VocationVacations: Test out a new career

Bison rancher. Uh-huh. Maybe that should be my next job. It would be easy enough to see what the work involves …

BisonRidge Ranch, near Montello, provides one-on-one mentorships through VocationVacations. The nationwide network since 2004 has made it possible for average people to examine another line of work while vacationing.

VocationVacations is the brainchild of Brian Kurth, a native of Madison who lives in Portland, Ore. His book, “Test-Drive Your Dream Job: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding and Creating the Work You Love” ($17, Hachette Book Group), is generating a new round of media attention that this month included the Dallas Morning News, Wine Enthusiast and WashingtonPost.com.

Mentorships – which don’t include lodging or transportation – cost $549 to $2,999, depending upon the type and duration of experience. At the high end is exposure to the work of a pageant producer, TV producer or wildlife preservationist.

Now podcasts, teleclasses and DVDs about Brian’s book concepts and business mentorships are being developed. “Not everyone can afford a VocationVacation,” the entrepreneur acknowledges, and his new career tools are deemed “motivational but pragmatic.”

The difference between testing another profession and deciding to make a change can be emotionally paralyzing. It often means facing fears, be it economic insecurity or a lack of self-confidence.

For Brian, a layoff from an Internet security company in 2001 nudged him into another line of work. “When reality hit and I realized I needed to make money, instead of looking for another corporate job I went for a dream job of my own,” he writes.

So work began “at a small family wine distributor for a fraction of what I’d been making in Chicago, selling wine out of a white Chevy Tahoe and loving it.”

Then came an even bigger step: starting VocationVacations, a creative but untested idea.

“Start by thinking seriously about what’s important to you,” Brian advises others who are itching for a career change. “You’re pursuing a dream career because you want to live from your heart. What exactly does that entail?”

Jessie Turney understands the question. She and husband Andrew Winter moved to Wisconsin from Colorado, to help Georgia Derrick and James Atten operate their 1,100-acre BisonRidge Ranch. Jessie, who previously worked as a professional seamstress, is Georgia’s daughter.

Both women fell in love with the land and the animals – 340 bison, in this case – that roam it. A colorful collection of poultry also shares the acreage.

“I wanted people to see that you could earn a living in agriculture but still be friendly with the environment,” Georgia explains. The bison graze on pasture that is free of chemical treatments.

“A lot of people romanticize work with buffalo,” Jessie says. “They are powerful and unpredictable animals. You cannot get too comfortable with them.”

Three days at BisonRidge Ranch through VocationVacations costs $1,249, which includes light lunches. Participants can learn how to run a ranch, animal feedings to herd checks, or concentrate on the online processing/marketing/sales of bison meat. The latter includes butchering.

“Whatever happens that day, you experience it,” Jessie says. It is not about “watching us work” but pitching in while learning.

For more about BisonRidge Ranch, W5707 Hwy. D, Montello: www.bisonridgeranch.com, 608-589-5500. Tours are given, but only by appointment.

An open house with crafts, food and entertainment is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 24-25, July 26-27 and Sept. 27-28. Previous open houses have attracted 1,000 visitors per weekend.

A retreat center at BisonRidge Ranch, which can sleep up to 22 people, is closed until autumn.

For more about VocationVacations: www.vocationvacations.com, 866-888-6329.

Other Wisconsin businesses with mentorship participants are Inn Serendipity (innkeepers), Monroe, two days for $749; Hinterland Brewery (brew master), Green Bay, $549 for one day; First Light Creative (photographer), Kenosha, $949 for two days; and Albion Swords (sword maker), New Glarus, $1,399 for one day or $2,149 for two days.