Vilicus Farms

Eight-month dryland crop-farming apprenticeship in Havre, Montana

The Farm

Vilicus Farms is a first generation, nationally recognized organic, dryland crop farm located on the expansive plains of northern Hill County, Montana. Established in 2009, Vilicus Farms grows a diverse array of heirloom and specialty grains, pulse, oilseed and broadleaf crops within a 7+year crop rotation and integrated grazing on approximately 12,500 acres and growing.  In 2019 Vilicus Farms became the first Bee Better certified farm in Montana and in 2020 Vilicus became Real Organic Project verified. We are pursuing Demeter (Biodynamic) certification. Our intention is to provide a multi-season training and mentoring program that immerses highly motivated young professionals in organic farm operation and management – a journey that could ultimately end in farm ownership and/or incubation of your own enterprise. Doug and Anna understand the challenges of taking a farm from vision to reality. Through the Vilicus Farms apprenticeship program they hope to give beginning farmers a real opportunity to start a successful organic dryland crop farm or related agrarian enterprise in the Northern Great Plains. The Vilicus Farms Apprenticeship begins with a minimum of an eight-month engagement. Longer term commitments are preferred. 

The History

Vilicus Farms officially started from scratch in 2009 when Doug and Anna purchased 1,280 acres of Northern Great Plains prairie off the open market with 20 years of savings and lots of hutzpah. The vision for Vilicus began years earlier when Doug, whose family’s farm in Ohio had been lost in the farm crisis of the 1980’s, began looking for a viable way to return to farming. Without the existence of a traditional family farm base, options were limited. In 2005, Doug and Anna recognized the emerging opportunities in the organic market and began drafting their vision of a model organic farm that would push the boundaries of conservation and sustainability.

With a “vision board” in their Helena kitchen Anna and Doug began looking for farmland in earnest. Often driving hundreds of miles to visit potential sites, they settled on the name Vilicus meaning “Steward of the Land,” long before they closed on the land 35 miles North of Havre just south of the Canadian border. Determined to participate in an organic agriculture revolution, Doug and Anna became beginning farmers at the age of 40. Before they even made an offer on land, they purchased their first tractor, “Maddie,” with part of Anna’s retirement fund. They broke ground with Maddie in the spring of 2009 using the USDA’s Beginning Farmer loan resources for land, equipment purchase, and operating capital.

While both working full-time–Anna as the Lead of Sustainable Operations in the National Forest Service, and Doug as the Organic Certification Program-Manager at the Montana State Department of Agriculture–they began farming on the weekends. Much of their first few seasons were spent commuting 10 hours each weekend from their home in Helena with their 3 Jack Russells in tow.

Doug and Anna are visionaries dedicated to the ideals of organic agriculture and determined to see others who dream of becoming farmers succeed. Since 2009 Vilicus has seen two full cycles of the 7-year crop rotation while growing from 1,280 to 12,500 acres, with more opportunity for growth. The organic farmer apprenticeship program exists to mentor beginning farmers through the full spectrum of learning needed to operate a farm such as Vilicus. They want to share their experience with the challenges and joys of starting their own midscale, dryland organic farming operation. They are also deeply committed to helping young agrarians develop their own path to an agricultural livelihood in this part of the world. Through building a community of friendship and hard work centered on the seasonal life of the farm, Doug and Anna, along with the whole Vilicus Crew, have much more to offer than just the hard skills of farming.

Organic farming philosophy and practice

Over 25% of the farm is in non-crop conservation and habitat. Vilicus Farms’ cropping system allows for us to farm alongside of Nature’s systems and mirror Her processes for sustainable food production. Organic production isn’t just growing food without chemical inputs. It’s a system that requires improving soil, water and associated resources while producing safe and healthy food for a growing population of informed consumers. In 2020 Vilicus Farms integrated grazing animals into the crop rotation for the first time. We grazed several hundred acres of cover crops, as well as native pasture and rangeland with cattle as part of a custom grazing contract. This the result of shared vision and cooperation between Doug and Anna and Farm Foreman Paul Neubauer. In the coming years Vilicus Farms will have animal grazing across the entire acreage of the farm as well as opportunity for engagement and education about organic grazing practices.

Vilicus’ fields are divided into 240 foot wide cultivated strips separated by 20-30 foot conservation buffers. In partnership with Xerces Society, many of these buffers are planted with a mixture of native wildflowers and grasses that provide habitat for native pollinators and wildlife. The buffers also greatly reduce the risk for wind erosion, and secure additional moisture from winter snow catch. It is the blueprint for the Vilicus Farms growing system, and is a dramatic visual statement of countercultural commitment to sustainability and diversity in a landscape dominated by chemical-fallow wheat monoculture. Every year we discover new reasons to love our conservation strips, and the amount of land we steward that is dedicated to conservation.

The Mentors

Anna grew up in rural Colorado and Washington State. She spent several summers in Indiana visiting relatives who farmed and playing hide and seek in cornfields. She is an innovator who has championed sustainability throughout her 28 year Federal career and her personal life. Her work has saved millions of BTU’s and dollars. She pioneered new approaches to supporting the place-based work of local sustainability champions. She holds a B.S. in Construction Engineering and Management and an M.S. in Civil Engineering, Construction Emphasis from Purdue University. Her Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a Sustainable Systems minor is from Georgia Institute of Technology. Although Anna’s not out in the day to day operations of the field team as much as she’d like, she’s available to work with apprentices on their vision for their future.. Apprentices should expect to interact with Anna if they are engaged with any of the value-added,  non-profit or other special projects hosted on the farm.  Anna will attend the majority of check-ins and see apprentices at weekly farm meetings and dinners and support their engagement in sharing ideas and discussion topics with the larger crew.



​Doug has always been a farmer. He grew up on a large-scale grain farm in Ohio that didn’t survive the farm crisis of the 1980s. Giving up a full ride engineering scholarship after one semester at Purdue he followed his true passion and transferred to the Agricultural Economics Program. While completing his degree, he managed a crop farm in Indiana. He worked as a professional Farm Manager and Agriculture Systems Researcher in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. After completing his Masters program, he spent two years building a sustainably constructed home with his wife, Anna, while also working as an organic inspector. From 2001 until 2012 he served as the Organic Program Manager for the Montana Department of Agriculture. Doug holds a B.S. in Agricultural Economics / Farm Management from Purdue University and a M.S. in Plant Science/Agronomy from South Dakota State University.  Doug is highly engaged in getting the crew launched and day to day activities and apprentices will usually have a daily opportunity to interact with Doug. He, along with other longer term crew members will support apprentices learning the equipment and field operations.  Doug appreciates initiative and isn’t a mind reader.  Apprentices should be ready to ask questions and volunteer for activities they are interested in.


Born in Buffalo, New York, Paul Neubauer is also a first generation agrarian. He has worked on teaching farms and ranches in North Carolina, Colorado and now Montana. He currently works as Farm Operations Foreman as well as taking the lead with education and management of apprentices and interns. With experience in organic cattle ranching and farming across many environments, Paul has a fair amount of youthful wisdom to share with apprentices. As a graduate of the NAP program himself, he has a depth of experience with the mentor/mentee relationship and brings that passion for work-learning to bear every day. Paul has begun the cattle grazing enterprise on Vilicus Farms, through his business P/N Ranch. The integration of cattle into the cropping system at Vilicus Farms is an on-going and dynamic process of which Paul has taken the lead. Paul works with Anna and Doug not only as fellow management of the farm but also as his mentors, who provide him invaluable guidance and support. Paul plays a critical role in engaging with apprentices and will also interact with them almost daily.  He’ll will support everything from day to day learning to our regular check-ins.  

The Apprentice

What will an apprentice do?

2022 will be our tenth year hosting apprentices. We are the first to admit that not everything goes as planned. We have probably done as much learning as the eleven apprentices and eight interns we’ve hosted! Doug, Anna and Paul are patient and fully committed to stewarding the next generation of organic dryland crop farmers. Not one of their apprentices has come from an agricultural background but they expect all apprentices to have a commitment to organic food and sustainability. We started our operation from scratch. Being beginning farmers ourselves uniquely positions us to be able to share that perspective and support others who are entering agriculture. Doug, Anna and Paul expect a lot of themselves and thus a lot out of their apprentices. Entering agriculture is not easy and developing a vision for yourself and your operation is imperative to success. They support apprentices in developing and growing their own vision. Open communication and honesty are fundamental to this process.

Our intention is to provide a multi-season training and mentoring program that immerses highly motivated young professionals in organic farm operation and management – a journey that could ultimately end in farm ownership and/or incubation of your own enterprise.  As such we prefer multi-year commitments with the first year as a participant in the NAP apprentices cohort.  This first-year position is designed to provide an immersion experience in all facets of the dryland organic crop farm enterprise. Apprentices will work under the direct supervision of the farm managers and the farm operations foreman. Specific training will be tailored to the skill sets and needs of the apprentice. Apprentices will be an integral part of the Vilicus Farms team and are expected to participate fully in the daily work planning sessions, weekly team meetings and visioning discussions. Apprentices will participate in the physical labor of the operation as well as the mental challenge of all aspects of the management of the farm business. Specific activities will be dependent upon the operations needed for any given season. Responsibilities and tasks will generally include:

  • Large-scale machinery operations, tillage, seeding, cultivation, cover crop termination, green manure incorporation, swathing, combining, and crop storage/delivery.
  • Field and crop scouting to monitor crop conditions, weed, pest, disease incidents, and soil health.
  • Record keeping, maintenance, review, development and analysis. Including documentation of field operations, organic certification records, and conservation practices.
  • Machinery maintenance, periodic service, cleaning and repairs as needed.
  • Planning and implementation of conservation practices such as wildlife and pollinator habitat, windbreaks, field border establishment.
  • Weeding, mowing and facility upkeep.
  • Participation in field days, farm tours, and conferences to further develop knowledge of dryland cropping systems, organic production and grow connections with the network of organic producers in the northern plains.

Throughout the first season apprentices will be exploring and working towards a vision of where they want to fit into the farm/ranch team after this first season. This might include serving as a mentor to other first year apprentices, or focusing on serving as a general farm crew and expanding their understanding of operations. Or, perhaps they want to take a more significant role in the growing value-added or grazing enterprises.  

What skills and traits are required in an apprentice?

Applicants must have a keen interest in farming and becoming an agrarian. They must be curious self-starters, have the ability to work independently, appreciate the challenges and joys of working outside in all conditions, be a solid problem solver, with an open creative mind, and embrace diversity. The chosen applicants must be mature and excited to engage in their own learning process. Ability to communicate clearly, and self initiative are critical. Formal training in agriculture or farm management isn’t required but an ability to apply whole systems thinking, curiosity, and a broad ability to learn and be reflective is a necessity. However, candidates do need to have had agricultural experiences that are sufficient to have led them to know they want to pursue a life of farming. Candidates must have a valid US driver’s license with a good record, and a passport allowing travel to Canada.

What skills and traits are desired in an apprentice?

Ideally, candidates should have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree (or be close to finishing) or provide proof of success in an academic setting.

Nuts & Bolts


Start Date: mid March is ideal.  It’s important that apprentices have sufficient time to be oriented and become familiar with the team operations prior to the intense seeding season which can start in mid-April. 

Length of Apprenticeship:   Ideal candidates will be mature enough in their agricultural journey to make a multi-year commitment.  3+ years is ideal.  The first year can be as a concurrent participant with the NAP cohort with subsequent years to build deeper skills and knowledge.  We have found it is much easier to lean in together on all the learning that has to happen on this complex operation in the first season if we know that there is committed  staff continuity over several years.  You can’t build soil on quarterly profit reporting cycles and we don’t believe you can really build an agrarian livelihood if you aren’t willing to make more than an 8 month commitment to the land and a location.   The opportunity with a longer term committee is that you’ll get to see changes over several seasons and be able to build much deeper capacities then you would otherwise. 

Number of apprentices: one or two first year apprentices

Stipend: The annual salary for a first year is $12,000 paid bi-weekly and prorated based on start and end dates. We use direct deposit. The stipend may or may not cover monthly expenses for the apprentice based on his or her needs and lifestyle. The position does not allow time for a second job, so the apprentice should consider his or her budgetary needs before applying to this position.  Subsequent years will include a raise based on the arrangements of commitments of future years. 

General work hours: We work according to the farm season.  Off season is general 2-3 days a week, seeding and harvest season are six days a week.  Post seeding, and growing season times are 5 days a week. 

Housing: Apprentices will have their own bedroom in a house shared with other apprentices and/or farm employees. Bathroom is shared.  Please note: housing currently is provided only for the apprentice. Accommodation needs for pets, spouses, significant others, and/or children might be able to be provided depending on the particular situation and length of time commitment of the apprentice. 

Laundry: washer/dryer and outside clothesline available

Internet availability: high speed fiber optic internet provided 

Cell Phone:  We have some cell phones for work purposes available if an apprentice doesn’t have Verizon and are unable to use their own phone.  We rely heavily on a team group chat to communicate day to day logistics and work. 

Time Off: Day to day changes in work hours can and will occur to accommodate Mother Nature, soil and crop conditions, equipment needs and crew capacity. The apprentice will have one day off a week during seeding and harvest operations. During less intense times of the season we often move to a two day off per week schedule. If an apprentice needs additional days for specific activities, he or she should let the mentors know as soon as possible. Apprentices often request time off between seeding and harvest to visit family or friends. We will do our best to accommodate these requests. However, requests must be made well in advance as per our leave policy, and time away from the operation will be unpaid. 

Visitors policy:  We like to be able to have others experience the farm.  All visitors need to be scheduled and discussed with the farm managers in advance, especially if there is any intent for them to participate in any farm activities. Short term (2 nights or less) Visitors during days off are ok but any longer term visitors need to be discussed and approved.  Apprentices are expected to also discuss visitors with those whom they share housing with so that everyone can have clear expectations.

Food: Some shared meals are provided during seeding and harvest. There is generally a once a week farm crew dinner. Additionally, a grocery share will be part of the compensation package. This will include organic vegetables, local organic meat, and food grown on Vilicus Farms. Meals are nearly 100% organic with a focus on eating what is grown on the farm and from other Montana growers. There is an expectation that the apprentice will participate in all the household duties of cooking, cleaning and caring for the farmstead.

Pets:  Not allowed unless discussed and approved by the farm managers prior to arrival.  

Horse use:  The Farm does not have any horses. While there can be a horse employed for use on the grazing operations the apprentice will not be the one using the horse. 

Tobacco and alcohol use: No smoking or drugs on farm, range, vehicles, housing – the farm is a completely non-smoking, no-drug environment. No partying. Having a beer/glass of wine or two after work is just fine.

Health insurance: The farming lifestyle has inherent dangers. While personal health insurance is not required to participate in the apprenticeship program, it is strongly encouraged. The farm carries Workman’s Compensation to cover injuries incurred on the job. But if the apprentice is injured on his or her day off, gets sick, or has or develops chronic conditions like allergies, these types of issues should be covered by personal health insurance. 

Farm vehicles: Many of the farm vehicles are standard transmission. Apprentices will need to know how to drive stick-shift. Previous experience with backing up trailers and running heavy equipment is not required, but greatly appreciated.

Personal vehicleWhile there are no instances (or very few) when an apprentice would be asked to use a personal vehicle around the farm, the apprentice will need the flexibility of his or her own vehicle in order to run personal errands such as purchasing groceries and travel on days off.


Additional items an apprentice should bring


Living in Havre, Montana: The farm is located 40 miles from the nearest town of Havre, MT and is in a very rural location with limited population. Candidates should be willing to embrace this lifestyle and understand there is limited access to services. Medicine Hat, Alberta is the closest larger sized population center and is 100 miles away. The landscape is wide-open with an arid climate. Summer highs are in the upper nineties with cool nights. Winters can be extremely cold with several days in a row with a high of -10 degrees not unusual.

Quivira Coalition Activities: The apprentice is required to attend the annual Quivira Coalition orientation, held virtually in late March, and the Regenerate conference, held each November in Albuquerque, NM. Conference and hotel fees are covered by the Quivira Coalition. In addition to the conference, the apprentice will participate in monthly supplemental education calls hosted by Quivira. Apprentices are also required to write several reports during their apprenticeship; these reports will go through the NAP Coordinator at Quivira, and be posted on the Quivira website.