Jen Smith doesn’t picture herself becoming a crop farmer. But she sees herself working with animals, and perhaps taking a direct role in managing land her family rents out today. Whatever she decides, she believes she’ll be better off for her experiences as a farm intern on two central Indiana farms.
“It was an amazing experience,” she relates, now back at Purdue University, pursuing a dual major in animal sciences and farm management and a minor in biology. “It helped me get a better feel for what I like and don’t like doing, and what I might want to do in the future.”
Don Villwock, Edwardsport, Ind., helps coordinate the Purdue farm intern program. Smith, Noblesville, Ind., learned about the program while taking a class from Jim Mintert, director of Purdue’s Center for Commercial Agriculture and a supporter of the program.
“Don helped me find two farms so I could get a variety of experiences,” Smith says. “It really helped me get a better feel for agriculture.”
That’s the goal of the program, Villwock says. It started when former Purdue Ag Dean Jay Akridge began looking for a way to give nonfarm students a taste of what farming is about.
Smith spent her first eight weeks working for Tom McKinney near Kempton, Ind. As part of the program, the host farmer and student work out hours and a fair wage together.
“We hoped to have her working in the field more, but with the wet spring, she learned a lot about shop projects,” McKinney says. He kept Smith and other employees busy overhauling a sprayer trailer and revamping a nitrogen application rig.
“She got right in there and worked with us,” he says. “She learned how to turn wrenches and build things.”
For Smith, it was an eye-opening experience. “I wouldn’t want to do that work full time, but it was neat to see how we could take existing materials in the shop and repurpose them into something useful,” she says.
Before her stint there ended, the McKinneys finally could plant. Smith assisted with the bean buggy and did other chores in the field.
“I knew that she was interested in learning about management because she may mange land her family has in Illinois someday, so during downtime, I worked with her on record books and let her see the numbers involved in farming,” McKinney says.
Smith recalls one real-world experience. “It was down to whether we should plant some fields, and Tom was very good about including me in his decision-making process,” she says.
For the last six weeks of her internship, Smith reported to Keith Schoettmer’s hog operation near Tipton, Ind. Villwock lined up the two-part internship so she could get experience working with both crops and animals.
“I learned lots of things about the hog industry while doing actual work in the barns at the same time,” Smith says. “It was challenging, but I really enjoyed it.
“The neat part at both farms was that I could finally truly understand concepts Professor Mintert and others taught in classes. I sort of understood them during classes, but when you actually experience it firsthand on the job, it all comes together.
“Whatever I do in the future, I will make better choices and decisions because of having these experiences.”