For 5 years, students at EarthDance have spent each growing season learning the skills of organic agriculture production and small business planning at the historic Mueller Farm in Ferguson. The non-profit educates and provides resources for anyone seeking to start their own agrarian endeavor, and has seen over 100 “Freshman Farmies” participate in the apprenticeship program since its creation.
Founded in 2008, EarthDance is the only Organic Farm School in the bi-state region. Graduates of the program have gone on to create and maintain school gardens, start green businesses, implement a farm-to-table summer camp, and manage local farmer’s markets. Former apprentice Mary Ostafi, even organized the first downtown community garden in St. Louis, which donates food to The St. Patrick's Center, and is now working to build St. Louis’ first rooftop farm.
“Being an EarthDance apprentice has changed my life because it has provided me with the education, skills, and confidence to go out and start my own farming venture. Without that experience I don’t think that I would be nearly as successful as I am today,” said Ostafi.
“Through the apprenticeship, we seek to offer students a comprehensive introduction to the operation of a small farm. But we realized that a number of our students were more interested in homesteading and backyard garden-scale growing than production farming,” said Program Director Rachel Levi.
This year, in addition to commercial-scale farming, EarthDance is providing students the opportunity to learn and work in its newly-created permaculture-inspired Seven Generations Garden. This space focuses on native species, companion planting, sheet mulching, and space-saving methods like straw bale beds and herb spirals. The garden will serve as a living classroom for farm visitors as well, where individuals from multiple generations can learn the many techniques of eco-friendly gardening.
This additional offering will provide inspiration and practical tools for students who desire to grow food at home or in other small spaces. The Farm and Garden Apprenticeship runs from May through September and includes presentations by area experts as well as field trips to nearby farms. Through weekly enrichment classes, field work, and Farmers Market vending shifts, the apprenticeship offers opportunities for participants to engage in many elements of farm life.
“This isn’t just a training program,” says Apprenticeship Coordinator Laura Caldie. “It’s a community built on shared interests and understanding. The students bond with each other in the field, and will always be able to turn to their peers for assistance and advice in future gardening enterprises.”
Program tuition is $750, which can be paid in multiple installments or reduced through available scholarships. Apprentices receive a weekly CSA share of the vegetables they help to grow, valued at $600. Applications for the Farm & Garden Apprenticeship are due on March 1st, and can be found here.
EarthDance also encourages public attendance at the apprenticeship classes for those who cannot commit to the entire program. These will be held on Tuesdays beginning in May from 6:00-7:30 pm. Volunteer opportunities are available as well; to inquire, please email.