Mountain Food & Farm Apprenticeship Program

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As part of the EmPOWERing Mountain Food Systems Project in the seven western counties of North Carolina, including the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Empowering Mountain Food Systems Apprenticeship Program brings education and workforce development opportunities to the region in partnership with Western Carolina University, Haywood Community College, Southwestern Community College, and Tri-County Community College.

Our goal is to match paid Apprentices with regional food and farming Mentor Businesses along the local supply chain. By pairing unique student skill sets with business needs, we have an opportunity to help provide services Mentors need to improve their business’ profitability and exposure while supplying real life experience for college students and the potential for future local business development. Areas that Mountain Food & Farm Apprenticeship Program Covers

To apply for Spring 2021 apprenticeship positions, apply through NC State University: Apply Now for Spring 2021. 

To apply for future 2021 cycles, please fill out this short interest form and we’ll get in touch with you to discuss your needs: Apply for Future 2021 Apprenticeship Positions.

This program is designed to encourage buying and eating local. The far western mountain region of NC has bountiful farmland, accessible natural resources, admired educational institutions, an amazing sense of community, and businesses which strive to promote an active and healthy lifestyle. The mission of the Mountain Food and Farm Apprenticeship Program is to bring all of these resources together for regional economic success.



What’s it like to be a Food and Farm Apprentice?

2020 imposed the limitation of not being able to have our apprentices work onsite at the farms or businesses. Instead, EMFS did a COVID-19 pivot and created remote apprenticeships.  These apprentices and their mentors were able to adapt and do amazing work virtually.

EMFS Apprentice Zanaya SalaamMeet Zanaya Salaam, apprentice for Long Family Farm. With no prior experience, Zanaya created a website with an online store and great content as well as helped develop marketing strategies. She says “I learned A LOT during this apprenticeship and I have had such an impact on this farm and their family. This experience has been so special for me, I am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to become an apprentice for this team.” See the website that Zanaya worked on here!

Nancy Long is interviewed here, talking about her side of the experience and singing the praises of Zanaya and the apprentice/mentor program- check it out!

EMFS Apprentice Chizoba UwakweHaywood Farmers Market logo

Chizoba Uwakwe, apprentice for Haywood Historic Farmer’s Market, had a fun and fruitful experience:  “Through this, I was able to connect with not only the farmers market but connect with their vendors and customers. One of the highlights of this experience was creating different activities for the Appalachian Grown Farmers Market month of August. For this month, I created bingo cards with all the different vendors at the market, this helped the customers connect and travel to see what each vendor had to offer and it was such a success.” The Farmer’s Market really appreciated her work! They say their apprentice was “a social media whiz, she made improvements to our Facebook and Instagram accounts, created beautiful content, designed engaging posts and activities like thank-you videos and farmers market bingo, and helped us learn from the analytics. What’s more, because of the difficult circumstances surrounding COVID-19, she accomplished her apprenticeship totally remotely.  Her professionalism, can-do attitude, and great work ethic made mentoring her a pleasure.”

EMFS Apprentice - Kris LyEMFS Apprentice - Mallaidh (Molly) Mleziva

Mallaidh (Molly) Mleziva and Kris Ly apprenticed for the Sustainabillies, who grow and sell organic produce and plant, metalworking products and offer classes as well. Kris and Molly worked with two WCU professors Heidi Dent and Barbara Jo White and the EMFS Food and Farm Apprenticeship project manager Christina Newhouse. Together they designed a website that allows the public to interface with their client, creating the opportunity for increased revenue and agritourism.  Kris and Molly also helped in implementing marketing strategies and product branding. Molly says “I really enjoyed the team that I worked with throughout this project.  Having the weekly meetings to chat and touch base on the progress of our efforts was really nice!”  Molly also appreciated the “variety of tasks that I was assigned, from developing how-to guides and creating evergreen social media content to researching competitors and brainstorming a design for the new website.” Kris said her highlights included the opportunity to put her learning into real-world application and implementing strategies from her classrooms in a real-world setting.   She says “While, yes, I still had others to provide me with guidance and instructions, I was empowered to be in charge of what I delivered and how I completed my tasks. To me, the responsibilities helped form a realistic expectation of how the productivity flow and operations look like in real-world companies and organizations.  The apprenticeship marketing team provided “transformative support” to Sara and Dustin Martin of the Sustainabillies that helped them through a challenging year.  They comment “The product that was generated was beyond our expectations and has added so much to our business presence online. Our website is very professional and has allowed several customers to interact with us before actually coming to our farm.”  See the website that this team designed here!

Click here to read about all of our completed apprenticeships and mentor sites from 2020.

Current Openings for Spring of 2021:  

Paid opportunities for Spring 2021 include:

Shaka Alpaca (Murphy, NC) – Animal Agritourism

Butterfly Cove Botanicals (remote) – Digital Media & Marketing

WNC Farm-to-Table (remote) – Digital Media & Marketing

Jehovah Raah Farm (Haywood Co.) – Fiber Farm & Agritourism

Qualla Berry Farm (Clay Co.) – Greenhouse/Garden Crops  & Agribusiness

Righteous Rebels Farms (Macon Co.) – Pastured Poultry

Heaven’s Gate Orchards (Haywood Co.) – Orchard Management

Filled Positions for Spring of 2021:

Active apprenticeships include Taylor’s Greenhouse, Wehrloom Honey and KT Orchards where Food and Farm Apprentices are currently on the farms working! Both Candy Mountain Farm and High Mountain Meadows Creamery & Farm are Food and Farm Mentor sites currently in the process of bringing their apprentices on board.

Apprenticeship Benefits

  • Hands-on practical work experience
  • Use your unique skill sets to help improve your Mentor’s business and profitability
  • Income for your work
  • Fulfill student work hour requirements

Mentor Benefits

  • Paid apprentice to add to your labor force
  • Valuable services that your business needs
  • Promote regional partnerships with educational institutions and non-profit organizations
  • Improve local food and farm economic development in the region
  • Provide beneficial work experience to future entrepreneurs
  • Gain community recognition

Apprenticeship Program FAQ for Students

Apprentices must be enrolled in one of the following educational institutions or be a graduate within 1 year:  

  • Western Carolina University;
  • Haywood Community College;
  • Southwestern Community College; or
  • Tri-County Community College.

Students originally from the area and enrolled in other colleges or universities who are returning to the region for school breaks are also eligible. Apprenticeship terms are 8-week or 16-week positions with an average of 20 hours per work week. Students must be 18 years of age or older in order to participate.

Fill out this short interest form for future cycles of the Mountain Food & Farm Apprentice Applications.

Fill out an NC State University application for the Spring 2021 Empowering Mountain Food Systems Farm Apprenticeships.

Apprenticeship Program FAQ for Mentors

Mentors will be interviewed by the Program Manager to address the services most needed to improve their local business and to design an apprenticeship program that meets the needs of both students and mentors. Hosts will have the opportunity to interview the apprentice candidates and review submission documents, but final placement decisions will be made by the Program Manager with mentor approval. 

 Accepting Mountain Food & Farm Mentor Applications

Mountain Food & Farm Apprenticeship Program Team

Christina Newhouse

Mountain Food & Farm Apprenticeship Program Manager

EmPOWERing Mountain Food Systems Project

(828) 361-2266 

Laura D. Lauffer 

Project Director, EmPOWERing Mountain Food Systems

919-444-1478 | 828-359-6926