Situating On-farm Apprenticeships within the Alternative Agrifood Movement: Labor and Social Justice Implications
The beginning farmer phenomenon offers an array of possibilities for facilitating social, economic, and political changes in the agrifood system. Apprenticeships within both formal and informal institutions are increasingly important in the education and social connectivity of beginning farmers. Although apprenticeship opportunities are popular for "new farmers," "aspiring farmers," and their on-farm hosts for a number of reasons, a critical approach is necessary in the design and nature of these experiences, in light of inequitable structural conditions that may reproduce potentially insurmountable barriers to new farm entry and sustainability. Drawing upon alternative agrifood movement discourse and social reproduction at work within critical traditions of sociocultural learning, we illustrate on-farm apprenticeship learning from a critical perspective in order to better describe and understand this form of beginning farmer education. We share findings from a mixed-methods empirical study of on-farm apprenticeship learning in Virginia, where we focus on the practices, structures, and institutional activity that inform on-farm apprenticeship experiences. This study sought to answer the questions: what kinds of on-farm apprenticeships are available, to whom, and in what ways? Also, what are important educational practices, structures, and/or institutions that support on-farm apprenticeship learning? Data are derived from qualitative interviews of host farmer/educators, on-farm apprentices, and new farmers who were recently apprentices; and from a quantitative survey of Virginia farmers who host apprentices. Our findings situate on-farm apprenticeship within a broader discourse about farm labor, as we open the discussion surrounding the relationship between difficulties experienced by small, diversified farms in meeting their labor needs, and the growing popularity of the apprenticeship model on individual farms. We also explore how cultural whiteness within alternative agrifood movements (AAMs) translates to low inclusivity of historically underrepresented groups, and consider how the low- or no-pay model for the tenured duration of the apprenticeship may affect structural barriers to entry for members of low socioeconomic groups, within on-farm apprenticeship and thus within beginning farmer education. Through the themes that emerged in our study, we posit considerations for social justice implications of on-farm apprenticeship, offer several recommendations for the practice and planning of on-farm apprenticeship, and lay groundwork for future exploration of the ways in which the apprenticeship model may reproduce equitable learning spaces.
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