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2024 Winter Intensive for Registered Apprentices

During the week of March 11-15, Registered Apprentices who work for RINLA member companies attended our annual Winter Intensive training. This was an opportunity for apprentices to gain valuable knowledge and skills, as well as earn up to 40 hours of Related Training Instruction, just as the 2024 working season is kicking off.

This year, there were workshops on both hand and power tool maintenance; workplace etiquette; plant identification; early season pruning; invasive species management; plant grafting; systems thinking; and tours of farms, golf courses, tree conservatories, and greenhouses; as well as a day trip to work on Prudence Island. Twenty-two apprentices participated in the 2024 Winter Intensive, who were all granted up to 36.5 hours of RTI toward their progress in the Registered Apprenticeship program.

The week was intensive and started off at Arcadia Management Area where apprentices learned about upcoming changes to the Registered Apprenticeship program, namely new requirements to encourage participation and maximize productivity for those enrolled in the program. This was followed by exercises in workplace communication, etiquette, and conflict resolution. Participants then received an introduction to cleaning and caring for a variety of hand tools used in the field, gaining hands-on experience with dismantling and sharpening a mixture of their own and provided tools on site. This was followed up with two visits to Point Judith Country Club in Narragansett, where staff mechanics led a tour of their state-of-the-art equipment, along with hands-on instruction on how to dismantle and care for blowers and push mowers. Apprentices got their hands dirty by applying the learned information themselves with provided equipment.

Alan Peck, superintendent of Wilcox Park in Westerly, led the group in a training on best tree pruning practices, emphasizing what not to do to create a manageable care routine and growth pattern for trees in one’s care. Giving a tour of the unique park, home to some rare specimen trees, he also provided apprentices and RINLA staff with the opportunity to participate in the pruning of water sprouts and other unwanted overgrowth on and around trees in the park. Nathan Lambstrom, owner/operator of Garden Ecology and instructor of the RI Certified Horticulturist Program’s plant identification classes and workshops, gave a half-day field botany and plant identification workshop next. Walking around Wilcox Park, Nathan helped apprentices work through how best to think about the plants they were encountering, what characteristics they should observe, and how best to develop their plant identification skills.

A full two-day visit to Ocean Hour Farm in Newport first featured an interactive workshop on the science of permaculture and applied systems thinking to horticulture, followed by a comprehensive tour of the operations and facilities throughout the farm for a visualization of the real-world application of these concepts.

Day four consisted of a visit to the Newport Tree Conservancy, hosted by Joe Verstandig, its Living Collections Manager, for a tour of their new facilities, featuring multiple greenhouses. Joe explained his tried and true methods for successfully grafting trees using scions and root stocks, and his strategies for propagating juvenile juniper trees in the Conservancy’s care. This was followed by a plant identification tour at Bonniecrest, a harbor-side property, which is home to a diverse array of woody plants and trees, expertly cared for by the Newport Tree Conservancy.

The last day in the week brought RINLA staff and apprentices to Prudence Island for a second round of the Invasive Plant Manager training that was begun with the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NBNERR) in the fall. Jon Mitchell, Stewardship Coordinator for NBNERR, supervised a full day of invasive plant removal, focusing on key areas of overgrowth throughout the island and resulting in a crash course on how to identify and remove aggressive woody plants and vines.

Jon Mitchell (left), NBNERR, giving instructions about invasive plant removal.
A hundreds-years’ old farm house foundation fully cleared of invasive overgrowth