As the Advanced Dairy and Livestock Apprentice at Hawthorne Valley Farm (HVF), Jess Brobst spends her days caring for all aspects of barn life—milking, maintenance in the milk house and fields, operating equipment, feeding the chickens, cows, and pigs, managing the dairy herd monitor that tracks the cows and their lactation cycles, and much, much more. Farming is not considered the most desirable job by today’s standards, but Jess sees meaningful challenges in animal husbandry that continuously uplift her and give her new insights.
“The best part of my job is the feeling of being completely wrung out after every day,” she said. “Farming in general has a way of taking everything out of you—every emotion, every scrap of energy, every part of your body and mind—and just when you feel like you can’t give any more, it comes pouring back with abandon. Working with sentient beings keeps you in a constant state of action and awareness, as well as emotional whiplash. You love them; they frustrate you. They make you laugh; they break your heart. Sometimes all in one day.”
Growing up, Jess lived on the edge of her grandfather’s small farm in West Virginia where he raised beef cattle and grew his own hay. She attended West Virginia University to study art and art history and spent a semester in China focusing on ceramics.
After graduating in 2011, Jess spent the next few years working with animals in many capacities from dog training and cat rescue to raptor rehabilitation and kennel and grooming work. While she enjoyed those experiences, she felt like something was missing in her life. In 2015, she took a job as an hourly worker at a vegetable farm and was immediately hooked.
“The joy of learning something new, which feels like a constant, never ceases to light up my spirit,” she said. “Farming makes me feels alive, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
After two years of working at the 40 acre, 250+ vegetable CSA farm, Jess decided pursue an internship in animal husbandry. An apprenticeship search engine led her to HVF. After reading about the Farm, she knew it was where she wanted to work. She was accepted for the 2017 season as a Whole Farm Apprentice. In July of the same year, she transitioned to the Advance Dairy and Livestock Apprentice.
As part of her work, Jess also has the opportunity to work with children visiting the farm through the Visiting Students Program to introduce them to farm life. She also leads Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School’s Calf Club. The Club consists of a group of three to six students in 5th to 8th grade who meet weekly for about two months each semester to learn about cows and spend time handling and caring for a calf, with the goal of leading their calves through a pageant at the school’s May Day Celebration.
“Just being around the children is a meaningful experience,” Jess said. “Their insights and personalities can bring such perspective that, without their observations, are lost on me as an adult.”
In the coming season, Jess looks forward to learning more about HVF’s hay and grain production. She also enrolled in the Biodynamic Association’s inaugural Farmer Foundation Year program which includes attending workshops, bimonthly lessons, and conference meetings every other week. When she has a spare moment, Jess loves art and crafting, hiking and outdoor recreation, and CrossFit.