Apprenticeship Program Participating Farms

SB Voelz Farming

Blair & Eli Voelz
Dunnigan, CA
700 acres

Blair Voelz and son Eli operate SB Voelz Farming in Dunnigan, CA, farming 700 acres of rice, wine grapes, olives for oil, sunflowers and seed crops. The sunflowers and seed crops are under Grimmy Farms operated by Eli Voelz as a separate entity. We have been in operation since 1980 and farm some of the ground that has been in the family since 1860. We have four full time employees and hire contract labor for big projects. Our employees are very skilled in operating the many mechanical devices on the farm from harvesters to mechanical pruners.

Do you have a land ethic? If so, how do you express it? How do ecological and environmental considerations fit into your operational structure and decision making?
We try and farm sustainably, keeping alert to soil health and plant health. We’ve seen that better soil health has resulted in better yields. We farm conventionally and try to be as efficient as possible using as much mechanical means as possible to save on labor costs. We think it’s crucial to keep experimenting to figure out better ways to do things, but not all practices work or make sense. It’s important to be able to recognize what does and doesn’t make sense for your own specific situation.

What are the most important considerations in your everyday work on your farm?
Farming is about minimizing risks. The risk of weather is minimized by diverse crops that spread the risk and timing. Farming, they say you either love it or hate it. I happen to love it… Farming is a business and financial sustainability is crucial. You’ll be out of business if you can’t make the finances work. And you need to pay attention to employee safety. Employees need to know how to safely and responsibly operate equipment.

Apprentice skills/abilities:

Apprentices should be motivated to learn farming from the ground up and get a glimpse of all involved to run a successful farm. People who work on this farm and any farm need some common sense and powers of observation to know what is going on around themselves. They need the ability to notice subtle changes in plant color, soil color, weather (i.e. cloud formation, air temperature, and wind direction) and the ability to anticipate what to expect next.

If you are curious and interested in what you are doing, the steep and endless learning curve will be less severe. Another important attribute for this job is the ability to get along with fellow employees. If you can work efficiently and in harmony with fellow employees, it makes life a lot easier, whether trying to complete a task that takes an hour or a week. Our employees mostly speak Spanish, so having an apprentice that already speaks Spanish, or is interested in further developing their Spanish skills would be something very desirable on our farm.

Housing + meals:
Not provided.

General work schedule and time off:
We do not work when it rains, but work a 10 hour day when the sun shines and take Sundays off. The changes in the seasons brings on changes in the farming operations. No two days are alike when it comes to farming. We are very busy in the spring when we are putting in the rice, planting the seed crops and pruning the grapes and olives. Things slow a bit midsummer then ramp back up for fall harvest. All our crops are contracted ahead of time and harvested on a schedule dictated by the buyers. Winter is shop work, vine pruning, and down time.

Health insurance:
Health insurance is not provided.

Dog/Pet allowed:

Apprentices will be expected to drive stick-shift.

Visitors are allowed with advance notice only.

Motivation for participating in the apprenticeship program:
My motivation for participating in the program is to help potential farmers learn the work and seasons of farming and the skills involved to get the job done.

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