MESA is a non-profit, 501(c)3 charitable organization. MESA serves the public good through the advancement of environmentally sustainable food production. MESA facilitates vocational training and cultural exchange programs between international agriculturists and their US counterparts to advance sustainable agriculture. MESA’s US Department of State-designated J1 Training and Cultural Exchange Program status means that we’re the Program Sponsor for your int’l Steward’s legal training visa and US program. MESA is responsible to select and match qualified Stewards and Host trainers, monitor and evaluate training activities & cultural experiences, and ensure each Steward’s well-being for the duration of their US program.
MESA is unique in our exclusive promotion of sustainable food and farming systems and in our ability to sponsor legal visas for international participants. Many of our US Hosts are small-scale and diversified; all are committed to environmental stewardship. MESA also partners with NGOs and universities to recruit Steward candidates. Our Global Partners promote sustainable food and farming systems in their own countries.
In addition to basic services required for all US Program Sponsors, these additional benefits are unique to MESA participants:
- Before arriving in the U.S., Steward candidates enroll in a 3-4 month, MESA-led or Global Partner-led online Introduction to Agroecology & Global Citizenship courses
- Loans and scholarship support for eligible Steward candidates
- “SPRIG” mini-grants for education-based Hosts to develop collaborative projects with their Stewards
- “SPRIG” mini-grant eligibility for Steward alumni to develop community projects upon return home
- Farm conference and workshop reimbursements ( up to $150/Steward)
- Tour, training and volunteer opportunities with MESA’s global network
- Stewards may join the U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program alumni network, and are eligible to apply for grants, travel funds, attend conferences, develop professional connections, etc.
MESA participants join our global community of alumni, sustainable farmers, educators and activists working to preserve ancestral knowledge, promote ecological practices, and build better livelihoods for small-scale farmers.
Although the visa designation is “Trainee”, MESA refers to our international participants as “Stewards”. You may therefore see both words used interchangeably in MESA’s program materials.
MESA offers two levels of training: Sustainable Agriculture & Global Exchange (SAGE) is for first-time Stewards, whereas our Next Level Program (NLP) is for returning alumni, i.e. Stewards who’ve completed a previous US program and want to return for advanced training opportunities, either with their previous Host, or with a new Host assignment. Please note that most NLP Stewards expect wages for advanced training and responsibilities.
About US Training
Programs are offered year-round. When you see an available Steward you’d like to host, simply notify MESA, and submit your Host application and Training plan. Training dates vary by placement—some Hosts have positions available year-round, while others may only host during their busiest seasons, such as between March/April and October/November.
Stewards and Hosts are typically matched by MESA, according to similar agricultural interests. This web site allows Hosts to view prospective Steward candidates, and also Stewards to view potential Hosts.
When you’re ready to invite a specific candidate, you’ll complete a Training Plan (if you haven’t already done that), and then MESA will share your Host information with the candidate. The Steward will carefully review all information provided, and either accept your Host invitation or, if the conditions do not meet his/her personal training objectives, inform MESA so that you may invite a different candidate.
Hosts may request a Skype meeting before inviting a specific Steward to join their crew. We’re happy to arrange it!
Once the Steward accepts your Host invitation, s/he pays MESA’s program fee and MESA issues their visa application. The Steward must apply for visa authorization at their nearest US Embassy or Consulate. This process typically takes 4-8 weeks, however the Embassy application time may be longer in some countries. Once the Steward receives his/her visa, s/he will coordinate arrival plans with you.
In most cases, Hosts meet their Stewards at the nearest int’l airport. Upon arrival, Hosts provide one-full day’s orientation, and help their Steward settle in (don’t worry, MESA will provide you with a handy Host Handbook!). Within 2 weeks, MESA staff will also host an online orientation with your Steward to introduce US culture and customs, review the Steward handbook, and discuss learning objectives. MESA will also make sure that your Steward’s comfortable with their placement, and knows how to use MESA’s online platform, which includes Steward forms, evaluations, program materials, resources, agroecology course curriculum, etc.
MESA Stewards and Hosts share a common passion for transforming the global food system by getting their hands dirty in the fields, and by connecting with one another.
Day-to-day life typically involves full-time, on-site training for the Steward to gain hands-on, sustainable agriculture experience over a full season. Stewards are matched with Hosts according to similar agricultural interests. Stewards reside at or within an easy commute of the their Host assignment for the full training period. Stewards expect 32-48 hands-on training hours per week, based on the Training Plan you provide. Stewards may also spend 2-6 hours/week on online curriculum and/or collaborative “SPRIG” project development. Hosts must provide Stewards with one full day off/week. Hosts provide a variety of agricultural activities throughout the program. Daily activities can be physically strenuous and repetitive during peak season. MESA’s online agroecology curriculum is designed to complement your Steward’s training activities and further their learning objectives.
At the conclusion of the training period, MESA will mail a program completion certificate to your Steward, and provide an end-of-program evaluation for Hosts and Stewards. Stewards return to home with new friendships and professional connections made through MESA’s global network. Stewards are encouraged to develop proposals for projects in their home communities, and may apply to MESA for matching project funds.
Agricultural training can involve long hours and highly variable daily scheduling based on the season. On-farm activities are led by the Host or a supervisor, and must vary and progress over time. Each placement offers different educational and social opportunities. Hosts are expected to include Stewards in family or community gatherings, farmers’ workshops, visit other organic farms, etc. While educational and social activities are an essential part of the J1 exchange program, they shouldn’t override the Steward’s primary training activities. Stewards expect to remain on-site for the majority of their US program.Stewards may travel offsite and visit nearby places of interest on days off. Hosts and Stewards must agree in advance to extra days off to compensate accrued overtime, if any. Further information about training hours and time off is contained in the Host Handbook.
Most Hosts provide accommodations and food for the duration of the Steward’s stay. Housing may be in the host family home, a small trailer, a rustic cabin, shared intern housing, converted barn or bunkhouse, etc. Stewards should have access to these basic necessities: kitchen, bathroom, shower, laundry, electricity & heat. Most Hosts also provide a television, phone access, and computer w/ free internet. Each Host has different rules regarding cleaning, laundry, etc. Stewards are expected to help with general house cleaning and daily meal preparation. Each Steward will need to learn their own Host’s “house rules” upon arrival.
Check out our Farm-Centered Leaning Network for Social Change. Online learning is yet another unique feature of MESA’s program. Stewards enroll in the Stewards course and also in MESA’s very popular Applied Agroecology certificate course. Other courses are in development and may be available during the program. The Stewards course contains program materials, such as the Steward Handbook, plus optional monthly reports, required evaluation forms, and additional resources. The Applied Agroecology course is freely accessible to all, whereas course moderation, instructor feedback and the ability to earn a Certificate in Applied Agroecology is discounted for Host interns and staff.
MESA also reimburses up to $150 for Stewards who register and attend a farmers conference or workshop.
J1 trainees are required to have health insurance while in the US (see State Department insurance requirements). Hosts must enroll their Steward in a J1 exchange visitor medical plan for the duration of their training, and prior to US arrival (MESA will provide recommendations. Many online plans cost just $40-70/month). Hosts may include this benefit as part of the Steward’s training compensation or deduct the cost of medical insurance from the Steward’s stipend or wage. Whether you or your Steward will pay for medical insurance must be clearly stipulated on your Training Plan at the time of invitation.
About Fees and US Costs
Yes. In addition to your $100 annual Host membership, Hosts also send $225 monthly fees to support MESA’s mission and ensure program benefits and services, including: Steward application processing, US Host recruitment & matching, training plan support, visa sponsorship, online learning platform, educational events, coordinator and administrative assistance.
To encourage innovation and mentorship, Hosts may apply to MESA to receive a “SPRIG” grant, which involves developing an on-site project with your Steward. MESA’s monthly fees for SPRIG Hosts are then reduced or may be waived entirely. Please contact MESA if you’d like to learn more about the SPRIG program.
Compensation and weekly training hours vary by Host. Each Host placement is different: MESA partners with a wide range of sustainable farms, non-profits, sustainable “supply chain” businesses, etc. As a general guideline, MESA encourages for-profit farms to provide Stewards with a minimum $600 monthly stipend or hourly wage, plus free room and board. Placements that provide a stipend of $600 or less must adhere to a 32-40 hours/week training schedule (averaged over the full training period). Host placements that offer wages or larger stipend may include more weekly hours if the Steward agrees.
Yes. Temporary employment can be authorized by MESA if wages are offered by the US Host placement, but only for the purpose of agricultural training. Upon arrival, Stewards need to ask MESA for an employment authorization letter and apply for a Social Security Number to receive wages as part of their US training.
Stewards typically pay MESA’s $1850 SAGE fee when their Host placement is confirmed, and before MESA mails their J1 visa application packet. The SAGE fee applies only to first-time Stewards (returning alumni who apply for the Next Level Program have a different fee structure).
MESA offers loan assistance and/or scholarship support, but only for Stewards nominated by a trusted Global Partner (GP) or Steward alumnus. Requests for loan and/or scholarship support are handled on a case-by-case basis. If your Steward has received a loan toward their SAGE fee, MESA may request your assistance to deduct the monthly installment from their stipend or paycheck, and mail it to us.
NLP Stewards pay MESA a $275 fee to confirm a new Host placement and issue their visa application. Like their Hosts, NLP Stewards also send MESA a $225 monthly fee for the duration of their program stay. *Most NLP Stewards expect to receive wages, and are more open to securing their own housing if the wages offered support local housing costs.
About J1 Visas and US Program sponsors
The J1 visa is a special category that applies to foreign nationals participating in a US State Department-authorized Exchange Visitor Training Program. Stewards are legally permitted to participate in daily, hands-on training for up to one full year with their assigned Host placement.
MESA is designated by the US Department of State to issue a limited number of annual visa applications for candidates who seek US vocational training and cross-cultural experience. J1 visa categories include various occupational fields ranging from agriculture to zoology! Each category has its own rules and maximum length of stay. For example, MESA is designated to sponsor agricultural trainees. MESA facilitates hands-on training at farms and other agriculture-related companies and organizations where trainees live, train and/or work in their occupational field of agriculture to gain practical or advanced experience to be applied upon return home.
To learn more about the State Dept’s J1 program and expectations for Hosts, click here.
Private Sector Programs (for profit companies and non-profit organizations), government agencies and academic institutions designated to issue J1 visa applications are called Program Sponsors. MESA is a US Program Sponsor for agricultural trainees (aka Stewards).
Program Sponsors screen exchange participants, and issue pre-arrival and visa application documents for approved candidates to apply for a J1 visa at a US Embassy or Consulate in their home country. Upon US arrival, Program Sponsors provide a welcome orientation (in-person or via Skype), coordinator services, maintain visa records, ensure that trainees maintain their health insurance, and monitor training activities. For a better understanding of Program Sponsor requirements, look here:
No. Although all J1 programs must meet the State Department’s Program Sponsor requirements to sponsor visas and monitor US training for qualified candidates, they offer different program services and placement types. Read about MESA’s unique services above.