“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

The Vilicus Farms Network
Bringing a New Generation of Land Stewards to the Northern Great Plains

Vilicus Farms Apprentice opportunities are training and mentoring programs that immerses highly motivated young professionals in organic farm operation and management – a journey that culminates in a career as a highly skilled and valued farm team member or farm/enterprise manager at Vilicus Farms or on another operation. Launching as an independent farm owner/operator is also a possibility with additional curriculum and on-farm training.

Doug and Anna understand the challenges of taking a farm from vision to reality. Through the Vilicus Farms Internship program they hope to give those who want to pursue a career in organic agriculture and aspiring farmers a real opportunity to be part of a large-scale organic dryland crop farm in the Northern Great Plains.

“It’s one way we are paying forward the support and cheering we had to start our own farm”

Vilicus Farms’ supportive network of likeminded farmers, academic and government institutions, environmental advocates, and organic food companies is dedicated to creating new organic farm professionals.

As a Vilicus Farms apprentice you will gain:

EXPERIENCE: hands on organic farm operation and management training
ACCESS: from pre-season to harvest you will learn from the extensive Vilicus Farms network
SUPPORT: extended mentorship and career development into the future

The ultimate vision of the Internship is to grow from one model organic farm to a self-perpetuating system of farms and land stewards that will shift agriculture for the better on the Northern Great Plains.

Internship Opportunities

There are two formal Internship opportunities with a third in development:

1. New Agrarian Immersion Experience:
Intensive immersion into day-to-day organic farming operations, Vilicus Farms’ growing system, conservation practices and ecosystem. This 8 month Internship is offered in partnership through Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian Program. Further details and application are posted here.

2. Registered Organic Farm Worker Internship:
Structured occupational training in dryland organic farming operations. Apprentices are paid employees of Vilicus Farms during the two-year program consisting of 4000 hours of on-the-job training and 288 hours of related instruction. Graduates will have an opportunity to become high skilled and valued farm team members at Vilicus Farms or another organic enterprise. This highly unique Internship has been developed in consultation with the State of Montana Department of Labor and Industry and Montana State University – Northern.

Veterans are highly encouraged to apply as one of the 2018 positions is partially funded for three years through a USDA Beginning Farmer Rancher Grant as part of the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Armed to Farm program. (http://www.ncat.org/armedtofarm/) Further details and the application are posted above.

3. Formal Organic Farm Management Training (IN DEVELOPMENT):
Formal training for individuals wanting to grow into either managing a specific farm enterprise or geographic unit for an existing farm or launching as an independent farm owner/operator. Individuals will increase their knowledge and capacity for all facets of managing a farm business. This approximately two year, hands on and classroom, training will involve development and implementation of a business plan with mentorship and resource support from the Vilicus Farms network. Please contact us if you are interested in partnering to develop the specifics of this training and/or in supporting graduates.

Vilicus Training Institute

In 2015 we launched Vilicus Training Institute as the nonprofit entity to help grow the apprentice program

Vilicus Training Institute will support our ability to more fully develop a multi-year formal Internship training and mentoring program that immerses highly motivated young professionals in organic grain farm operation and management – with an ultimate goal of supporting new and successful farm owners and operators. Vilicus Training Institute is fiscally sponsored by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). If you know of unique funding opportunities or want to be part of sponsoring new organic farmers please contact us.

Partners in Growing New Farmers


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Kamut Daves Killer Bread Annies Nature's Path National Center for Appropriate Technology General Mills

View Registered Organic Farmworker Apprentice Application Packet

Veterans are highly encouraged to apply as there may be partial funding available. DOWNLOAD

View the Vilicus Farms information and application for New Agrarian Immersion Experience here.

Meet the Apprentices

Shawna Burhans 2016-Present

Shawna Burhans

Education: BA in Middle Eastern Studies and French Language from Wellesley College

Previous Farm Experience & Vision: Although I didn’t grow up on a farm and I hadn’t worked a farm before I came to Vilicus, I was instilled with the importance of working with and caring for the land from an early age. I hope to one day manage a symbiotic livestock and crop operation that also functions as an informal think tank, community center and learning vacation destination. This operation would have the capacity to mentor those who want to break into ranching and farming but don’t have the background or capital to do so independently, and would work to encourage awareness, passion, and support for sustainable agriculture through educational programming.

Ideas for Others: “As the organic agriculture movement continues to grow, I believe that the goals of its farmers and ranchers should expand to not only advocate for more effective and widespread sustainable practices, but should also address structural and cultural barriers which largely render larger-scale organic agriculture inaccessible to people of color and people who aren’t from agricultural families or communities. It’s also crucial that the many misconceptions surrounding agricultural work (that farmers are unintelligent, uncultured, out of touch) are deconstructed in order to engage new farmers who are so desperately needed now that the population of established farmers is rapidly dwindling. Pressing issues such as climate change, the severe lack of accessibility to healthy food for disadvantaged populations, and the near-impossibility of starting a financially viable farm from scratch all necessitate that young farmers work to demand policies, societal support, and a cultural presence which would allow them to work on a larger and more impactful scale.”

Capstone Project: Highland Cattle Operation Planning

Joe Velk 2015-Present

Joe Velk

Education: Pursuing training in organic agriculture and farm management

Previous Farm Experience: Although I have not farmed myself, one could say agriculture is in my blood. My family has owned a farm north of Havre for over one hundred years. As far back as I can trace my ancestry on my father’s side they have all been farmers. When I was a bit younger I got in some trouble and as a result I spent three years in prison. It was there that I realized I no longer wanted to drift through life and needed a worthy purpose. I decided then that I wanted to be a farmer. A return to my cultural heritage was very appealing to me.

Vision for Agriculture: “Organic farming is much more complex than conventional farming. It takes more organization thought and time. Many people think that farming is no more than driving a tractor back and forth across a field. This is far from the truth. It is very obvious to me that large scale farming in America must change or the agricultural system will collapse. I want to be one of the forerunners making these necessary changes.”

Capstone Project: Winter Spelt Viability Trials

Dane Johnson 2015

Dane Johnson

Education: Pursuing a B.S. degree in History at University of South Carolina

Previous Farm Experience: Spent several summers working with his uncle on a farm in Southwest Iowa.

Vision for Agriculture: “My vision is to orchestrate an efficient and sustainable operation that incorporates the unique regional ecosystem into my farming practices rather than depleting it, with goals to derive a healthy and natural crop. Modern farming is in dire need of an exponential shift back towards its singular purpose of producing a natural crop with the objective of providing a natural food supply.”

Capstone Project: Initial Bison Enterprise Investigation

Liana Nichols 2015

Liana Nichols

Education: B.S. in Zoology from Michigan State University Honors College

Previous Farm Experience: Worked on a pasture-based livestock operation in Northern CA—dairy, eggs, pigs, cows, broiler chickens and on a dairy farm in Austria. Worked at the Kellogg Biological Research Station, the only long-term ecological research station in the US devoted to agricultural comparisons.

Vision for Agriculture: “I envision a future where mainstream agriculture not only seeks to produce yields, but does so while preserving ecosystem functioning such as efficient nutrient cycling, biologically active soil, clean air and water, and wildlife habitat.  This will require new metrics of success for agriculture that go beyond dollars-in:yield-out efficiency to include ecological services we derive from well-managed farmland.”

Capstone Project: Equipment Operation Checklists, Scouting & Soil Sampling Protocol & Vilicus Farms Pressed Plant Collection

Laurel Johnson 2014

Laurel Johnson

Education: Graduated from Wheaton College with a B.A. in International Relations

Previous Farm Experience: Grew up on a small farm and continued to work on small farms throughout college.

Vision for Agriculture: “I am committed to promoting an agricultural ethic in this country by modelings sustainable alternatives to chemical based farming practices. I believe our culture is paying a price for the disconnect between our lives and the food we consume. We are all dependent upon the agriculture system, but far too few of us are actively engaged in understanding where are food comes from. The detrimental effects of poor land stewardship and unsustainable farming practices reverberate through society and affect everyone whether they are directly aware of it or not. Organic farms and food producers create opportunities for people to support farmers who believe that systems in nature are the answers and obstructions to food production.”

Capstone Project: Survey of Grass Species for Native Seed Production

Nathan Austin-Powell 2013

Nathan Ausing-Powell

Education: Nathan is currently pursuing a B.S. in Diesel Mechanics from MSU Northern in Havre.

Previous Farm Experience: 3+ years of work experience after high school on organic farms throughout the country.

Vision for Agriculture: “If someone asked me why I wanted to farm, I would say it is because of the need for more producers of high quality food, and farmers who are conscientious about the long term effects of agricultural operations. The biggest challenge to sustainability in agriculture is developing a generation of educated farmers who can take over management of farmland throughout the country, and radically change crop and livestock production practices.”

Capstone Project: Design and Installation of raptor perches