INTERN POSITIONS AT ATHENA’S HARVEST FARM & TRAINING CENTER
Jesse Fleisher & Athena Childs Fleisher
4025 New Highway 7 Santa Fe, TN 38482
Athena’s Harvest is a small vegetable farm run by former Peace Corps volunteers in Fly, TN, 33 miles (as the crow flies) from downtown Nashville. While our property consists of 55 acres, we intensively produce a wide diversity of sustainably grown vegetables and some fruit on less than 2.5 acres of land, with the majority of our sales occurring at retail farmers markets we attend in Nashville, through our CSA program (weekly subscription box of produce), and via some restaurant sales.
Our land consists of rolling pasture, wooded hills, and good bottom farm land. We have a long stretch of creek frontage and springs as well as our farm house, a small greenhouse, and two barns. We use a motley crew of interns (that’s potentially you if you are reading this), shorter term WWOOFers, and local volunteers to grow food and get it out into the community. Teaching and learning are integral parts of our mission, and we do regular check-ins with everyone to make sure that people are learning what they want, and so that feedback can flow both directions.
To learn more about us, check out our website (athenasharvest.com) and Facebook page, and follow our stream on Instagram (@athenasharvest). We would be happy to answer any questions about us, our farm, and our internship positions via phone or email before you fill out an application, but reading this information and looking over our website should give you a good place to start.
We take on 3 full-season interns per season, plus 1 summer only or summer through end of season intern, often college students taking some semesters off or looking for an internship, recent grads who want to learn about farming, or others with a genuine interest in the work and lifestyle of small scale sustainable agriculture. We have had interns use this experience as part of an “official” academic internship requirement, and we can work with you to develop learning objectives and/or see if we meet the requirements for your program.
Because we take the time to instruct new workers and give them additional responsibilities as they become more proficient, and because it naturally takes time for them to build their physical prowess, we prefer to take on interns who can work a full season or a large portion thereof. The “season” runs roughly 9 months from early March through late November, and we give preference to full-season interns who can commit to at least 8 months or more. Full season interns share a simple bunkhouse with AC etc., while summer/partial-season interns tent camp or live in our outdoor camping structure.
Over the course of a season, activities will consist of a wide variety of field work, greenhouse work, planting, transplanting, harvesting, weeding, washing, irrigating, pruning, covering and uncovering, packing, delivering, mulching, market prep, produce selling, equipment/tool/vehicle maintenance, construction, land maintenance, mowing, fence mending, organic pest control, social media engagement, and a multitude of other tasks. Though not certified, we exclusively use organic best practices to grow diverse fruits and vegetables while maintaining our farm’s soil health and ecological balance. No synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides are used, and we don’t plant any GMOs.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, successful farmers must be intelligent, hard working, and proficient in a wide variety of disciplines, and we try to expose our interns to all of them. We like to think of ourselves as specialized generalists. Prior experience in this type of work is valuable and may help your application, but is not necessary or required. Potential applicants should consider their ability to adapt to unfamiliar and occasionally uncomfortable conditions, especially as one is becoming accustomed to the work. You will sometimes have to tolerate heat or cold, dirty skin and clothes, sore muscles, calloused hands, repetitive tasks, and direct contact with insects. You may also have to tolerate silly song singing, cute barn cats trying to “help” you work, sharing/cooking yummy farm meals, meeting new people from around the country and the world, having your jobs change over the course of the season or even a day, and taking refreshing dips in the creek at lunchtime or after work.
Applicants should be in good physical and emotional health! Key qualities we are looking for in our interns are genuine friendliness and enthusiasm for life, willingness to learn and to work hard, a high degree of self-motivation, and the ability to learn via observation and questioning in addition to “direct” teaching. In addition, patience, possession of a good sense of humor, adaptability, and the ability to respect and work with others in a team will serve you well. Being able to interact with children and adults in social or farmers-market settings is a must. Our past experience suggests that those applicants with at least some college experience usually have the maturity level we are seeking, but we will consider applications from anyone 18 years or older. The internship will provide you with many opportunities for learning and skill building, but how much you get out of it will in large part be up to you and how actively you pursue these opportunities. We will nudge you in some critical directions, but have found those who ask us more questions and pursue more paths of personal interest will ultimately find more answers (and more questions!)
Having a drivers license, a safe driving record, and being comfortable driving a car or van (automatic transmission), may be a plus for your application, but is not required. We have actually taught some of our younger interns to drive in the past.
Realistically, potential interns must be capable of sustained physical work outdoors in all weather conditions and temperatures. While we are not a huge wholesale operation that relies on a large labor pool of professional speed pickers, we do value efficiency and personal initiative, while also having fun. Farm work is more of a lifestyle than a typical 9-5 job, and it comes with a lot of perks even though we work hard. We do all the same work as our interns, and interns share in our lives, holidays, and fun events as we go through the year. We and our interns host a weekly community potluck that has become one of the events we most look forward to, but is also a bit of work to set up and take down from each week. For many people, practicing this kind of farming and living in community is a very satisfying kind of existence.
OUR THREE INTERN POSITIONS
Ideally, our three full-season interns will begin at approximately the same time, arriving as a cohort for living and learning purposes. All of our interns will regularly do and be exposed to all of the types of work mentioned above (with planting, picking, weeding, harvesting, washing, food preservation/canning, and market related activities being the bulk of the work), but we prefer that our interns also take on a few areas of particular focus/interest, and increasing responsibility. Each intern will also get the opportunity to act as farm “manager” for a month or two (under Farmer Jesse’s supervision). Fear not, we will train you (or perhaps, you will train us, depending on your prior experience).
Possible areas of focus include (but are not limited to):
- This is a relatively new venture for us, and we are actively seeking interns with flower experience to augment our knowledge and experience.
- A continuing focus in 2021, as it has been for the last few years. We expect at least one of our interns in 2021 to spend a good bit of time on this set of tasks. We sell, eat, donate, or preserve as much of the harvest as possible each year, and food-preservation is an important way we try not to let our work go to waste. In some cases it also provides us with an additional revenue stream as a value-added product (ex. dried herbs). These are great skills for everyone to learn, but there is definitely a learning curve for doing it well, and practice is the only way to become proficient.
- We plan to ramp up our our production of oyster mushrooms in 2021. We use a production system based on pasteurized straw and 5 gallon buckets. New straw must be chopped, pasteurized and seeded with spawn on a regular basis, and growing mushrooms must be misted and harvested as needed. You could become the king or queen of fungi.
Social media engagement, and blog/newsletter management
- We maintain a Facebook page, an Instagram feed, and a Twitter account in addition to a website with a blog and a CSA newsletter. You would regularly contribute to our social media output in all of these realms with input from us. Professional language, spelling, and online etiquette is a must.
Volunteer & School-Group Coordination
- We plan to increase the number of volunteers and volunteer hours worked on the farm this year, while also continuing to host some school groups. A certain amount of logistics is required to reach out to people, respond to queries, and assist with volunteer/school visits. You would help plan and assist with these tasks as needed.
- As a relatively new farm, we are still building out our facilities and infrastructure. The list of possible small construction/carpentry projects is nearly endless, and you would occasionally work/assist on some of these projects (to be prioritized together) in lieu of or in addition to agricultural work.
Farm equipment/tool/vehicle maintenance
- We have a range of hand tools, small machines, and farm vehicles that need to be maintained (cleaned, sharpened, repaired, fluids changed, tires pumped, etc.). You would assist with these tasks and learn to take some of them on fully based on a schedule that we can work out together.
- We have a small orchard (not yet in full production), berry plants, and a property full of old fences and field edges that need to be improved and maintained (pruned/ trained/ mulched/ mowed/ fertilized/ repaired, etc). Downed trees need to be sawed into firewood. You would assist with these tasks.
Permaculture Design & Implementation
- We are at the beginning of our permaculture design process. This is a good time to get hands on permaculture training in a real world setting. This year we will be doing base-mapping, examining flows of water, air, sunlight, people, and animals, researching food forest species appropriate for our site, and beginning implementation of our design. You would be a co-conspirator!
- Past interns have taken on projects ranging from worm composting, to baking, to sign painting, to farm systems design. There are many possible ways to contribute to our farm livelihood and community life.
To be clear once again, everyone will learn/do a bit of everything outlined above, but we will specifically encourage you to pursue some focused interests (or nudge you in a direction we think you may be suited for) as time progresses.
$400/month ($3600 for the full season) for folks who work March 1 – November 30. Full season interns get 10 “paid” vacation days. Shorter term interns also receive $400/month and some vacation days to be worked out with the farm manager. The intern stipends also include simple accommodation + water, electric, and internet utilities, surplus farm produce + partial board. There will be a $75 service charge for anybody who leaves prior to their agreed upon leave date.
Stipend is based on a per day work period rather than an hourly rate. Our working hours can vary considerably based on the day of the week and the time of the season, and given the hazy overlap between farm “life” and farm “work,” the whole concept of working hours may not be a useful way to think about the internship experience. As has been true in agriculture through the generations, we all do what needs to get done, and we make time for fun and relaxing, and often these elements overlap. (An example: we all shell beans or break up garlic cloves while drinking a beer and watching a movie on a Saturday night).
Summer days are longer, and we take full advantage of the light, but even as we strive to get all the work done on any given day, the limits dictated by our needs to eat, engage in recreation, and take care of our physical/mental health ultimately decides how long we work. One way or another, Athena and Jesse generally work as long as our interns on any given day, and sometimes longer, as we tend to do some extra administrative/computer work and planning at night and in the very early morning.
The stipend is essentially meant to help you offset expenses during the year and perhaps have a bit of money to take home with you at the end of the season. If money is your primary motivator for your choice of work/internship, we advise that there are many other, more financially lucrative work options available in the world. You should only pursue our farm internship because you want to learn about farming and live a good, healthy, simple lifestyle in a fun community of other farmers and friends.
Interns are expected to work 6 days a week with their one day off preferably occurring on Sunday. Taking a different day of the week off may be possible with consultation, but interns are required to coordinate so that no more than 1 intern is off-duty on the same day in any given week (unless it is Sunday). Sign-ups for days off can be made up to 3 weeks in advance. Interns working 8 months or more may take 10 days of “paid” (does not count against your stipend) vacation. It will be preferable not to take a large chunk of your vacation in August or September as this is the time when there is the heaviest grind on basic farm tasks and routines. Interns must coordinate so that their vacations do not overlap. Vacation days do not need to be taken all at once. It is possible to take half days.
Most interns choose to take the bulk of their stipend in a single check when they leave, but interns may withdraw $100 or more in any given week, up to the prorated amount owed, or get paid monthly. Some interns have have found ways to augment their pocket cash by taking on occasional babysitting jobs, selling their crafts/baked-goods from the farm, or finding other odd jobs on their days off, but many prefer just to relax or do activities for fun. We support either approach, but note that a farm internship is probably not the best idea if you have serious debts, expenses, or financial obligations that you are struggling to pay off at the same time. Please consider realistically what your financial needs will be for the time period you are committing to, and place a strong value on taking some time each week for fun/relaxation/self-directed activities.
Extensive Hands-On Experience with all aspects of operating and maintaining a small sustainable vegetable farm, including direct mentorship.
This is the real benefit of working with us. We are transparent with our interns about what it takes to start a small farm from scratch, farm finances, decision making, and past successes and mistakes. *We want more people to want to become farmers or at least serious gardeners!* You will learn a lot about what to do and what not to do and why, as well as gaining enough experience to begin forming your own opinions about which techniques and practices you might want to adopt yourself, and which ones you don’t agree with or would like to improve upon in your own future endeavors.
Fun. Satisfaction. Camaraderie.
Fitness. Healthy, frugal lifestyle. Few expenses. Increased awareness of and knowledge about botany, soil, water, weather, and seasonal changes. Intimate knowledge of a new place/culture. Not having to work in an office or indoor retail environment. No dress code. Opportunities to meet other organic and sustainable farmers. Working with your hands and gaining real, functional, “hard” skills. Sharing stories, food, music, and life experiences with good people.We will be starting in on our Permaculture Design work this year, and you can be a part of planning and building our future environment!
We provide a simple, furnished, climate controlled sleeping area in a converted utility building for full-season interns. Essentially it is a simple bunk house just for sleeping and storing some of your belongings. Interns sleep in the three separate loft/floor spaces of the bunk house. Privacy is minimal, but we have rigged up curtains which do the job. The bunk house also contains a mini-fridge, and just outside, a dry composting toilet system for night (or day) use. Tent camping options are also available. For regular showers and bathroom and general hanging out, interns typically use our main farmhouse from 6AM to 10PM (keeping in mind that there is one indoor hot shower available for however many of us are living on the farm at any given moment). We also have a solar shower for use outdoors, and installed a proper outdoor hot/cold shower in 2020. Past interns and visitors have also enjoyed bathing in the creek during the warmer months. We have a good swimming hole.
In general, we try to provide interns with a bit of their own space, while also allowing access to our small home and it’s kitchen/ bathroom/living space during the day and early evening (6AM-10PM). Occasionally we have folks stay later as time or events warrant (we can feel it out together). Interns are also welcome to hang out in the barn, and store items in the cold room, house fridge, or barn freezer as space allows. Upon arrival, we require a $75 deposit (actually just a withholding from your final stipend payment) for your living space, to be fully reimbursed to you upon your departure assuming the living space has been kept in a good condition.
Surplus vegetables and unsold “seconds” are available free for all of us to share. We also provide some basic bulk food supplies for interns and WWOOFers, like rice, beans/lentils, oats, and other food staples (we’ve got a list) + toilet paper. Beyond these vegetables and staples, interns are expected to pool their money and purchase additional food items of their choosing. A system that has worked well in the past is for each intern to contribute ~$17/week (or interns can mutually choose a different amount) to a pot that can be used as needed. If desired, we can make this contribution for you and deduct it from your stipend. We will also make this contribution of staples and $ on the behalf of any WWOOFers who may be present. Interns are expected to bring their own sheets, towels, toiletries, and medications (we have basic first aid supplies available for everyone).
Breakfast is usually prepared individually unless someone volunteers to prepare breakfast for all. Lunch is similar. Our daily shared potluck meal between Athena and I and all of our interns/volunteers is dinner, and we’ll plan to cook and eat together at dinner each day. We usually set up a schedule of rotating cooking duties as needed. Athena is generally pescatarian (eats vegetarian + fish & dairy), as is Jesse by default, so we don’t usually purchase meat for our interns and WWOOFers, but we don’t mind if you want to cook and eat meat in our facilities.
On almost every Thursday evening from April – November, we host a community potluck event called “Neighbor’s Night” that is often the highlight of our week, with music, great food, bonfires, and a theme that people are welcome to follow or not. Hosting (including setup and cleanup) is part of the work on the farm, but most past interns have cited Neighbor’s Night as one of the highlights of living here.
The farmhouse and other spaces get dirty quickly with 3 or more people working in the soil and coming in and out on a daily basis, and 40+ neighbors coming in and out on Thursday nights. Interns are expected to share in cooking and cleaning and other household/ community duties as mature, responsible community members according to a weekly chore schedule. We don’t want or need to act as supervisors or parents when you are off-duty, but we can certainly be a friend/peer/mentor when you are in need.
Nashville is the closest place to the farm that you can reach with easy public transportation (Greyhound bus, Megabus, or one of many airlines). We can pick you up or take you to one of these stations at the beginning or end of your stay, or when you travel for vacation. While you are here, you will find that our rural area is just as the word indicates. There is a very limited general store within walking distance, a few more things within medium biking distance, and everything else is car distance away. We do make frequent trips to local towns for shopping (Columbia, TN is about 20 minutes by car and is where we go most frequently, Franklin is 25 minutes, Leiper’s Fork is 15 minutes but much smaller). We also go into Nashville 2 or 3 times per week. Interns are welcome to ride in and out with us on any of these ventures when space is available.
An Uber ride from Nashville back to the farm costs in the range of $55, but getting Uber to pick you up at the farm is difficult. If you bring your own vehicle, you will have more freedom of movement, and you can make arrangements with other interns & WWOOFers as you see fit.
Interns should use their own personal toiletries, sunscreen, medicines, towels, sheets, laundry detergent (another good item to get together on with the other interns), and other personal items, but are welcome to use our washing machine for washing clothes. In warmer months, we hang most of our clothes outside to dry, but we do have a dryer for colder and wetter times. We encourage interns to bring a couple of water bottles for keeping hydrated. We also recommend, though we don’t require, that you bring a really cheap digital watch. Many folks have found that a simple (easy to open and close quickly) 2”-3” blade pocket knife has many uses around the farm. On a hopefully unrelated note, we do keep a basic first-aid kit available for interns and WWOOFers to use in the case of cuts, scrapes and other minor injuries.
Based on repeated past experiences, pets are not permitted. We know your pets are probably wonderful, but there are just too many potential problems, complications, and liabilities with multiple people and pets on the farm. We worry about our own animals and gardens, and those of our immediately adjacent neighbor farm. That being said, since we and our neighbor do have some cute critters of our own, you can still get your warm & fuzzy fix as needed. We don’t allow any animals inside our farm house or the intern sleeping quarters.
Most of our interns and WWOOFers each year are non-smokers, and we do not allow smoking in or immediately adjacent to any farm building or tents, in our gardens, in our vehicles, or at market. We also don’t allow smoke breaks in the midst of working. If you must smoke, we ask that you do so in your free time (during lunch, or after work, or on your day off), in open space on the farm, and without littering.
Clothing & Shoes.
There is no dress code for working on the farm or going to market (wear whatever you are comfortable with), but we do have some practical suggestions based on past observations. Fashion in the context of farm work is dumb. Comfort, durability, and utility are all better attributes to choose from. Loose fitting is fine, but long dangling fringe or other long hanging cords or jewelry are likely to get caught in something, cause problems, get lost, or be dangerous. Save those items for your days off. A lightweight long sleeve button up shirt is useful for picking okra in the summer. Hats are great. At minimum a baseball cap, but a full brimmed hat is better. Keep in mind too that the beginning and end of the season will be very cold and wet [yes, it gets cold in TN], while mid-summer will be extremely sunny, hot and humid for weeks on end.
Preferences for summer work attire range from nothing at all to covering up completely with lightweight cotton fabrics for sun protection. There will certainly be some days when it rains, and if there is not lightning present, we’ll probably be out in it. Wet and hot can actually be nice, but wet and cold can become miserable in a hurry. You may want a rain jacket. You are welcome to enjoy sandals, bare feet, or other open shoes in the summer, but we require that you bring at least one pair of sturdy close-toed shoes because there are any number of farm jobs that require them for safety or to effectively do the job. You should anticipate your need for them based on the schedule for the day and not have to run and get them in the middle of working.
You should assume that ALL the clothes and shoes you use for work will become permanently stained or dirty. Consider a trip to the Goodwill rather than buying anything new for farm work purposes. Clean clothes should be saved/worn for going to market or relaxing on your off days, but your favorite “F— You” t-shirt is probably not the best option for engaging with customers and selling vegetables. We’ll let you use your own judgment, unless your judgment is terrible.
Internet & Electronics.
We don’t have great internet on the farm, not because we are opposed to it, but because we live in a rural area and our options are limited. Our internet speed is fairly slow by city-folk standards, but more importantly, we have a lot of people using the same limited bandwidth connection, and work purposes need to take precedence over other uses. You will always have basic access for email, filling out forms, catching up on news, text chatting, or doing work, but there may be times when we ask that you limit personal streaming video or audio, downloading large files, or video sharing on personal social media. Interns cannot download pirated music/video/software on our shared connection, or we may lose it for everyone, with serious consequences for our farm.
Until some golden future when fast/unlimited internet arrives in rural Tennessee, we will all share the same slow connection that Athena and Jesse use for work, a use which can and will trump all other uses and users when necessary. We do have a big TV for watching DVDs, movies from a thumb drive, or Amazon Prime/Netflix, a good collection of books and music, and a wide world of nature to keep you entertained in your off hours. Bringing along a few entertainment items, journaling materials, or a musical instrument of your own is a good idea.
Bringing your own phone to the farm is a good idea if you have one, and you can certainly use your own data to get decent 4g internet on your phone, but note that the only cell signal we receive here is from AT&T. Your phone may connect to it even if you are not on AT&T, but it may require roaming, so check your details before you make any assumptions. Unless there is a pending emergency, we don’t allow interns or WWOOFers to carry their phones or personal radios/music devices with them while they work. We find that worker phones and devices in the field distract us and them from the work at hand despite everyone’s assurances and best intentions to the contrary. You can use them during breaks and when you are off duty, but we hope you’ll not use them to such an extent that you tune out the people and life happening all around you. There may be work related instances where we ask that you keep your phone with you in the field, but these are exceptions rather than the rule. We prefer that people be present in the moment and in the work they are doing and with the people around them as much as possible during the day. These devices often get in the way of that goal.
Some interns have used their farm experience as a good time to step back a bit from the world of constant connectivity, rediscovering the lost arts of letter writing, journaling, book reading, and quiet mindfulness. Singing and talking and laughing together is a good alternative as long as the work dictates our speed rather than the talking, and when we need a bit of extra pep we can always pull the stereo out from the barn and blast it out into the field for everyone to listen to instead of just one person tuning out everyone/everything else. For those times when you really do need to be in your own head space, silence is golden, and certain farm tasks can be very meditative.
Thanks for Reading!
Please click the external application link on Handshake to be redirected to our applicant tracking system. Contact us via phone or email if you need an application in email or paper form. Jesse Fleisher & Athena Childs Fleisher (November, 2021)