Organic Farming 101 Certificate Program

College Level Education program

Organic Farming 101 is a Certificate Class that starts in mid-May and runs until the end of October. It is exclusively designed for students who want to become organic farmers or work in partnership with organic farmers in alternative food systems. The course takes place at Amador Hill Farm and Orchard, a four-season farm, organically certified by MOSA (Midwest Organic Services Association) and managed by the Women’s Environmental Institute (WEI). Organic Farming 101 is part of WEI’s nonprofit mission which is dedicated to promoting environmental, agricultural, and food justice and to the development of organic farming and well-trained organic farmers. WEI’s Amador Hill Farm is located near North Branch, Minnesota, in Amador Township, on the edge of Wild River State Park and the St. Croix River.

In 2020 Organic Farming 101 has two sessions. Session One runs from mid-May to the end of August. Session Two runs from mid-September until the end of October. In Session One all the basics in organic farming are covered and put into daily farming practices. Over the course of several months of study and training, students will learn about different aspects of growing crops organically with hands-on work at the garden scale and the tractor-cultivated work at the field scale. Students will also become familiar with different kinds of farm plans: growing for a small CSA, for farm stands/farmers market and for wholesale and/or restaurants. Successful graduates from Session One will be eligible to continue with Session Two which starts in mid- September. In Session Two students will advance to the knowledge and managerial skills needed to run an organically certified farm in the autumn and early winter. This will include management and field responsibilities for fall harvesting and marketing, winterization of the farm, winter farming start up, and 2020 farm review for next year’s farm plan. This will complete the 2020 season. Students will be awarded WEI’s Organic Farming Certificate of Completion and WEI will provide extensive letters of recommendation as requested by our graduating students for your future plans. We will stay connected and supportive as you move forward.


Course objectives for Organic Farming 101 generally fall into the following categories:

• Principles and techniques of organic farming: seed selection, plant  propagation, greenhouse techniques, crop planning, French-intensive bed preparation, transplanting and sowing, crop care, weeding, harvesting techniques, food safety standards, seed saving, and irrigation.
Soils — soil physical and chemical properties, soil/plant interactions, soil fertility management, soil testing, soil microbes, composting, rotations, and cover cropping.
• Botany, farmscaping for pollinators, and crop culture — botanical characteristics and cultural requirements of specific vegetable crops, herbs, flowers, fruits, and trees.
• Pest and Disease Management —management of weeds, vertebrate and invertebrate pests, plant pathogens in organic systems, and organic IMP.
•Livestock care: beekeeping, vermiculture, chicken and possibly other animal husbandry.
•Harvesting and Marketing — harvest and post-harvest handling, food safety SOPs, marketing strategies and outlets, including direct marketing through farmers’ markets, restaurant outreach and delivery, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and wholesale production.
•Farm Machine and Tool Maintenance – how to keep everything in its place and ready to work.
• Budget and Crop Planning – how to create a 5-year financial plan and annual budget for your farm which is based on capacity and sustainability; how to create a master plan for your farm to meet pre-determined goals and contracts
• Record Keeping for Organic Certification, GAP Certification, Food Handling Safety, Standard Operating Procedures, Farm Emergency Plans, Specific Operating Procedures, farm mapping, protocols and checklists.
• Promotions and Presentation – how to use social media and other strategies to promote your farm; how to make the best presentation at farmers’ markets; how to develop branding and a unique identity for your farm
• Farmer Self-care – how to take care of yourself as a full-time farmer who also has other social roles and responsibilities

Because of WEI’s commitment to environmental, agricultural and food justice, these kinds of public policy topics will be woven into the educational and training experience provided for Organic Farming students. We are especially interested in the sustainability challenges of small-scale farms using organic and sustainable farming practices succeeding in the face of challenges from industrial farming, climate crisis and increasing food insecurity. We will examine how race, class, gender, urban/rural division, and other significant differences create systemic relations of power, privilege and disadvantage in global and local food systems. We endorse the belief that agricultural acts are political in nature and open to inquiry. All questions and ideas are welcome.


Amador Hill Farm is a multi-generational and multicultural farm. In WEI’s Organic Farming 101, you will be taught and mentored by elder farmers and experienced farm crew members. Amador Hill Farm Manager and WEI Education Director, Jacquelyn Zita (professor emerita U of M) will coordinate the teaching and the teaching staff. Two experienced farm crew members will work in the field every day along with Jacquelyn with the students. Hilary Sandall, our elder garlic farmer will share her expertise in garlic farming and insightful wisdom. Guest mentors – invited professors, master gardeners, farmers and specialists – will visit the farm to lead a day’s work or provide a lecture with discussion on a special topic. Karen Joy Clark, WEI’s Executive Director, will lead monthly discussions on public policy aspects of farming, urban agriculture, environmental justice, farm legislation and the Green New Deal. Teaching will be facilitated by classroom structure, field-based learning, hands-on workshops, skill-building demos and field work — this is a teaching philosophy based on “learning by doing” that requires the true rigor and endurance of what it takes to be a full-time farmer on your own. Education themes of the week, supplemented with a formal curriculum and readings, will be seasonally specific, covering such topics as irrigation, mulching, potato farming, trellising tomatoes, maintenance of farm equipment, bed making, soil regeneration, compost building, weeding, pest management, crop rotations and cover cropping. When possible, the students and staff will have the option to visit another farm or explore our region’s environmental resources, rural town cultures, and local climate activism.


Organic Farming 101 has two sessions

Session One begins with a weekend orientation at the farm on May 16-17 Session One runs from May 16-August 28.
Session Two begins in with a Sunday orientation at the farm Sept. 13 Session Two runs from Sept. 13 – October 30.

Only six students will be admitted to Organic Farming 101 with some of the graduates from Session One continuing in Session Two (September-October). We assume that some of you will have to return to school in the fall.

The total tuition for Session One is $2,500 and for Session One and Two $3,000. This tuition is non-refundable. Half this amount as a down payment must be paid shortly after admission to the program, with payment in full completed by April 15, 2020. The tuition includes the cost of a personal set of farm tools to take home, textbooks and articles, study materials, and the cost of Room with “Partial” Board. “Partial Board” means that WEI will provide some bulk items, such as grains, cooking oils, spices, pastas, rice, flour etc.(TBD) and extra produce from the farm for meals. As farm produce becomes more available as the season progresses, this should reduce additional monthly food costs significantly. More specific food preferences, personal dietary requirements and personal care products will be the responsibility of students purchase. WEI will provide sun screen and tick repellant as recommended by the Environmental Working Group. Note that our Organic Farming 101 farmer training includes 3.5 to 5 months of residency at the farm campus, included in the tuition fee, which is a significant savings on rental and travel costs for our students.

Students can apply by filling out and submitting an extensive application form (see below) and attach a CV or work resumé. Selected applicants will have a follow-up interview if the applicant meets expected qualifications and interests. Applications are available as of January 2, 2020. Review of these applications starts February 1, 2020 and stays open until we have 6 students admitted to the program. Early applications are advisable.

WEI scholarship funding is currently not available, but we are actively seeking donors who may be able to offer partial scholarships for students with financial need. The program accepts AmeriCorps funding to cover some of the course fees. Women’s Environmental Institute cannot offer any work-study, loan programs or financial aid for Organic Farming 101.

Our farmer training is a full-time class (40 hours a week) and runs continuously from mid-May to the end of August and picks up again mid-September through the end of October. The workday starts at 7:00 or 6:00 a.m. depending on the weather. We work rain, shine or snow. Most program activities take place Monday-Friday, but students may want to switch out some hours to be available for occasional weekend greenhouse, food shopping, livestock or crop care on weekends. Each student will have a half day off to complete reading assignments, not to exceed 50 pages per week or to pursue and individualized farm project. Students and staff will have one week vacation starting mid-way through the program in a staggered vacation schedule so as to protect the necessary labor required on the student farm. Each student will have at least one Saturday at the Mill City Farmers Market to gain experience in presenting and selling organically certified farm produce.

Students are expected to participate fully in the program by being available every day, Monday through Friday. Daily activities may include seeding, bed preparation, transplanting, seed sowing, watering, weeding, thinning, composting, harvesting, food handling, packing, storage, and marketing. Rotational positions of responsibility, such as cooking, house cleaning, greenhouse managing, watering, and market coordination may require special break-out teams to complete these tasks. Of special interest to students are our supplemental farm systems. Students will have an opportunity to select special training in two areas such as beekeeping, aquaponics, chicken care, herb farming, value-added canning, foraging, apple orchard care and composting/vermiculture production. In addition, a number of WEI classes – part of WEI’s Down-to-Earth Education Program — will be offered on weekends to the general public while Organic Farming 101 is in session. Students will have an opportunity to participate in these classes free of charge, if enrollment and the instructor allow. When these classes are in session, students may be sharing use of the kitchen over the lunch hour with enrolled students. Generally, classes will not interfere with students residing in the Eco-Retreat Center.

Because of the long hours spent working and studying, students are strongly discouraged from holding part-time jobs or enrolling in school part time. Organic Farming 101 is a unique program of its kind, with a structured learning progression along with a total immersion in organic farming practices and knowledge, and an intensity that can carry students into a future career or new educational interests


Students will reside in residence in individual or shared private rooms in WEI’s Eco-Retreat Center. Students will have a private or shared bedroom in the Eco-Retreat Center or in the old Amador Hill Farmhouse. Students commuting to the class must be present for all aspects of the farmer training, group events, and classroom discussions. For students residing on WEI’s farm campus, it is advisable to have a car or some means of taking off on weekends, even though full time weekend residency is available You will share the Eco-Retreat kitchen and cook their own meals. This will eventuate in a collected set of recipes and acquired cooking and canning skills as the course progresses. WEI’s Eco-Retreat Center also provides dining space, library, classrooms, bathrooms and showers, laundry room, media room, wifi, dishwasher and kitchen pots, pans, and utensils Students are responsible for their own phones, computers and personal care products.

Students commuting to the class must be present for all aspects of the farmer training, group events, and classroom discussions. If you are planning to commute, please contact to discuss alternative a tuition rate without living accommodations. For students residing on WEI’s farm campus, it is advisable to have a car or some means of taking off on weekends, even though full time weekend residency is available.


We are confident that WEI’s training and education will help you develop your own career path into farming or working in alternative farm-to-fork systems. Students will leave with the knowledge and skills needed to begin developing your own commercial farm or market garden, for starting inner-city community gardens, working as environmental and farm/garden educators, participating in international rural development farming projects, managing organic landscaping businesses, or pursuing advanced degrees in organic agriculture, environmental and/or sustainability studies. WEI’s Organic Farming 101 could also provide a gateway for farm crew and leadership positions on other farms and a variety of jobs and other opportunities. WEI staff will work with you to provide advice on the how best to make use of your learning experience with us and where this could lead you in the future.

While the Women’s Environmental Institute is not yet a formal academically accredited institution, we do function as a Community Partner Farm in association with a select number of post-secondary institutions. If you are a student in a post-secondary institution, WEI staff can help you develop ways to have your training at WEI academically recognized by your home institution or in your continuing education program. The Farm Manager acting as site supervisor may be able to arrange with your academic advisor internships agreements, civic or community service credits or experiential learning credits. We are open to helping you receive wider recognition with the Certificate of Completion you will receive when you finish Organic Farming 101.


The student community shapes a big part of people’s experience. For this reason, students should understand that a fair amount of their time and energy will be invested into community life. The student learning experience does create a live-in community but this is not an intentional community in the formal sense, though maintaining it is a communal effort. With up to 5-6 people living on site in WEI’s Eco-Retreat Center, cooperation and communication are extremely vital to the daily coordination of both work and domestic tasks. All students in residence take part in cooking, cleaning, and other domestic responsibilities. Outside of these basic community responsibilities and community meetings, students can choose whether or not they wish to participate in other social aspects of the community.

Students should keep in mind that WEI is a 50©3 nonprofit and Chisago County charity organization. We are first and foremost a nonprofit organization open to scheduled visitors and volunteers and people registered for WEI classes on the weekend. Organic Farming students in resident at WEI should remember that the Eco-Retreat Center is a community building, not a personal home, and that we should be courteous to and respectful of our campus visitors. Keeping this space, clean, well-ordered and organized, is the shared responsibility of all of us working on the farm. There should be no unexpected visitors or intruders. All visitors will be officially scheduled and greeted by Jerry Krier, our Finance and HR Manager, who manages the front office in the Eco-Retreat Center. Visitors sign in and out on the daily register and wear a visitor name tag.

Due to organizational and space constraints, children, spouses, and significant others will not be allowed to live on the Farm, but short term visits can be arranged. Students’ personal pets are also not allowed to live on the Amador Hill farm campus.


WEI Amador Hill Farm and Orchard is organically certified by MOSA (Midwest Organic Services Association). The farm is located on the WEI rural campus and consists of 30 acres of tillable fields and 7.5 acres of apple orchard. The land also includes six hoop houses 2 aquaponic units, 2 winter farming production units, a greenhouse, an old farmstead home seasonally converted into a growing space, the Turtle Dome Classroom, a pole barn, machine and tool storage sheds, chicken coops, beehives, and an old apple barn converted into a packing shed. The barn includes a walk-in cooler and equipment for washing and packing produce. The farm business office is located in the WEI Eco-Retreat Center. The farm operates on a year-round four-season schedule. Produce from Amador Hill Farm and Orchard is sold through our CSA and at Mill City Farmers Market, The Good Acre, Seward Coop, Gandhi Mahal Restaurant, North Circle Online Farmers Market, our regional Food Rx and other venues. WEI originated the North Circle Online Farmers Market and participates as one of the farms, as well as administering this online project. The goal of North Circle is to create a regional food system to support small scale local farmers committed to organic and sustainable farming. (

The Organic Farming 101 is an intense and well-structured educational program designed to prepare new farmers for a beginning or advanced career in organic farming or alternative food systems. We rely on students who are capable of:

  • listening deeply and participating in a sense of community among peers,

  • following instructions while simultaneously asking generative questions,

  • showing up every day on time ready to engage as part of a student farm

  • being accountable to peers when it comes to pace, accuracy, and outcomes,

  • being respectful of cultural, race, class, gender, sexuality, age and other differences

  • following the leadership of elder farmers and female authority

  • driving on the farm as well as delivering produce following all required safety protocols on the farm and with fresh produce

    This will be a learning experience for a lifetime.


    Go to Organic Farming 101 Application . Before you apply, it is important that you have read carefully this document, Introduction to Organic Farming 101.

    If you believe this is the right thing for you to do, fill out your answers to the questions on the Application Form, attach your CV or work resumé and click SUBMIT when you are ready to send your application to WEI. You will receive a confirmation email to let you know we have received your application. You will not be asked to pay the tuition until you have been accepted into the program. First review of the applications begins on February 1, 2020 and will stay open until we 6 students have been officially accepted and fully registered for Organic Farming 101. This could happen in a matter of weeks, so it is important for you to make your decision to apply as early as possible. We will let you know when enrollment is filled and if a wait list is available.

    If you have questions about the program, please contact Jacquelyn Zita at If you have questions about the living accommodations or the Eco-Retreat facility, please contact Jerry Krier at 651-583-0705 or The application for WEI’s Organic Farming 101 can be found at

    Thank you for your interest in WEI’s Organic Farming 101 education training program. We look forward to hearing from you.

    Jacquelyn Zita
    WEI Director of Education and Farm Manager Professor emerita University of Minnesota