (NABDAP) provides structure, breadth and depth to a beginning farmer's training while allowing the flexibility to pursue individual interests. Each apprentice may fulfill the requirements of the program at the farms and education centers of their choice. The structural elements of the program include on-the-job training and classroom learning, as well as ongoing support.
NABDAP apprentices complete 24 months of on-farm training at their choice of mentor farms, all of which have a strong educational focus. Mentor farmers are not simply looking for seasonal help on their farm. They are educators, committed to training the next generation of farmers. Mentor farms are both organic and biodynamic — apprentices are required to spend at least one year of their on-farm training on biodynamic farms. All of the mentor farms work with the same curriculum components:
- Skills Checklists: Apprentices and mentor farmers use the skills checklists to keep track of the skills apprentices are acquiring during their on-farm training, some of which must be mastered in order to achieve certification through the program. The checklists allow apprentices and mentor farmers to establish clear learning objectives, and they become a universally-understood transcript within the network of mentor farms.
- Farm Journal: Apprentices keep a journal during the course of the on-farm training, recording observations of weather and farm conditions as well as daily work completed on the farm. This serves as a valuable record of time spent on the farm to refer to in future years, and helps apprentices build observation skills. In regular meetings with trainees, mentor farmers review the journals and make suggestions for their improvement.
- Farm Visits: Apprentices participate in at least six field days at other biodynamic and organic farms in the region to broaden their on-farm experience.
- Independent Project: In the second year of on-farm training, apprentices design and execute an independent project on the farm with guidance from the mentor farmer and regional coordinator.
- Evaluations: At the end of the season, the apprentice and mentor farmer each complete a written evaluation of the other.
NABDAP apprentices also complete a participating classroom study course of their choice. Each course is a series of weekend workshops and/or longer intensives with at least 13 days or 78 hours of instruction. NABDAP courses cover core concepts in biodynamic agriculture and the worldview from which it has developed, including the following essential topics:
Biodynamics in Context
- Historical context of biodynamic agriculture
- Biography of Rudolf Steiner
- Relationship between natural science, Goethean science and spiritual science
The Nature of the Human Being and the Earth
- Physical and spiritual constitution of the human being and the earth
- Co-evolution (past and future)
- Personal development (from receiver to giver)
- Rhythms of wake/sleep and birth/death
The Earth’s Celestial Environment
- Orientation to night sky
- Astronomical basis of seasons
- Planetary movements and rhythms
- Lunar rhythms
The Dynamics of Soil, Plant and Animal Life
- Constitution and relationships of soils, plants and animals
- Cosmic and earthly substances and forces
- The four elements and ethers
Biodynamic Practices on the Farm
- Developing a self-sustaining farm individuality
- Managing plant-animal relationships
- Composting and soil care
- The biodynamic preparations
- Using agricultural calendars
- Meditation as a farming practice
The Social Context of the Farm
- The threefold social organism
- Economic relationships
- Community relationships
- Methods of personal development
NABDAP apprentices have a phone meeting with the NABDAP coordinator at least once per season to discuss their progress and future plans within the program. Regional coordinators are also available as an additional source of support for apprentices during on-farm training. They are able to point trainees towards additional conferences and workshops in the region and connect them to other local farmers whose operations might interest them. Regional coordinators are available to meet with apprentices during the season, and can serve as mediators for any conflicts that might arise between an apprentice and their mentor farmer.