A Mixed Methods Study of On-Farm Apprenticeship Learning in Virginia
MacAuley, Lorien Eleanora
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The average age of principal farm operators rose from 50.3 years in 1978, to 57.1 years in 2007, as farmers retire and new farmers do not enter farming (NASS, 2013).With declining numbers of entrants into farming, agricultural educators and service providers must better understand strategies for effectively preparing beginning farmers. On-farm apprenticeships in the U.S. show promise as a means to prepare farmers and are increasing in number (Niewolny and Lillard, 2010). Lave (1988) writes 'knowledge-in-practice, constituted in the settings of practice, is the locus of the most powerful knowledgeability of people in the lived-in world' (p. 14). Thus, farming, as a complex set of interwoven skills, is best learned in situ, as situated learning. On-farm apprenticeships therefore may allow learners to construct knowledge in context, and build identities as farmers. In this thesis, I share findings from a mixed methods study that explored what kinds of on-farm apprenticeships are available, and to whom; and important educational practices, structures, and institutions that support on-farm apprenticeship learning. This study comprises data from a survey (N=45) of Virginia farmers who host apprentices, and interviews (N=12) with farmers and on-farm apprentices. Findings describe who undertakes on-farm apprenticeships, and suggest that apprentices develop expert identities through situated learning with farmers. Findings describe how farmers participate as educators, and how farms function as sites of situated learning. This study also found that on-farm apprenticeships are embedded within alternative food movements, with social reproduction potentially occurring. I also explore broader implications for preparing beginning farmers.
- Masters Theses