Colby Wadel

Volunteer who stayed on as a staff member

Colby Wadel

I grew up in the agricultural world of Pennsylvania and developed a passion for it. I wanted to gain experience in a work-based therapy program and found out about Gould Farm through my Mom’s co-worker. I was drawn to the Farm because of my agricultural background and wanted to learn more about the human service side of things. I also wanted to take a year to explore whether college and a career in social work might be for me, as opposed to jumping right into college with no hands-on experience.

I discovered that working in agriculture can be isolating. For example, I worked on a harvest crew based out of Kansas that harvested grains through the midwest. I spent weeks on end harvesting from sun-up to until the dew settled, often near midnight, by myself on a combine. In other jobs, I worked with dairy herds ranging from 70-900 milking cows. I really enjoyed being around cows, but day in and day out, it was pretty isolating in addition to working swing shifts. Over time, I realized that this aspect of the American agricultural system didn’t fit with my interests.

Gould Farm showed me what it’s like to combine being around people while having my hands in the dirt and working with cows. I got to develop relationships with coworkers, didn’t have to work swing shifts, and had time outside my workday to socialize and have a life.

About 7 months into my volunteer year, the livestock manager position opened up. I had experience, was interested, and was encouraged by my team members to apply. I was looking for a challenge and despite not feeling totally confident I was going to be good at the role, I felt like I had the encouragement and support of my team.

My work up to that point on the Farm had really reinforced my passion for agriculture, particularly the small-scale agricultural model. Additionally, within that amount of time I figured out I did not want to be a social worker. As a member of the farm team, I got a window into what the clinical side of Gould Farm was like and found I enjoyed being part of the treatment planning process for an individual, but from a farm team perspective.

Being a social person, I developed a lot of friendships with the cohort of volunteers I started with. When I transitioned to being a staff member, I moved from shared volunteer
housing into a private staff house on the Farm, which added independence and privacy (and allowed me to get my dog, Sophie!).

At first I thought I would stay at Gould Farm for just a year or two. But then a new volunteer came to the Farm. She and I hit it off and are now engaged to be married. This year, I celebrate 7 years of being a staff member. My partner, who came to the Farm after college, is in the midst of completing her social work degree while balancing working here as well – she is another staff member who originally came as a volunteer. And no, we are not the first volunteers to meet here and get married! We are now part of a small group of folks who share that similar story.

At this point, my focus is not on pursuing a college degree. The Farm has supported my professional development through attending coursework offered by Cornell University’s online agricultural training program. Right now, I am feeling skilled and confident in what I do and the challenges I have been offered in my role at the Farm have allowed me to grow in positive ways.