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November 2009: Reflections on Apprenticeship

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Reflections on Our Apprenticeship
From Margo and Dan Royer-Miller


As we prepare to leave Ecology Action, we have been reflecting on our 3 ½ years here. Broadly, we notice how truly prepared we feel to manage our own garden and training facility. We can also stand in front of a class and not experience butterflies in our stomachs!

Specifically, two notable areas of growth must be mentioned. One, we have become better teachers.The apprenticeship program requires 6 classes be taught each year, three about GROW BIOINTENSIVE concepts and three crop studies. The process of preparing and presenting classes to Ecology Action staff was a meaningful experience. Listening to their comments helped us become more complete, concise, and polished teachers. We are able to assess our audience for level of understanding and teach accordingly. We are able to identify the most important elements of each topic and make sure they come through clearly. We are able to let our joy in food-raising and sustainability light up our classes.

The second area of growth, perhaps the more important, came without our awareness: our understanding of GROW BIOINTENSIVE is now solidly rooted in the perspective of sustainability. Class preparation involved a good bit of research and exposure to exciting ideas about growing food. As we presented each class, John and Carol gently and consistently refined our focus on sustainability and the concepts that form the foundation of GROW BIOINTENSIVE. This has been the greatest gift.  Not only can we teach the method from a practical, technique-oriented perspective; we can identify the reasons behind the practical elements and teach the most important parts: the why, the goals, the foundation that empowers.

This has been a beautiful journey. It would have been unmanageable in 6 months or 1-2 years. True growth and formation take time. We conclude that the apprenticeship is an amazing, intense, and beneficial program. We are blessed to have experienced great support and dedication from John, Carol, Jenn, and Ellen. We anticipate the joys of continuing on this path as collaborators with Ecology Action. One day we will again look back at where we are today with delight at how much more we have learned!


When we considered applying to participate in Ecology Action’s Three-Year Apprenticeship program, and then were accepted, foremost in my mind was the time commitment. This was the biggest thing since college and, in a way, was much bigger than college. There would be no summer break, no winter break; we would be in it more or less every day for three years.

Our apprenticeship finished eight months ago, and we stayed on (voluntarily!) for an additional growing season. Time flies when one’s senses are occupied, and our time learning and working with Ecology Action has fully engaged my eyes, ears, muscles, creativity, and mind. And amazing things happen when one works at one task for three (or four) seasons! 

Watching and nurturing growing things through one cycle is educational; attending that process for multiple cycles is enlightening, imbuing a sense of perspective and wisdom to the individual. When mentors are added to the experience the potential for learning increases even more. This apprenticeship opportunity allowed us time and freedom to begin the long process of learning how to learn.
By the end of our first year we knew how to complete garden tasks and were prepared to answer questions about HOW a task should be done. By the end of the second year we began to feel that we had a grasp of the most basic patterns, and we could answer simple questions about WHY a task was done a certain way. And by the end of the third year we began to see that there are actually few simple answers: there are so many processes happening in the garden that one would do well to sit, think, and watch a great deal before presuming to know anything.

But all the while there were students and peers asking questions of us, and this is one of the glories of the apprenticeship. We learn not only by observing and doing, but also by trying to teach others. This forces us to consider our experiences in a way that we can explain them to someone else. And between teaching interns, teaching visitors to the garden, teaching classes at Common Ground Garden Supply, teaching at the 3-Day Workshop, and presenting classes to Ecology Action staff, there were many opportunities to analyze, interpret, and otherwise contemplate the learning we’d acquired.

As a result we are better prepared to be thoughtful proponents of sustainable agriculture, and better able to share and create new ways of living that nurture positive growth. In its breadth this experience has been a boundless gift, and we are full of thanks to all of the instructors, staff, members, donors and friends who have made it possible.




Ecology Action has been a small 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization since 1971.

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