The primary mission of SAGE is, as our name suggests, to promote sustainable agriculture and gardening, but also to increase the number of local commercial growers providing food to our community and building a local food economy in the process.
The SAGE Garden was always intended to generate its own sustainable funding for ongoing development, so a large proportion of it was dedicated to a market garden, where food would be grown on a commercial scale. We tried a couple of different ways to do this which relied on volunteer labour and had limited success, but it really found its feet when we introduced our SAGE Market Garden Intern program. After the SAGE Farmers Market opened, there was a demand for more local veg, so the SAGE Garden really needed to start producing more reliably. Now, each spring, we select a candidate to take on the challenge of becoming a commercial grower from the ground up, so to speak.
For almost a full cycle of seasons, the intern is given the opportunity to throw themself into learning everything they need to know to get started. SAGE’s market gardening course of 6 workshops (valued at almost $600) is attended free of charge and provides the theory, which the intern then gets to put into practice at the SAGE Garden. The course covers planning, preparation, sowing & transplanting, maintaining healthy crops & soil, harvesting, marketing & value-adding and… vitally important… time management.
While the intern is mentored by other respected local growers and is supported by the SAGE Executive and the membership, it is still a very autonomous position. So far, we have had two interns and they have both approached the position in their own unique way.
A small weekly stipend is paid and profits from sales of the produce grown is shared with SAGE, with the intern taking the lion’s share. As is the case with any farm, the amount of effort put in reflects the amount of income that comes out. The intern is also free to find creative ways to make a profit from what they grow.
It is a very intense 8 months or so, the interns find themselves in the deep end, the learning curve is steep and the problems of pests, disease, fluctuation in weather and a sometimes overwhelming workload can impact morale and motivation. But our first two graduate interns have both taken it in their stride (with perhaps just a smidgen of disquiet), in fact relished the experience and are already on the way to becoming full-time growers on their own plots.
Last Sunday, SAGE threw a party to celebrate our latest intern — Kat — completing her baptism by fire and to wish her well with her new garden that she’s already establishing a short distance up the Deua River.
I’d been wanting to start growing food for a while, but didn’t know where to start. This internship was amazing! I can’t imagine a better way to learn. I never thought there was so much involved in growing food. I’d still be just thinking about it if it wasn’t for this chance. I’m so grateful to SAGE for giving me this amazing opportunity.
It’s not just the knowledge and experience you get, it’s the people you meet and the connections you make. The support has been incredible.
So if you’ve been thinking about a “seed change” and you’ve got what it takes to be the next SAGE Market Garden Intern, get your application in now.