Apprenticeships at Cricket Creek Farm

**** We are now accepting applications for 2015 – 2016 ****

Applications accepting on a rolling basis.  Start date: Feb – May 2015

Cricket Creek Farm is a small grass-based dairy in Western Massachusetts. We make several award-winning cheeses from the milk of our herd of Brown Swiss and Jersey cows (currently milking about 25 cows). In addition to the cheese, we sell raw milk from our farm store. We also raise pigs and beef, as well as layer hens. We make all our own hay for our cows that we feed out during the winter.

We have a small self-serve Farm Store, are a member of Berkshire Grown and sell cheese to many shops & restaurants in the Berkshires. We attend several local farmers markets and have a full-farm CSA offering milk, cheese, and beef.

We have two types of apprenticeship opportunities here, on the farm and in the creamery. Both farm and creamery apprentices attend farmers markets, help with the CSA and general farm maintenance and upkeep. For both the farm and creamery apprenticeship, experience is preferred. Most of our apprentices come here with some agricultural experience. Those without any related experience will only be considered if they can demonstrate a real passion and willingness to work.

We are located in Williamstown, MA – a small college town in the northern Berkshires. Williamstown has a great independent movie theater, the Clark Art museum, a wonderful theater festival in the summertime and several great restaurants. We are surrounded by preserved land with many hiking trails. Nearby is Mass MOCA, Tanglewood, and many lovely small towns. Williamstown is 3 hours from Boston and 3 1/2 hours from NYC.

Creamery Apprenticeship

Those interested in the cheese apprenticeship must be comfortable learning the technical aspects of cheese making, including some chemistry. Must be very meticulous, detail oriented, and experienced in sanitary food preparation/handling. Cleanliness is key. Work in the creamery is fun and rewarding and also requires long hours on your feet washing dishes and caring for the aging cheese. Work includes making cheese, affinage, and creamery maintenance.

Farm Apprenticeship

Agricultural experience is preferable, with livestock experience a plus.Apprentices will participate in all aspects of a small dairy farm, including milking cows, calf-rearing, hay making, rotational grazing and pasture management. Morning milking is at 6am and evening milking is at 5PM – apprentices should expect to milk some mornings and some evenings every week.

All apprentices must have good people skills and enjoy interacting with the public. We’re looking for apprentices who are excited about taking on significant responsibility. All apprentices will be attending weekly farmers markets and occasionally making deliveries. All apprentices work 6 full days per week with 1 full day off. Everyone will have a different day off – it may not be a weekend day. We are looking for self-motivated people who are interested in learning through hard work.

CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training): Cricket Creek Farm participates in the CRAFT program.  This means that our apprentices will have the opportunity to visit many other small farms during their time here and connect with the apprentice community in this region.  We are thrilled to be part of this group and offer this exciting opportunity to apprentices.  To find out more about the CRAFT program, check out the CRAFT website.

Compensation: We provide housing, a stipend, and some food. Apprentices will share the farm house with the other apprentices, located on the farm. The house has wireless internet, heat, two bathrooms, and a fully-equipped kitchen. We also provide a stipend of $500/month. Raw milk is free and available to all Cricket Creek staff and apprentices. All staff and apprentices have access to pulled baked goods, freezer burned meat, and receive a 20% discount on all items in our farm store.

Communication: Communication is of paramount importance here. We strive to create a work environment that is comfortable, open, clear, and honest for everyone. Every week we have a staff meeting, during which everyone sits down together to review the week and any upcoming news. During this meeting everyone shares personal highlights and difficulties of the previous week. It is also an opportunity to openly discuss any farm happenings.

On an individual basis, we have regular scheduled check-ins with apprentices to give and receive feedback. The check-ins take place every couple of months, and are an important space for bringing up any issues in a formal and intimate setting.

Another important piece regarding communication is the use of internet here on the farm. Since we have a relatively large staff, and there are so many moving parts here, we rely heavily on use of the internet for internal communications. There is wireless internet around the farm, and we expect all apprentices to check their email regularly and respond to emails as needed. This piece, while it may seem trivial is definitely part of working here.

Farm upkeep: While not directly related to raising livestock, making cheese, or marketing, we all share the responsibility of farm upkeep. Apprentices who come here for a year are expected to take part in this in both a structured and unstructured capacity. Everyone has regularly scheduled tasks which include sweeping, mopping, dusting, restocking the farm store, taking out the trash, etc.

Other related work is property maintenance such as tending the greenspaces around the farm store, mowing the lawn, simple repairs etc. We consider all this work to be part of operating a farm, especially a farm that is as visible and public as ours. Customers come through the store every day and it is our shared responsibility that we are presenting a professional, clean, and productive space. A clean and organized farm also makes a more comfortable place for all of us to work and reside, and also is a critical part of the high quality food we produce here.

Work Schedule and days off: All apprentices work six days per week, as do the farm managers. Everyone’s day off is different, and you should not expect a Saturday or Sunday as your day off. It is likely that your day off will be a day Monday-Friday. Work days vary from 8-12 hours, depending on the day of the week and the time of year. The average work week is 55-65 hours. Apprentices should come with the confidence that this schedule will work for them.

If you have any doubts about your ability or enthusiasm for working long days, this position is not for you. The people who fit in best here are those who enjoy a long day of work, who find farm tasks to occupy any down time, and who are highly self-directed and motivated.

Daily Structure: The day begins at a different time for each person, depending on their work for that day. Morning milking is at 6:30am, and therefore whoever is milking in the morning should start sometime between 5:30 and 6am, depending on how long they need to set up, bring the cows in, etc.

In the morning, work on the farm and in the creamery begins at 8am.  However, on days when we are making cheese, the person leading the cheese make is expected to begin setting up no later than 7:30am.

Each day everyone works until until 4:30pm or later if necessary in order to complete the work for the day.  We are all here to learn and work, and we look for apprentices who are interested in fully committing themselves to this farm while they are here.

The structure of the day varies depending on whether you are working on the farm or in the creamery. Every person who works here has an individualized schedule that they follow each day, whether working on the farm or in the creamery. The tasks in the creamery are very structured as we follow the same rigid production schedule each week.

Tasks on the farm side are a bit more variable, and respond to the changing needs of the livestock, forage production, feeding, animal health, grazing, etc.

Meals and Breaks:

Meals are not scheduled at a particular time, and are not shared in any formal sense, with the exception of Monday lunch Everyone except for the morning milker is expected to eat breakfast before starting their work day.

Lunch can be taken at any time that seems logical and comfortable, and fits in with the work of that day. For example, when making cheese, lunch can be taken only during a time when attention is not needed in the creamery, not during activity while the make process is going on.

Each individual working here is responsible for being aware of the schedule and deciding when to take lunch. No one will tell you when to stop for lunch. The time allotment for lunch is one hour, except for days when the schedule does not allow it, and in that case it will be between 1/2 hour and 1 hour.

Examples of when the schedule would not allow a longer break are when we are rushing to bring hay in, a cheese make is going on, etc.]

On Monday we eat lunch as a group, with one member of staff preparing the meal, on a rotating basis.

Visitor Policy: Visitors are welcome at Cricket Creek Farm.  Visitors are encouraged to work with the apprentices to see what life and work on the farm is like.  Any apprentice who is planning to host a visitor overnight must obtain explicit verbal approval from all the other house mates.  Please check with all house mates each time an overnight visitor is planned; never assume that everyone is okay with it.  Visitors are welcome to stay for up to two nights on the farm.  If an apprentice would like to host a visitor for more than two nights, they must ask Topher for explicit permission and understand that the visitor will be expected to contribute to the farm by lending a hand and working in a helpful and productive capacity.  Long-term guests are not permitted.

Length of commitment: We look for a full year commitment from all apprentice applicants.  A full year commitment is important here, because we still milk cows and make lots of cheese all winter long. It is very difficult logistically to have apprentices leave after the summer season. From an educational perspective, it is also beneficial to you to see how work here changes with the seasons. Milking cows and making cheese is very different in the summer and winter, and for anyone seriously interested in dairy farming or cheese production, we think it is important to experience the differences.

Application process and timeline: We start the search for new apprentices in October, and positions are filled on a rolling basis. We highly encourage a visit from any serious applicant. We do have space available to house an applicant overnight, and a 2-day visit is ideal. Working and spending some time together will help let us determine whether you will be a good fit for the farm, and will help give you a better sense of us.

If you are interested in applying for an apprenticeship here, the first step is to answer the questions below and send us the responses along with a current resume. Based on the responses, we will contact you to set up a phone interview and potentially a visit.

If you are interested please send us an email (info@cricketcreekfarm.com) with a resume, 3 references, and answers to the list of questions below. Please clearly state the best way to get in touch with you. You can send an email to info@cricketcreekfarm.com or call (413) 458-5888 if you have questions. We are happy to provide contact info for previous apprentices. Any applicant who seems to be a good fit will be expected to come for a visit. We will fill positions on a rolling basis.

A preliminary list of interview questions is below.

The more information you provide, the better. This will help us determine if you would be a good fit for the farm.

1. Are you interested in working on the farm or in the creamery?  Note: apprentices work either on the farm or in the creamery, but not split between both.

2. How did you hear about working at Cricket Creek?

3. What interests you most about working here?

4. What is your availability? Are you able to commit to a full year?  When can you start (give an exact date please)?

5. What is your experience working/living in an intimate setting like a small farm?

6. Is a starting stipend of $500/month financially feasible for you?

7. How do you feel about our work schedule – 6 long days per week with 1 day off? Do you have experience with a schedule like this? If so, please describe the context.

8. How would you describe your communication skills? Are you open, honest, and communicative?

9. How would you describe your interest/ability to be a public face of the farm (attending farmers markets, assisting customers in our farm store)?

10. Have you ever lived in this area? Do you think Northern Berkshire County would be a good fit for you?

11.  Would you be available for a 1-day work visit between now and your start date?

12. Please list anything else you think might be helpful in describing yourself such as personal interests, etc.

If you are applying to work in the creamery

A. Please describe in detail any cheese making experience.

B. What specifically interests you in cheese making – details are helpful.

C. Please describe any commercial food preparation/handling experience.

D. Would you describe yourself as meticulous, detail oriented, clean, and through?

E. Cheese making involved a lot of dish washing, cleaning, and maintenance, do you think you are well suited to this type of work?

F. Apprentices take on tremendous responsibility in the creamery, there will be tasks that you alone are responsible for completing (especially in the area of cheese maintenance and care), do you think you are well suited to this type of arrangement?

If you are applying to work on the farm

A. Please describe in detail any farm experience you have, specifically work with animals.

B. Do you have experience milking cows? Please describe the set-up in detail.

C. Please describe any experience you have with tractor maintenance and repair.

D. Please describe any general building/maintenance/construction experience you have.

E. Farm apprentices often work alone – getting up to milk in the morning, doing chores, driving the tractor all day and making hay – do you think you are well suited to this type of independent work?

F. Please describe any experience you have making hay.

G. Why are you interested in working with cows specifically?

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