Gooseberry Farm

Friday, March 14, 2014

2014 Natural Building & Homesteading Apprenticeship

Welcome! We're Mark and Alyson, and for seven years we've been working and playing with the homestead we call Gooseberry Farm. Our place is part of Red Earth Farms, a community land trust in northeast Missouri, which we share with five other families. As we create our home we're learning about growing food, building with natural materials, raising a healthy child, and building relationships with our neighbors. Now we'd like to share what we've learned so far. If you want to find out first-hand what it takes to get started on your own homestead, please consider apprenticing with us this summer.

Check out some photos here: Gooseberry Farm

Apprenticeship in Natural Building and Homesteading

This is a full-featured apprenticeship that will give you experience in many aspects of establishing a natural home and organic garden for a small family. As you work alongside us we will give you guidance and hands-on practice in gardening, building, cooperative decision-making, and creative child care. We will also share with you what we've learned about making income while getting started on your farm and raising a family. Sometimes you will be working with Mark on our off-grid strawbale house, other times you might be helping Alyson decide where to plant the corn, or figuring out how to make last year's corn into cornbread with our 4-year-old daughter Cole.

Your experience here will be within a community context, but we believe that much of what you'll learn is applicable on any young homestead. Because of our location, cooperative living, and economical habits we are able to offer this unique opportunity for one-on-one learning at a much more affordable price than similar apprenticeships elsewhere. 

Here are some details of what we will be focusing on in 2014:

Finish work on our strawbale house
Our home is based on current best practices in natural building and passive solar design. It has round pole post-and-beam framing and a cement-free rubble trench foundation. It features an earthbag stem wall, a poured adobe floor, strawbale walls, a pallet-truss gambrel roof, and a masonry "rocket stove" within a cob spiral staircase. This year we'll apply finish coats of earthen plasters, seal all exposed wood, and complete the plumbing and carpentry.

Build a sauna
We have started the foundation and timber-frame doorway of our sauna (or banya). This year we'll complete the walls, reciprocal roof, floors, loft, and benches—then install the stove and take our inaugural sauna.

Grow delicious food for the family
Each year we have planted dozens (or hundreds) of trees, shrubs, and other perennial and annual plants, with the aim of one day becoming a small family farm that has a surplus to share with the neighbors. Each year we are able to eat more and more of our own food through the winter. Last year we were hurt by a drought so this year we're going to figure out how to get more water to the plants. We'll build hugelkultur beds below the pond, mulch existing beds more deeply, tend fruit and nut trees, plant and nurture vegetables, harvest for meals, and preserve foods for winter.

Improve the homestead
Every year out here our homestead becomes more robust and life gets better. This year we'll complete our constructed wetland, scythe new paths, bake more sourdough bread, rebuild our solar food dehydrators, and probably a hundred other projects that will appear on the next horizon. We also both have part-time jobs that will wax and wane throughout the summer, so there will be times when you'll be on your own to read, study, pursue a special hobby, or just take a break in the pond with Colie and her friends.

Care for our daughter
This apprenticeship is only for you if you really enjoy being with children and helping them learn about the world. We do not view time spent with Cole (6) as "babysitting," but as a deeply valuable contribution toward our family and toward enriching the life of another human being. We try to share the responsibility and joy of caring for her as equally as possible among the members of our household, including apprentices.

Who we are
Mark was a graphic designer in his past life and now has ten years of experience doing and teaching natural building. Alyson was once an English teacher in Russia and is now a baker, facilitator, fundraiser, and a student of permaculture who has been growing food since childhood. Cole is an artist, musician, and linguist who leads her life with the passion of a small child. You can read more about us in our bios here

When to come
This apprenticeship is available from early May through late October. We are looking for one individual or a couple who can commit to the whole summer, but we are also open to three-month commitments (May-July or August-October). If this apprenticeship is your dream come true but your dates conflict with ours, please apply anyway. If it's a great fit we might be able to work it out.

Accommodations and lifestyle
You should come prepared to camp. We have tent sites with raised platforms. Our meals are mainly vegetarian, and you will be expected to take your turn cooking for the group as soon as you feel ready. We have two weekly potluck dinners: one with our neighbors at Sandhill Farm and Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, and one just for Red Earth Farms. For bathing we have solar showers and a beautiful pond. You will have access to our wireless internet during certain hours of the day. We go to town once or twice a week but otherwise life is pretty much defined by work and play on the farm. Past interns have enjoyed going for a swim and then relaxing in a hammock after a day of hoisting strawbales and picking tomatoes. We think Gooseberry is a great place to spend time, because we like our quiet solitude but we also like to jog over to Dancing Rabbit for the occasional Ultimate frisbee game. Quiet campfires or rowdy dance parties—the choice is yours.

What you’ll get in the bargain
You’ll get a glimpse of three intentional communities and access to our collective knowledge in the areas of growing and preparing food, homestead design, natural building, consensus decision making, and community living. Throughout your apprenticeship you will receive personal attention from us and the opportunity to learn all-around homesteading skills in a fast, fun, effective way—by taking part in building a real rural homestead.

What we’ll expect from you
You need to have a good work ethic and be capable of physical labor. It would be great if you have some building and/or gardening experience but it’s not required. You will be expected to work about 30-35 hours per week. You’ll also need a way to get here and to wherever you’ll be going when you leave. We can arrange transportation to our place from a nearby train or bus station.

Financial exchange
Because of our dedication to teaching others about this fascinating, fulfilling way of life, we are providing this educational experience for free. However, during our building phase we are making very little income ourselves. Therefore apprentices in 2012 will pay $150 per month, roughly the cost of your meals. Other costs that apprentices should expect to cover are meals at restaurants in town and travel expenses associated with getting here, including the cost of rides that we provide from or to transit stations.

How to contact us if you’re interested
Email: markmazziotti (at) and alysonewald (at)
Or call: 660-883-5329

"Interning at Gooseberry Farm provides a unique opportunity to gain skills along a broad spectrum of permaculture practices with good, friendly people who are experienced in their fields and approach their work with an openness to new ideas. Mark, Alyson and Cole are a warm, welcoming family who are well on their way to creating an exemplary homestead." —Jon Burkhart

"Living and working at Gooseberry Farm for the season gave me a taste of what it actually takes to get a homestead going, and how to really integrate the two disciplines I am interested in learning—permaculture and natural building." —Zeb Sweesy

"Mark and Alyson are very warm and gracious hosts. They have a lot of knowledge to share on a surprising array of subjects. It is clear that both are on this life path because they believe in it, which seems to bring a tough resoluteness and a joyful delight to their game. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend spending some time learning and working with them. I look forward to returning, myself." —Marke McConnell

"It was fantastic to live with a cycle that was so close to the earth and other human beings."—Kris Hammerberg

"Being an intern at Gooseberry Farm was an incredibly inspiring experience for me. Mark is a creative and enthusiastic builder and he delights in sharing his craft with anyone who has interest in learning. He and Alyson engender a culture of vigorous work, light-hearted play, and communal bonding that I found nourishing to my mind, body, and soul. I've already recommended their internship to many of my friends and I can't wait to hear how it changes their lives." —Ashley Schenk