Beginning Farmers Gain Experience

Iowa Farmers Help Next Generation of Aspiring Farmers Learn the Ropes Through On-the-Job Training

Susan Payne
By  Susan Payne , DTN Social Media and Young Farmer Editor
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Matt and Jocelyn Vermeersch of Mud Ridge Ranch near Council Bluffs are two of the many Iowa farmers who have partnered with Practical Farmers of Iowa to offer paid labor experience to beginning and aspiring farmers. (Photo courtesy of Practical Farmers of Iowa)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Aspiring and beginning Iowa farmers who are searching for employment and hands-on training in farm management and production skills can find both through a program offered by Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Through the organization's Labor4Learning program, experienced farmers from a range of farm systems and enterprises offer paid, on-the-job training on topics such as record-keeping, marketing and other skills that beginning and aspiring farmers might find valuable to their own operations.

Prior to launching their own farm businesses, it's important that beginning and aspiring farmers gain experience with not only the day-to-day tasks of running a farm, but also the business management responsibilities, Practical Farmers of Iowa stated in a news release.

Most on-farm jobs, however, do not expose employees to the full range of responsibilities required to run a farm operation. Labor4Learning seeks to fill that gap by offering more well-rounded job experience.

Hannah Breckbill, owner of Humble Hands Harvest in Decorah, Iowa, has been a trainer for the Labor4Learning program since 2018. Although the position on her farm has been filled for this year, Breckbill told DTN she encourages other Iowa farmers to get involved in the program.

"The program encourages farmers to take seriously the professional development of their employees," Breckbill said in an interview with DTN. "We are always sitting down and making sure we know what their goals are and what they want to learn. It creates a better working relationship when we are invested in the professional development of our employees."

Breckbill's farm operates from about April to September, and like the other farm trainers who participate in the Labor4Learning program, Breckbill offers a full-time position for someone to learn planting, transplanting, harvest, post-harvest handling, washing, delivering and storing plants and produce. Humble Hands also operates a farmers market booth in which the employee trainee can gain experience managing.

Each trainer farm in the Labor4Learning program was approved by a committee of Practical Farmers of Iowa members to serve as qualified teachers. The farms represent a diversity of enterprises and production practices, including row crops, small grains, multiple species of livestock, fruits and vegetables, flowers, tree crops, cover crops, organic certification and more.

To participate as a trainee in Labor4Learning, applicants should submit resumes and references directly to the trainer farm. If hired, participants are given a Practical Farmers of Iowa membership, opportunities to network with other beginning and aspiring farmers and discounts to PFI learning events.

2023 Labor4Learning Trainer Farms include:

-- Adair County: Dale and Marcie Raasch, Bridgewater Farm (Bridgewater), certified organic vegetables and fruits, hay, cattle, hogs, broilers, laying hens.

-- Boone County: Mike Salama, Salama Greenhouse (Boone), greenhouse production of ornamentals and hydroponic vegetables.

-- Cedar County: Derek Roller and Molly Schintler, Echollective Farm (Mechanicsville), vegetables, herbs, flowers, mushrooms, seed garlic.

-- Clayton County: Natasha Hegmann and Pete Kerns, Turkey River Farm (Elkport), pastured pigs and turkeys, vegetables, mushrooms, bedding plants; Jason Klinge, Farmersburg, heat-resistant, pasture-finished cattle.

-- Chickasaw County: Martha McFarland, Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch (Fredericksburg), bison, cattle, hay, agritourism.

-- Guthrie County: David Royer, David Royer Farms (Coon Rapids), row crops, cow-calf herd, pigs, hay, cover crops.

-- Linn County: Marcus and Emma Johnson, Buffalo Ridge Orchard (Central City), herbs, vegetables, apples, pears, row crops; Donna Warhover, Morning Glory LLC (Mt. Vernon), vegetables, herbs, eggs, greenhouse and high tunnel production.

-- Mahaska County: Meredith Nunnikhoven, Barnswallow Flowers (Oskaloosa), cut flowers, chestnuts.

-- Polk County: Aaron Lehman, Lehman Farms Ltd. (Polk City), organic and conventional corn, soybeans, oats and hay.

-- Pottawattamie County: Matt Vermeersch, Mud Ridge Farms (Council Bluffs), graizer/ranch hand.

-- Story County: Naomi and Andrew Friend, Friend's Flowers (Story City), cut flowers; Dean and Judy Henry, Berry Patch Farm (Nevada), apples, cherries, berries and produce; Lee Matteson, Lee's Greens (Nevada), fruits, and vegetables; Alice McGary, Mustard Seed Community Farm (Ames), vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, bees, chickens, sheep; Noah Wendt, A & W Farms (Huxley), conventional row crops, organic small grains, grass-based beef cattle and cover crops.

-- Poweshiek County: Jordan Scheibel, Middleway Farm (Grinnell), farm crew member.

-- Washington County: James Nisly, Organic Greens LLC (Kalona), microgreens, field vegetables.

-- Winneshiek County: Hannah Breckbill, Humble Hands Harvest (Decorah) seasonal worker; Parker Bears, Canoe Creek Dairy (Decorah), seasonal farm hand.

A list of the open positions with detailed descriptions can be found at…. Filled positions are continually updated.

Susan Payne can be reached at

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Susan Payne

Susan Payne
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