Does anyone have good advice about how best to staff farm visits for school groups or summer camp groups that come out to the farm for a one-time 2-3 hour visit? I have heard of places having a pool of 10-15 educators (paid as independent contractors) to call upon when a visit is scheduled, but wonder if there are legal issues with that. I have also come across apprenticeship/internship type programs. Are there places out there that do that without offering housing? And then the other idea would maybe be having already salaried staff run the visits so that if no visit is scheduled they have other responsibilities that they can attend to. Anybody have thoughts/experience with any of these structures?
Great question! I would love to see a presentation about this topic at the conference in November.
For reference, I can give you a bit of a description of what we do at Gorman Heritage Farm.
Currently, we see about 1600 schools kids in the spring and 1400 in the fall. We run school field trips Tuesday through Friday, but are probably going to expand to Mondays in the fall due to a new partnership with our local school district.
We have two full time educators, one 4-day a week Public Ally, and one 2-day a week Public Ally. We then have about 10 education volunteers who lead school groups.
About sixty percent of our trips are preschoolers and kindergarteners. These programs last between one hour thirty minutes and two hours. Other programs for older students can last up to four to five hours.
On average, we have between 25 and 60 kids at a time broken into group so 10 or less. This means for a group of sixty, we need 6 group leaders. So we may have 3 staff members and 3 volunteers, or some similar combination.
It is constantly a struggle to get quite enough group leaders. Over the four years I've been running the programs, we have not had an increase in the number of education volunteers. Many come and go, retire, move away, etc. That is why we have added Americorps Public Allies to the staff.
At the same time, establishing an education volunteer corps is a great long-term strategy. We are currently exploring the possibility of partnering with local colleges to build a college volunteer corps.
For volunteers and the college student scenario, developing a rock solid training program is obviously a necessity. This is something to consider as you plan for your programs.
I can't speak to the independent contractor situation. You can find a starting article about the topic here.
Wow! Thanks so much for all of your help Michael! I have looked into Americorp before but had never heard of Public Allies and that looks like something that might work really well for us. I plan to look into it further for sure.
As for training, I am working on creating a good training program for us because we are planning to recruit some volunteers this year as well. Do you have any particular tips from your experience?
I am definitely planning to have an orientation where all educators will participate in some of the main activities that we do, run through the set-up and clean-up process, go over safety protocols, etc. And then ideally I would like to have each person observe at least 2 farm visits before actually leading one themselves. This gets a little tricky since I am the only full-time ed staff person right now, but I do have a few others who have helped out with farm visits before.
Anyway, thank you so much yet again for your help!
This works incredibly well for us for our summer camps, but we do offer housing and that is key for recruiting talented and motivated people from all over the country.
I have also had interns that did not have housing but already lived in the local area.
I would like to increase this program in the long-term, but most recently have been involved with Public Allies for the past three years. This is essentially and apprenticeship program and I have been thrilled with the people working with us. You may want to check out what type of Americorps programs exist in your area.
Salaried Staff Leading Programs
This is where you want to start. Unless you are expecting a huge immediate increase in visitors, it makes sense to start with what you have and grow. Your description above describes a nice-time line of activities to developing a diverse corps of educators.
It looks like Mike has shared some really great advice!
I helped develop an education program on a farm in Missoula, Montana. This farm is run collaboratively with the University of Montana. The program is set up so that students from the Environmental Studies Program at UM get credit to teach farm field trips and learn how to become "farm educators". Of course, this is a unique relationship between a farm and University, but it's a successful way to train farm educators and not have to pay staff to teach. There is a program coordinator that oversees the entire program and coordinates the students and field trips. Here's the link to that program:
I know of a farm that uses local high school students in need of a "senior project" to teach field trips. You could also look into "self guided" experiences on the farm- making it easier to have less staff available during the visit. We discuss this in the ABC's of Farm Education Workshop at Shelburne Farms.
At Stone Barns all of their field trips are lead by volunteers. Judy Fink runs this program and does a very thorough training with them. I'm sure she could share tips! Her contact info is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, Cedar Circle farm in East Tetford may also be a good resource. Cat Buxton coordinates that program. I think it's just her as the staff that's doing the educating. You could ask her if/how she uses volunteers. She also offers self-guided experiences to help with her group numbers and limited time. Here's the link to their program:http://www.cedarcirclefarm.org/education-center/
Hope this helps!
FBEA- Program Coordinator