Apprenticeship Program


Summertown, TN, The Farm community.

Orientation Weeks:
April 3-9
July 24-30

Apprenticeships are on a specific schedule this year. A minimum of one month is required because of our investment in training. There is a $500 non-refundable deposit for the program. Participants can extend for additional months with permission. Participants attending for our 3 month permaculture apprenticeship will receive a Permaculture Design Certificate.

Attendance during orientation is required for apprenticeships, however it is sometimes possible to come for a week and start early, before a monthly orientation.

Permaculture Design Certification:
April 4-June 24

The Full Immersion Residency Program

$1400 per month provides for all your instruction, food and lodging. Food is typically home-grown, locally grown organic from our garden, our Amish neighbors, or our regional food cooperative.

Beginning to work early in life is a key component in obtaining higher than average lifetime earnings. The average high school student with an after-school job will make 20% more during the next 20 years. Why is that? It is because employers or financial backers for new enterprises don't want dreamy resumes with lofty goals, they like real experience, from the bottom up.

At the same time, our traditional methods of classroom education are in serious decline, for lots of reasons. With cloud computing putting all the world's knowledge at your fingertips, who wants to incur a $50,000 lifetime debt to study subjects that seem completely disassociated with the current world situation? What University do you know that fully grasps and operates on the knowledge of peak oil, the Sixth Great Extinction, climate chaos, or the impending collapse of global Ponzinomics? Is it any wonder that there are so few jobs being offered to college graduates? This kind of education is almost totally worthless in today's world.

The Ecovillage Training Center began in 1994 as an effort to break new ground in education by teaching people the skills that will ACTUALLY be needed in the 21st Century. It is not enough to understand the challenges; what is needed are viable strategies and, more importantly, the capacity to think, improvise, and create. Those skills do not come out of a book or DVD. They come from hard won experience, trial and error, and the chance to make mistakes, regroup, and try again.

Over the past 20 years we have evolved our program and what we offer to take advantage of the feedback from our graduates and the changing landscape. What we have arrived at is an immersion pedagogy that combines one hour per day of classroom instruction, some independent study assignments, collaborative work with small teams on special projects, and a lot of normal farm labor, including animal husbandry, natural building, organic gardening and small business enterprise. No two months are alike, and all are informed by the skills and abilities of the engaged and brilliant participants who come from all over the world.

One of our friends who has run a similar program for the past 20 years estimates that each participant costs their farm about $5000 in lost revenues, broken tools, out-of-pocket expense and added staff. They keep doing it because they believe this is the best possible way to train the farmers of the future and they are dedicated to preserving rural living. We do it for much the same reason. We believe ecovillage living is the future, and it is a vastly better, happier, and more fulfulling future than any alternative scenario anyone has come up with to date.

Our advanced permaculture immersion apprenticeship program has no pre-requisites although a permaculture introductory course or some familiarity with permaculture is helpful. This year we will be offering a complete permaculture design certificate program for students who can attend for 3 consecutive months, beginning April 5. Most 2-week residential permaculture courses cost between $2000 and $4000, so anyone staying with us to receive the certification is paying about the same but receiving much more.

We provide mentoring in advanced techniques of permaculture, such as holistic management, aquaculture, natural building, keyline, and carbon farming, and will assist you towards a Permaculture Diploma or a self-directed B.S. or M.S degree from Gaia University should that be your goal.

Gaia University was founded on our campus and is now headquartered in California with satellite offices in Tennessee, Mexico and Germany. We refer our graduates there if they are interested in more advanced work following completion of the training we offer. The university project has been our effort to move the cloistered academic system developed in medieval Europe and also the permaculture/ecovillage movements onto the next co-evolutionary phase - towards some kind of educated, networked, mycelial democracy and away from the chieftain/lord of the manor culture that has prevailed since the birth of modern education. Of course it is not just this community but the entirety of human civilization that needs such a gargantuan shift. We are dandelion seeds, blowing in the wind.

Our experience with Gaia University has provided us a pedagogy derived from action learning and systems such as Liquid Feedback. Carver Governance, Beers' VSM, Spiral Dynamics, Leaderful Community, Chaordic design, Patrix Busting, Sociocracy and more. Permacuture is the foundational study.

Permaculture Design Certification Period:
April 4-June 24

Our primary focus in 2016 will be natural building with a view towards completing several large building projects on site that have been underway for more than a year. The construction includes hands-on experience with natural buildings of all types as well as the fundamentals of permaculture design and ecovillage master planning. Among the subjects you will learn through hands-on work are cob, earthbag, strawbale, light clay-straw, bamboo, earthen floors, zacateca, living roofs, round-pole, freestack stone, cordwood, clay renders, hemp-lime, baubiologie and earthships.

We are in the process of completely remodeling our Ecohostel, using our best techniques and "designing for enchantment." These are some of the most exciting and artistic parts of the natural building experience, and include creating natural paints and dyes, clay plasters, alis and fresco, and fine detail carpentry.

Other normal daily activities on site include poultry management; beekeeping; garden production from seed through harvest; compost, microbial teas, and soil amendments; fruit tree & bamboo maintenance; biochar fuel & stove development; and biodynamic waste-treatement aquatics systems management. Minor lab work may be involved, such as bacterial counts in soil samples.

Possible field trips include the nearby Amish country, canoeing the Buffalo River, Earth Advocates Research Farm & bamboo nursery, Spiral Ridge Permaculture, Solar Springs, Walnut Hill Farm, Jack Daniels Distillery and more. Apprentices will learn ecology, energy and resource conservation, social and community skills, and the economics of sustainability. They can attend and observe all of the open community meetings and committee meetings within The Farm community.

Weekends are reserved for community activities and free for getting in 18 holes on our tournament-quality disc golf course, mountain biking or river rafting. Apprentices will also have the opportunity to attend our monthly Transition Town meetings at our county seat to experience how our community redesign concepts translate to the county level.

While apprentices are free to participate in all of the programs we offer during their stay, we cannot offer free admission to courses at The Farm given by non-ETC providers. What we can do is to allow you time off from other chores to attend any of those events you wish to while you are here.

Because our goal is to disseminate information towards a beyond-zero-carbon ecovillage future, the only fee we apply is the small monthly cost of your food and lodging. We have priced these programs as low as we can, consistent with our goals of providing a healthy whole foods diet in comfortable and safe accommodations.

To apply, contact us at apprenticeship at thefarm dot org.

The selection process is competitive so please apply early. Each year we receive many excellent applications; more than we can approve. The process of selection for upcoming apprenticeships generally closes some months in advance of the starting dates. There is no formal application, but once you contact us via email, we will ask you specific questions and take it from there.

Some openings may still occur due to cancellations, so apply anyway if you are late in applying. We always consider additional group visits or work-exchange between programs if demand is high enough. We do sometimes accept applicants right up to the starting date because of cancellations.

Our goal in creating this program is to promote systemic social changes towards sustainable human habitats and to encourage loving personal growth, free artistic expression, caring relationships, deep environmental awareness, and celebration of cultural and individual differences. We hope to inspire people to work for something greater than themselves.

The more immediate goals are:

- To help catalyze the creation of more ecovillages;
- To move students from understanding and concept development to practice;
- To explore sustainability issues in all myriad forms;
- To provide hands-on, experiential learning in the environment of a 40-year experimental community.

Our expectations of Apprentices:

Apprentices will spend at least 30 hours per week on assignments and tasks related to the program. At times we may adopt the "Amish diet" of long, physical work days that certaiqn seasons require, so 30 hours is a minimum ballpark estimate.

We typically gather for morning meetings after breakfast and morning chores, at 8 am. The morning work session runs until noon, when we take a 2 hour break for lunch and personal chores. We work together again from 2 to 4 pm, then break for our daily permaculture class, followed by supper. Many evenings we offer optional films that correspond to the themes being discussed in class that week. There are also many optional community activities that occur every month, from town business meetings and school dinners to parties at the brewpub and sports events. Fridays we take field trips, Saturdays we engage with the larger community and Sundays we rest.

Apprentices must commit to not less than one month (four weeks). Because of the comprehensive, step-by-step training involved, we prefer you stay for 8-10 weeks. Extension to longer stays may be allowed if you are having too much fun to leave, but 2 months is usually the maximum.

Apprentices will endeavor to work well with one another and with the staff. They will also have plenty of time to enjoy the vastness of the Milky Way, the chill of a dawn swim in a pure stream, a musical fire circle in the full moon, and the stimulus of exceptional conversation in a wood-fired sauna.

Apprentices will have a deeper experience of The Farm community than a casual visit or short course might provide. We expect you to build memories you will treasure for a lifetime.

"Stepping out into the morning light, inhaling the fragrance of a billion red clorver blossoms, feasting my eyes on slick, fat cows or succulent garden tomatoes, I'm reminded every morning that this ecological womb produces prodigious life. Few people enjoy participating this viscerally in the happiness of as many beings as I do. When I move the cows to a new paddock, they kick up their heels and dance, cavorting sideways and demonstrating sheer joy. Moving the chickens to a new paddock excites a revelry ritural of chasing down bugs, finding new worms and gorging on dew-speckled grass and clover. How many people get to make this many beings happy every day?" - Joel Salatin, Fields of Farmers (2014)

Plenty's Kids to the Country Summer Camp, led by Sizwe Herring of EarthMatters Tennessee, brings disadvantaged city children to experience country living at The Farm every summer. Programs at the Ecovillage Training Center include gardening, nature interpretation and natural building.

We are a non-profit educational institution not a for-profit working farm. Thus, we have little to work with in terms of surplus. What we offer is an unparalleled hands-on experience and well-rounded, activity-based education.

The main goal of our apprenticeship program is to integrate a broad variety of permaculture skill-building and hands-on experiences into one comprehensive package lasting 1-2 months. We try to convey the permaculture lifestyle and help you to grasp underlying principles and attunement with ecovillage processes.

Our Faculty:

Albert Bates is a lawyer; paramedic; graphic artist; author of twelve books on energy, environment and law; and producer of two films on ecovillages. He is the founder of the Ecovillage Network of the Americas. As a lecturer, green builder, designer and permaculturalist, he has worked on 6 continents. He has been teaching Permaculture Design Courses since 1994.

Jason Deptula is a mechanic, carpenter, and jack of all trades. He operates our biofuels and energy laboratory under the name of Jayson the Resourcer. The laboratory contains some cutting edge demonstrations of free energy, advanced propulsion systems, and biochemical reactors. If you wondered what happened to Nicola Tesla, he might be found lurking somewhere in the Resourcer's Lab.

Howard Switzer is an architect with Ecoville Architects specializing in strawbale construction, natural building and historical restoration. For more than 30 years Howard has designed passive solar homes with sustainability and health in mind, drawing upon the nearly lost wisdom of preindustrial methods and materials. Howard brings a wealth of knowledge to our work, from historical to technical, and a working familiarity with building codes and climate challenges.

Rowland Huddleston is the Farm Ecovillage's History Storyteller. Rowland was one of the Founders of the Farm and a member of The Caravan in 1969 that traveled around the USA with Stephen Gaskin, spreading the word of non-violent problem solving during tumultuous times. Since that time he has been active in Statewide programs to train activists, protesters, mediators, arbitrators and local police intervening in domestic violence.

Hayley Joyell Smith will be joining us as our 2016 Apprenticeship Program Director. Ms. Smith has extensive experience in permaculture and natural building, have worked at the Center for Geoscience and Society in Asheville NC and Kleiworks International. A graduate of Hannover College, is studying for her Masters Degree at the University of North Carolina.

Guest instructors who will also spend some time with each group include:

Adam and Sue Turtle, proprietors of Our Nursery and Earth Advocates Research Center. Adam studied permaculture with Bill Mollison more than 30 years ago and has been practicing ever since.

Cliff and Jen Davis, proprietors of Spiral Ridge Permaculture Farm. Cliff is a former program director at ETC and now operates an independent training center and working farm.

Jennifer Dauksha English is also a former program director at ETC, left to found the local Transition Towns movement, and now operates Solar Springs Farm and the Center for Holistic Research.

Frank Michael designed systems for NASA's space flight program before joining first Twin Oaks and then The Farm in the 1970s. He currently operates MushroomPeople, the nation's oldest mail order catalog for mushroom growers, and SolarSmith, an alternative energy design consultancy.

Will Bates is proprietor of Walnut Hill Farm and manages our WWOOF program for seasonal farm volunteers.

To apply:

Email directly to apprenticeship at thefarm dot org. Indicate your favored program dates, your background, your special interests if any, and what you plan to do with what you learn.

Medical Insurance is not provided. Shuttle service is available upon request from the Nashville Airport. There is one free shuttle which will attempt to coordinate with all arriving apprentices. If you miss that shuttle, you will need to reply on public transportation. If we provide a personal shuttle trip, the charge is $85 each way, but can be less for individuals if several people share.

If you are accepted into the program, you will be notified by email or by phone. Upon notification you will be asked to send a deposit of $500 in order to reserve your space.

The Volunteer/WOOFer/Work-exchange Program

We recognize that not everyone can afford to come for a month or more, or has $325 per week to spend for instruction. We occasionally have needs for able volunteers to help us complete work on some overdue building projects, and so we are willing to make a compromise. Please inquire.

About the Ecovillage Training Center:

The Farm's Ecovillage Training Center is part of the Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology which has been pushing the frontiers of alternative energy, housing, farming, and tools for sustainability for the past 40 years.

Set amongst the Farm's 4000 acres of protected woods and meadows, the Ecovillage Training Center is a living laboratory with a mandate to save the world. Sustainable technologies and principles surround you as you study and work throughout the training center -- its EcoHostel, organic garden, forests, swales and ponds -- in a permaculture consciousness, within an outstanding networking community of students and teachers.


Bunk houses and camp sites are available for the entire course. There are solar or gas-fired showers and compost or flush toilets on site to choose from. Conditions at the Center are primitive and tight but comfy. We share a community building called the EcoHostel, an old Farm house that has been recently renovated and expanded. The EcoHostel consists of a small shared kitchen, 2 bathrooms, dorm and private rooms, cozy studying area and library. The house was originally constructed by members of the Farm in the late 70's out of completely recycled materials. Our renovations have included three dormitories, two solar showers, rainwater collection, solar electricity, and wastewater recycling. We added a 2-story greenhouse with a third story observation deck. We promote a style of sustainable living, but we attempt to avoid regimentation and dogma.

As well as housing apprentices and workshop participants, our EcoHostel also serves the public when rooms are available. There will be overnight guests who may arrive and depart during your stay. Please help make them feel welcome, safe and at home.

Wheelchair access is provided. Language translation services can be arranged.

What to expect:

There will be a number of apprentices and 3-6 staff members living on site, as well as a number of staff living off-site within our community. You will experience what it is like to live in a communal setting, sharing facilities and responsibilities. You will have daily chores, such as cooking, bathroom cleanup, sweeping floors, etc. You are expected to clean up after yourself, and be part of the team.

Expect many visitors at the Ecovillage Training Center. In addition to Farm folks who like to stop by, people come through for a tour of the site, student groups come and go, and we run an overnight hostel. In general these visitors are an amazing help to our community, and we ask that you join with us to make them feel welcome.

Upon arrival, your apprentice kitchen will be stocked with some grains, beans, spices, and condiments. Otherwise, the kitchen is available for your own creative and cooperative meals and you will have a small budget allocated for fresh purchases. Apprentices are encouraged to cooperate with one another in creating their own group kitchen dynamic, to provide for their fresh food needs. There is a garden that will provide fresh vegetables, and access to the bulk food buying co-op. There is also a convenience store located about 1.5 miles deeper in the Farm. The Farm Store has organic as well as conventional selection similar to other grocery stores. Several miles off the Farm there is an Amish grocery that sells bulk grains, beans, and has a bakery and deli. The Innkeeper and the EcoHostel Coordinator will be able to assist apprentices in their food purchases to replenish their larder.

If you have special dietary requirements, please advise us as soon as possible.

Before you come, you must know that we avoid strict regimentation yet offer supportive structure. At the Ecovillage Training Center you are in charge of your own learning experience. Often you will need to be self-directed and proactive. If you need someone to hold your hand, or tell you what you should be doing and when you should be doing it, this probably isn't the place for you.  

Apprenticeship FAQ

Q.  What is a FAQ?

A.  A FAQ is Internet jargon for a Frequently Asked Question.
Q. Do you have internet connections?

A. Yes, these are free, as are local phone calls. We have wireless high speed broadband. You will need a phone card for long distance calls unless you Skype. We do not provide any workstations for apprentices to use for email and internet surfing, so we recommend you bring your own laptop or wireless device.

Q.  Will you accept apprentices from other countries?

A.  Yes, but apprentices need to have sufficient English language skill to follow instructions accurately. 

Q.  Can you help me obtain a visa?.

A.  Yes. We charge additionally for that service. But note that since 2001 obtaining visas to the US has become extremely difficult. 

Q.  How much work will I have to do?

A.  Typically, we expect apprentices to do a minimum of 30 hours of weekly activities, including any required training to understand that activity. Some weeks have more lengthy and intense schedules, depending on the weather, season and projects, but we balance extra work with extra play. At least one day per week will be spent without physical labor. 

Q.  What skills do I need?

A.  You must be able to understand spoken English well enough to follow instructions.  No other skills are required, though we do like to know what other skills you bring as we may employ them from time to time.

Q.  Will I have to work very hard?

A.  We are far more interested in efficiency, quality of work done, and enjoyment of the activity and the setting,  than in how much energy you expend.  If you want to do the minimum of work for what you can get in training, you are not thinking in a way that fits here.  Neither is it useful to obsessively work. Right effort is a middle way. When you discover that, it is no longer effort, it is just you. The work should be a part of a good life. 

Q.  What activities will I be doing?

A.  That’s a good question, but not one simply answered.  We have so many useful things that can be done here that it is very easy for us to tailor a large part of an apprentice's assignments  to meet  the apprentice's goals. Everyone here shares in the routine tasks, and not all of them are equally interesting, so we may use a chorewheel rotation. 

Q.  How much decision-making leeway would I have as an apprentice?

A.  Initially, very little.  We will assign your tasks and provide whatever training is needed for you to complete them.  As you become more attuned to our program, or where a certain type of experience would be helpful on your resume, we will assign a project that will be mostly your responsibility.

Q.  Will I learn Permaculture Design as an apprentice?

A.  Yes, you can choose to do that. We will need you to commit to being here for a full three consecutive months, beginning with the orientation week in April in which the certificate classes commence. The full program will be given only once in 2016, commencing April 5. Anyone wishing to pursue the certificate course would need to arrive here, ready to begin, at the start of that week. Attendance in all the classes, although required, is not sufficient. Certification in permaculture design is always left to the discretion of the instructors, no matter who the course provider may be or where in the world it is given. Additional work to fulfill requirements may be demanded, solely at the instructors' discretion. Payment of your apprenticeship fee does not guarantee certification in permaculture. There is no additional fee for certification in permaculture during the 2016 program, but all requirements must be met to the satisfaction of the instructors before a certificate of completion will be awarded.

Q.  I will need some income if I apprentice.  How can I earn it?

A. Mainly, there are three ways. 

1) The most obvious one is to get a job before you come, save up, and use that to join us for 4 weeks. 

2) Write grants for various projects that we do not yet undertake due to lack of funds.  The apprentice writes him/herself into the grant as some kind of assistant.  We have material on grant writing and can help in the program narrative and budget development aspects of such projects. There is no point in thinking about option 2 in, say, an apprenticeship of only one month.

3) Before or after the apprenticeship program we may have limited staff opportunities. Sometimes there are opportunities to earn money within the community on your days off. These are rare.

My participation in the apprenticeship shall not be deemed to create an employer/employee relationship between you and us. You will receive no monetary compensation and the only non-monetary compensation you will receive might be the academic credit awarded by the college program in which you are currently enrolled.

Q.  How can I get college credit for the program?

A.  That depends  on your college.  We have provided accepted credit for many universities in the past. If your major field of study is somehow allied to permaculture or sustainable living, you may even be able to arrange special credit where no formal university credit policy exists. Our courses and programs offer credit towards a degree from Gaia University.

Q. Can I get an Americorps grant for this training program?

A: Possibly, depending on Americorps program requirements at the present time, but it is complex, and you will need to make your agreement with Americorps well in advance. 

Q.  Will you house and feed me?

A.  Yes. We provide dormitory housing or campsites and full vegan meals. You will be asked to help maintain order and share kitchen duties. You may also have your own personal food specialities and will be given cupboard space for those in the kitchen.

Q. What about my dog?

A. We are a wildlife sanctuary and do not permit domestic pets. You will have to kennel your dog or leave it with a friend.

Q.  Do you have a drug policy?

A.  We do not want illegal drugs on our property, period.  This is not a judgment  regarding people who use these substances, simply an expression of how we relate to a high-visibility demonstration space that receives public (federal, state and inter-governmental) and private donor funding. 

Q.  What kinds of people are you looking for?

A.  The most  important traits are 1) absolute honesty  and forthrightness and 2) Deep respect for private space and boundaries.  3) Almost as important is motivation and the desire to learn what we can teach.  4) As we have already suggested, the lazy person and the workaholic are equally inappropriate here.  5) We will probably become friends if you also have a sense of humor and a deep appreciation of beauty.  A reverence for life would not hurt.  6) If you have the knack for knowing when to take initiative and when to come back for guidance, that is great, but a willingness to acquire this rare skill is almost as good.  7) We do not much care about race, color, sexual preference, etc., and we would not enjoy  the company of people who make an issue of these matters.  8) We will rejoice in any skills you happen to bring, but we do not weigh them a whole lot in screening applicants. Your quality of character is our major interest.

Q.  Sounds great!  How do I sign up?

A.  We have a fairly formal screening process.  Obviously, screening is mutual and we put all the negative stuff we can think of out front so that we can avoid wasted time. To apply, contact apprenticeship at thefarm dot org. You can append a resume if you like. We will review the communication and make a decision. If you are accepted, you will be informed by email and your statement  of goals may be later used in designing your work  program. 

Q.  All this screening sounds like a lot of fuss.  Is it OK if I just call and/or drop by and talk with you for a few hours and look your place over.

A.  It is not part of our personal lifestyle design to answer the same question 1000 times per year, even in the best humor. Because we are a demonstration site for sustainable living, we do welcome self-guided tours and we also take requests for guided tours, generally well in advance.  Guided tours need to be a rain or shine commitment,  as we divert time from other tasks to prepare for the tour.

Do you have any other questions?  Please ask them.

Contact: apprenticeship at thefarm dot org

Visit our current course schedule.

About Our Objectives

To make the transition toward a sustainable society it is imperative that we take responsibility for our own lives and meet our basic needs for food, shelter, energy, gainful employment, and supportive community. The purpose of our courses is to offer you practical training in ecological design principles so that you can begin the application of these skills within your own home grounds, workplace, and local community. picture

We also focus on building the support systems, networks, and alliances we all need in our work of remaking our culture. We strive to create a balance between classroom time, hands-on experiential learning, and personal empowerment work. Our courses will be useful for people with varying levels of experience, from backyard gardeners to design and educational professionals.

At the ETC we are creating a holistic, comprehensivist, "total immersion school," co-evolving creative designs that move us toward sustainability. All projects and buildings on site provides a walk-thru visit to the future. You can walk through our strawbale cabin, dome, organic gardens, and soon-to-be-completed Green Dragon tavern (the largest cob structure in North America, the first begun east of the Mississippi) and wetlands filtration system. We have a large creek flowing through the Center and the headwaters of the Swan watershed are located on the property as well. Over 1000 acres of The Farm are designated as wilderness preserve and another 4000 surrounding acres are in conservation trust.

102_0233The EcoHostel is an old Farm house that has been recently renovated and expanded. The house was originally constructed by members of the Farm in the late 70's out of completely recycled materials. Our renovations have included three dormitories, four solar showers, rainwater collection, solar electricity, solar hot water, and wastewater recycling. We have a 2-story passive solar greenhouse with a third story observation deck.

For more information, please contact:

What some past participants say about the courses:

101_0188 I would like to thank you for creating this space which has allowed me to grow in many ways.  I did not know how many lessons on invisible architecture and zone zero would happen for me.  My relationships have been all very lesson-packed.  The courses have been fantastic and I feel like most of the economic value of this apprenticeship has been supported by them.

This is a life philosophy and community support structure, not just land design - more than I expected! Those expecting a seven-day classroom course of study were abruptly shocked into entirely new dimensions - and loved it! This course drew together a good community which took me beyond the analytical to experiencing something different. When we built the swale and pond I saw differently.

 It was a safe place to take risks. Whole living can't be taught, as it has to be experienced and absorbed, so this week at The Farm was an experience of osmosis for most.

We accumulated knowledge and direction for our lives while absorbing some of the wisdom and spirit represented around us. I saw a catharsis in many of these individuals. An immediate sense of community and purpose. It was a seminal experience in my life and a reawakening to a journey ... logo