Pine Root Farm
We offer various apprenticeships, from April through November. Ideal candidates are available either full season or for a 2-3 month period during our peak harvest (July, August, and September). Other stays are possible, but less ideal. We do not have any year-round opportunities, but do welcome back apprentices for another season if they’re a good fit and want to take on more responsibility.
We’re located in beautiful Steep Falls, Maine. Forest and the Saco River back the farm, and Route 113 fronts it – ensuring a busy farm stand in a quiet rural setting. We live above our business, and our apprentices live in a group of cabins in the woods. The area is full of hiking trails, great swimming holes, and ice cream shops. Portland is 40 minutes east, and the White Mountains are 40 minutes west. We’re well-integrated into our community, and are lucky to have quite a bunch of farms nearby to work and hang with!
Pine Root is a 15 acre mixed veggie and flower farm. We’re focused on providing our community with healthy and affordable food, selling through our on-site farm stand, a 200 family CSA, and the Portland Farmers Market. We work closely with local food banks and food rescue groups, participate in the Maine Senior Farm Share Program, and our own Prescriptions for Produce Program. The stand stocks local products like dairy, bread, and value-added goods, is full service, and is open 7 days a week June – October. In normal times, we host free events and cookouts for the community.
We have a greenhouse where we start all of our own plants, and in 2021 we launched a seedling enterprise with a 2nd year apprentice. We have one 90’ high tunnel for tomatoes. Everything else is grown in rotation, planted in black plastic mulch with drip irrigation. We share a fleet of tractors with the family, antiques from the 1940s and some newer Kubotas, which we use as much as we can. Planting is done with a water wheel, detail weeding and all harvesting is done by hand. Primary crops include sweet corn, cukes, garlic, greens, herbs, melons, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, sunflowers, and tomatoes. We have bantam chickens for decor, a rescue dog, and a cat named Stanley, famous for hamming it up with our customers.
We are not an organic operation, and currently have no plans to seek certification. This is mainly because our customers do not demand it yet, and we are afraid it might price out the very same people we prioritize or make farming for our livelihoods too difficult. We are mindful of our methods, and in 2021 we switched over to organic or natural sprays. We plant cover crops, and add manure and compost to our soil to replenish it. In partnership with our Extension agent, mentors, and apprentices, each season we learn about and implement new practices that benefit us all.
Our full season apprentices have the opportunity to learn about and perform almost every task that needs doing on the farm, and we’re also very transparent about the business side of things. We love teaching, never “gender-sort” or engage in similarly divisive behavior, and as long as they are comfortable and demonstrate common sense, everyone on our crew will get the opportunity to learn how to operate a tractor and hook up equipment. Days at the farmers market rotate, as do shifts in the farm stand. Shorter season apprentices will miss out on spring and fall specific tasks, but get lots of intensive farming experience.
In the early spring, we prep the fields, start plants in the greenhouse, and usually have time for one or two small carpentry projects. By mid-May planting season is in full swing, and we start our seedling sale. June brings our first early crops, and opening day for the farm stand. We spend a lot of time weeding, tending tomatoes, and planting later successions of crops until harvesting becomes all-consuming in late July. We harvest every day, with the biggest harvests on days before markets. August is our busiest month. Things begin to slow down, or at least change, after Labor Day. We clean up the fields – mowing, pulling up plastic mulch, planting cover crops – and harvest fall crops like pumpkins and winter squash. The stand closes on October 31st, and our crew goes home unless arrangements have been made to stay on and help with wreath making or another project.
By the end of their apprenticeships, our crew should be able to run the farm without us. Skills learned include how to: start seeds and work in a greenhouse; lay plastic mulch and set up drip irrigation; transplant using a water wheel planter and drive a Kubota tractor; weed efficiently with a hoe and by hand; prune and tie tomatoes; harvest and grade a variety of crops; make a mixed bouquet; pack a truck for market and make beautiful displays; run a busy farm stand and market booth; operate a CSA; make a farm a community asset.
While we don’t require farming experience, a knowledge of what it takes is very helpful: having had a prior physical outdoor job as well as customer service experience goes a long way. A driver’s license is required in most cases.
We look for:
– A very strong work ethic and a willingness to take the initiative
– A positive attitude and a commitment to good communication
– The physical and mental strength needed for repetitive tasks and long hours in all weather, for a full season or as long as committed
– The ability to take direction from women and younger people, including coworkers
– The ability to work in a team or alone, to be in both supportive and leadership roles
– The willingness and self-awareness needed to live and work harmoniously with a small group of diverse people in a rural setting
– A respect for the apprenticeship program and our business and a desire to learn as much as possible
Hours per day can vary depending on the season, but at the peak expect to work up to 60 hours a week. Apprentices work 6 days a week, with one day off (not a weekend day) and an additional paid day off each month. Additional time off can be arranged in advance but will not be paid. Farming is all about heavy physical labor, and we expect you to take care of yourself so that you’re able to enjoy the work. We all have household chores (facilitated by a chore wheel) that we do after-hours. We had a baby in August 2021, so while we love socializing with our apprentices, it’s important that we have family time to ourselves and that folks can entertain themselves. Any babysitting would only be done if all parties are willing – might make a nice break from weeding! We encourage apprentices to get involved with local food banks, visit neighboring farms, and attend MOFGA events.
Teaching is our favorite part of the apprenticeship program. We try to accommodate your learning style, and are happy to focus on particular interests and goals. We work alongside our apprentices to teach new skills and give feedback, but once everyone is comfortable it’s common to work independently (especially now that there’s a baby). Each morning we circle up to stretch, check in, and go over the to-do list. We have clear systems established for harvest schedules, farm stand shifts, etc, so once folks have settled in, it’s easy to accomplish a lot without much supervision. We also expect full-season apprentices to help teach new arrivals, and we learn a lot from our crews every season.
Check-ins are done 2 weeks after starting, at mid-season, and at end-of-season. Additionally, we will check in if needed to offer extra feedback if we feel like something has to improve, or if we need to do something differently. In the rare instance that we have to let someone go, there would be a series of check-ins, opportunity to improve, and 2 weeks to find a new farm or make plans while continuing to work. We hope that apprentices would also give us two weeks notice so that we could plan.
Yes. I (Ruby) work full-time as a farmer from April – November. I used to work as a carpenter in the winters, but now that the farm can support us year-round, I hang out with Baby Juniper and do small projects on the property. My husband (Gideon) works full-time off the farm as a timber-framer, picking corn in emergencies only.
We like to work alongside our apprentices as much as we can, but spend a lot of time driving the tractor, managing things behind the scenes, and keeping a small human alive. We’re also trying to have more time together as a family, so will be attempting to take two days off a week. That being said, we’re on the farm pretty much 24/7 and prefer pulling weeds over staring at a screen.
We provide a stipend of $250/week, room and board, and an end of season bonus for all of our apprentices staying two months or longer. Room: a small cabin in the woods with electricity, an outhouse, and common space with a kitchen – plus wifi, laundry, and indoor plumbing at the house. Board: lots o’ groceries that we buy weekly (special diets accommodated), unlimited veg from the farm, and goodies like ice cream from the stand as long as you share. Bonus: baseline of $100/per month worked, increased for exceptional performance.
Arrangements for shorter stays, or apprentices wishing to live off-farm, will be negotiated differently. Second year (with us) apprentices receive $500/week and opportunities to profit share in a specific enterprise. We may also have part time hourly positions available for local, experienced help, for example as a farm stand manager or at a market in Portland.
Most of our recent apprentices have been hired over Zoom, but visits are very welcome! We have a check-in after two weeks, but no trial period. It’s challenging for us to lose an apprentice that we had counted on, so we work hard during the interview process to ensure a successful fit. If you do have to leave, we ask that you give us some time to hire a replacement. In turn, we give you time to make plans if it doesn’t work out from our perspective. The more honest the interview, the better!
We have an “apprentice village” in the woods, a 3 minute walk through the fields from the main house. You’ll have your own furnished one room cabin with electricity, with access to a common cabin and an outhouse. There’s a fire pit, hammock, and irrigation pond. The main house/farm stand has another kitchen, an outdoor shower and indoor plumbing, laundry, and wifi. We live in a small apartment over the stand, and welcome our crew into our space for movie nights and weekly dinners.
We provide groceries and limitless veg, our crews are well fed and we accommodate all diets. Usually apprentices make their own meals, but cooking for the group happens organically and we have at least one dinner together every week. Household chores are done by everyone, facilitated by a chore wheel. It’s very important to pull your weight in a communal living situation, and to be able to resolve your own dish dramas. No smoking near the stand, house, or apprentice village. No drinking or marijuana use during work hours or in any way that interferes with your work, and no underage drinking/smoking. No illegal substances. We hire people with varied life experiences, so being respectful about substance use around others is a must.
We do have a Farm Employee Manual that we review when apprentices arrive, and sign together. It covers expectations for work performance, as well as communal living. We evaluate work in the field and give feedback when needed, as well as at the scheduled one-on-one check-ins. If someone is in danger of being let go or quitting, we would have a series of check-ins with time allowed for improvement.
|I (Ruby) grew up on my family’s farm, Merrifield, in Cornish, Maine. My sister and I were given the opportunity to grow our own crops starting at 8 years old. We both continued farming with our parents through high school, and at 19 I took over a 15 acre free-lease and small stand in a neighboring town. Grace joined me a year later, and we ran Merrifield Farm Stand together for 3 years, building it into a thriving business that she continued to run until 2021. I graduated from College of the Atlantic in 2013, where I studied community development, sustainable business, and design/build. In 2014, I started Pine Root Farm. Our parents still farm in Cornish, and while my sister is stepping back a bit while she starts her midwifery career, she and her partner continue to be involved. My husband grew up bouncing back and forth from Down East, Maine and Hawaii. His parents always had a huge market garden, but he wasn’t paid well as a farm kid so became a timber framer instead. We all believe in the importance of good land stewardship, keeping healthy local food accessible, and creating community.|
|Our family and farm crew tend to lean to the left, but as long as our apprentices can be respectful of each other and our community, we’re set!|
Education and Relationship Building: We share as much of our knowledge as we can, honestly and frequently. We encourage our apprentices to learn from other farmers and organizations while in Maine, and to teach us as well. We are available to our apprentices as mentors for life.
Equity and Inclusivity: We challenge our own perspectives and acknowledge our privileges. We are committed to creating a more equitable farming community through hiring historically and currently under-supported beginning farmers.
Environmental Sustainability: We steward the land responsibly and balance our environmental and social goals.
Safe and fair: We strive to makethe apprenticeship program accessible and beneficial to everyone, and are grateful to all the individuals who choose to work with us. We put clear communication and respect before all else.
Former apprentice reference
Former apprentice reference
Nichole Howard, Long-term Employee/Friend