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How to Stay on the Farm & Go to School
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How to Stay on the Farm & Go to School

Moving hay, fixing fence, training horses, harvesting crops — it’s all in a day’s work in the life of a rancher or farmer.

It makes you wonder who has time to do anything else? Especially if you have an interest in going to college. Even as the old way of doing things has given way to more modern technology and evolving attitudes, the fabric of farm life is still strong, and the value of higher education should not be underestimated. And yes, you can still pursue a college education in a short amount of time while living the lifestyle of your choosing, even if some people still don’t think it’s necessary to have a degree.

There are many opportunities to go to school and work on a farm or ranch simultaneously. Have you thought about the ways you can make it happen without compromising your lifestyle?

If you prepped in high school and took biology, chemistry, economics and business classes, grew up on a ranch or worked on one, or participated in 4-H, you were ahead of the curve. But it’s never too late to go back to school to gain more knowledge.

Small-scale ranchers and farmers who specialize in a specific area have a distinct edge. Producing organic food is one of the fastest growing areas in agriculture, and many join cooperatives to help them market and sell their products, for example.

The experience of earning a college degree while working in the field is invaluable, so what are some opportunities you can pursue while taking classes online or at your local community college to earn a farm and ranch management or similar degree? Here are a few:

National Farm to School

The Farm to School Act of 2017 is a community-based effort between students and local ranchers and farmers. Local foods are purchased, promoted and served in cafeterias, and students participate in educational activities related to agriculture, food, health and nutrition. In some cases, there are school gardens that students get to tend to in an engaging, hands-on manner.

Children reap the benefits of learning about a healthy way of life and eating better, while farmers, ranchers, fishers, food processors and manufacturers could potentially see a financial gain.

According to the Farm to School fact sheet:

- For every job created by school districts that purchase local foods from ranchers and farmers, there are an additional 1.67 jobs created. - Every dollar invested in farm to school stimulated an additional 60 cents to $2.16 of local economic activity — in one case resulting in $1.4 million overall contribution to the state. - There’s an average of a 5 percent increase in income from sales and a potentially long-term revenue stream for farmers and ranchers. - Farmers also make money by being contracted to plant crops for schools.

You never know, an undertaking such as Farm to School could plant the seed in young children to become farmers and ranchers in the future. You may even be inspired to explore your earning potential while helping children learn and grow.

Work on a Horse Guest Ranch

For some, the perfect job would be to work with people and horses every day on a guest ranch. People who come from the horse world generally have a horse background of some sort. They are responsible for daily ranch maintenance, supervising rides, demonstrations or clinics, working with ranch guests and their mounts, care and feeding, fence and barn maintenance, and providing education to people who’ve never been around horses before.

This is a job you could do while taking advantage of the convenience and flexibility of long-distance learning. You can do it anywhere there is an internet connection, yet still pursue your passion for working with horses every day. And who knows, your education and experience could propel you to one day become the ranch manager of a bustling working ranch.

Become a “Woofer”

Organizations like World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOF) are always looking for farm interns, aka “WWOFers,”(pronounced “woofer”) who work for free in exchange for real-life farm experience, plus housing and meals.

It’s a volunteer opportunity that you never know where it will lead. College graduate Ian Herrick graduated from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in business and immediately began working as a sales manager for PepsiCo. After two years, he wanted out so he could travel, develop new skills and explore his interests in sustainability and agriculture. He quit his day job and learned how to farm by joining WWOF. Through his experience, he found his passion and formed his true career path.

“I now serve as the environmental education coordinator at YouthBuild Louisville,” Herrick said on the Student Caffé blog. “In this role, I am developing a program for young adults that introduces them to agriculture, horticulture, and conservation through the experiential learning practices I learned while I was WWOOFing.”

The beauty of farming and ranching is the path can take you anywhere your heart desires and keep your personal life intact, and you don’t have to spend years in college to do it. Agriculture is said to be the world’s oldest profession, yet there are so many opportunities available today than ever in the past. For more inspiration and equine job ideas, visit some of our previous blog posts.

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