Identifying and Incorporating Fair Labor and Fair Pricing on Sustainable Farms in the North Central Region

Progress report for LNC21-447

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $249,547.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2024
Grant Recipient: Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Sasha Sigetic
Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association
Expand All

Project Information


This project will address the interrelated issues of fair pricing for farm products and just working conditions for farmworkers. This provides an opportunity for sustainable farmers to align their commitment to social justice with their need for economic sustainability and their passion for and dedication to environmental stewardship.


Social equity for the people who farm – farm owners and farmworkers – is too frequently overlooked, but an essential component of a truly sustainable, regenerative, food and farm system. Our goal is to help farmers institute clear, fair labor policies and practices that improve employee quality of life and employee retention, which are partially dependent on farmers' ability to calculate production costs that include these improvements. If agricultural work were compensated and managed fairly, farmwork could be an economically viable and respected career. A stable, motivated workforce makes active contributions to the management of sustainable agricultural production. 


We will recruit farmers to participate with an initial survey and easy-to- adapt templates for labor policies and safety plans. We will engage those who want more in a detailed self-assessment of their farm’s labor and pricing practices, and provide individualized reports with recommendations. We will offer a series of educational events on topics of concern: farm health and safety plans; training programs for interns; calculating the full costs of production; negotiating with buyers and using contracts; managing farm employees, including conflict resolution, evaluating work, and termination for just cause.


Fair farm labor is located at the nexus of sustainable agriculture, fair trade, and labor. We will build and facilitate a multi-stakeholder group representing these perspectives, fostering knowledge exchange among them, and building our collective capacity to address these issues. Participants in the learning community thus created will increase their skill in providing technical assistance to farmers and farmworkers, becoming familiar with the resources available to work with these populations, and be introduced to the processes of on-farm social auditing.

We will evaluate our effectiveness based on how many farmers participate, whether they gain knowledge and skills, their intention to make behavioral changes and, to the extent possible given the project’s timeframe, their success in making those changes and improving conditions on their farms, including worker satisfaction and retention.


Long-term, this effort addresses systematic inequity that can be applied beyond the food system, benefiting any current or future disadvantaged groups by providing a cooperative framework for human relations in trade and on the job.

Project Objectives:

Learning outcomes include improved skills for farmers at setting and negotiating prices and contracts, and knowledge of best fair labor practices. Action outcomes include self-assessment of labor practices, utilizing resources to improve pricing and labor practices, and instituting changes that increase compensation, improve health, safety, and working conditions, and provide a higher level of employee involvement in the quality of farm production and the agroecological system. The long-term outcome is to enhance farmers’ ability to attract and retain high quality farm labor and to ensure fair working conditions as an essential component of agricultural sustainability.


The project includes outreach and training for limited resource, as well as other family-scale organic and sustainable, farmers. Our farmer-farmworker advisory committee will invite participation from those who have been historically marginalized, such as low wage and/or migrant workers, farm managers who do not own land, and includes representation from organizations that work with farm laborers. Our goal is to better the conditions for farmworkers, benefitting both employers and employees on farms.

We will use earlier projects from the SARE database as a starting point, building on the experiences gained and stakeholder evaluative feedback, to bring a similar effort into the North Central region, where this work has not, to date, been represented. Revelations about worker neglect from the era of Covid-19 makes it especially timely to address fairness to farmworkers on farms that identify as sustainable.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Emily Jackle
  • Dr. Douglas Jackson-Smith - Technical Advisor
  • Katy Rogers
  • Andy Hupp
  • Gretel Adams - Technical Advisor


Involves research:
Participation Summary


Educational approach:

Offer a series of educational events on topics of concern:  

  • buyer and seller relationships;
  • farmworker health and safety plans;  
  • training programs for interns;  
  • calculating the full costs of production;  
  • managing farm employees, including conflict resolution, evaluating work, and termination for just cause.  
  • OEFFA and AJP have now launched a Fair Farms group through Marbleseed's Ag Solidarity Network (ASN).  We currently have 20 members. To explore our page, choose Fair Farms option here. Build and facilitate a multi-stakeholder group representing these perspectives, fostering knowledge exchange among them, and building our collective capacity to address these issues.  

 Participants in the learning community thus created will increase their skill in providing technical assistance to farmers and farmworkers, becoming familiar with the resources available to work with these populations, and be introduced to the processes of on-farm social auditing.  

Project Activities

Self-Assessment for Labor and Pricing Practices
Food Justice Certification On-farm Demonstration Audits

Educational & Outreach Activities

79 Consultations
6 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 On-farm demonstrations
5 Online trainings
3 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Tours
7 Webinars / talks / presentations
3 Workshop field days
1 Other educational activities: In-person network event: Building a Solidarity Economy. 39 people gave us contact information to add to our constellation of Fair Farm stakeholders.

Participation Summary:

141 Farmers participated
16 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

As of March 1, 2024, 101 farms have completed our Self- Assessment, 62 of which are located in NCRSARE States.

On January 23, 2024, Fair Farms hosted "How do Farmers Build Strong Relationships with Buyers"- Alli Ball of Food Biz Wiz and Ben Hartman of Sungold Consulting teach step by step methods for making effective contact and first sales with food buyers. 12 farmers attended.

On December 10,2023, Fair Fair Farms again partnered with OEFFA Begin Farming to host "Finding a Farm Job 101". This course covers common industry standards, where to search for farm jobs, employee rights and safety, and more. Presenters included a panel of 3 seasoned farm workers. 5 farmers attended.

On Thursday November 9, 2023, Fair Farms partnered with OEFFA Begin Farming to host "Employment on Your Farm 101".  This course is designed for farm business owners or managers to be an employer that truly supports its team with the most current industry standards. Presenters included an employment lawyer and two farmers.  5 farmers attended.

In Spring 2023 The Organic Broadcaster published our article "What are Fair Systems for Farm and Food Businesses?"

Organic Broadcaster | Spring 2023 | Volume 31, Issue 2 by marbleseed - Issue

With feedback from our farms receiving technical assistance through the Fair Farms Self-Assessment process, the following materials were developed and added to the new AJP Toolkit:

In January and March 2022, we hosted two introductory webinars with farm consultant Ellen Polishuk on the themes of cost of production and fair pricing. These two webinar sessions, available for viewing here, culminate in a full three-part course in December 2022 (now completed). 


December Session 1 Passcode: @79&f0@$ Passcode: @79&f0@$

December Session 2 Passcode: ^cb7?zrx

December Session 3 q^jv02xr

At the '23 OEFFA Conference, Fair Farms Program OEFFA/AJP presented three workshops:

  1. Planting Fairness- an all-day event introducing AJP Standards on Labor and working on adapting employment agreements and health/safety plan templates.  13 growers attended.
  2. Farm Health and Safety Plan- over an hour focused on developing farm health and safety plan from template. 32 growers attended.
  3. Networking and Building a Solidarity Economy-about 90 minutes of sharing from at least 39 farmers, educators, and activists about the work they are engaged in for this movement.  Several positive connections resulted within the group and we were able to recruit another demo farm to build our Food Justice Certification capacity in the North Central Region of SARE. 41 attended including growers, ag educators, and organizers.

We also published the two articles below in MOSES' spring edition of their Organic Broadcaster Newsletter, and OEFFA's spring newsletter.

Fair and sustainable farm labor MOSES 2022 (1)

OEFFA Spring 2022 Newsletter


Learning Outcomes

18 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas taught:
  • Calculating Costs of Production in order to pay a Living Wage to Farmers and Workers
  • How do Farmers Develop Strong Relationships with Buyers?
  • Develop Effective Internships Through AJP Standards
  • Health and Safety Planning on the Farm
  • Building a Strong Farm Team
  • Building Community Through Solidarity Economics

Project Outcomes

6 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Key practices changed:
  • Completion of OEFFA's Food Justice Certification Application Process as part of our demonstration audit process, including employment agreement, health and safety plan, conflict resolution protocol, and Fair Systems Plan (FSP). 4 farms adopted.

  • Have decided to adopt all AJP Standards in their business and apply for Food Justice Certification through OEFFA. 3 new farms adopted.

Success stories:


Foxtail Farm (WI) participated in AJP/OEFFA technical assistance as part of this grant and is now pursuing certification as a fair employer under AJP's Food Justice Certification. Emmalyn shared that the resources and standards shared by AJP have allowed them to bring more structure to their employee relationships, providing for better communication, resolution of disagreements and tensions, and overall smoother collaboration as a farm team. Since receiving assistance from AJP, the Foxtail Farm team has promoted AJP's resources to their local group of growers, the St. Croix Valley Farm Alliance, who are now interested in group-based learning around fair labor practices and opportunities to build their region's reputation (with customers, wholesale buyers, and also prospective employees) as model employers.

From Kate at Green Gate Family Farm (MO)-  "I look forward to using this document to improve my farm and learn of new ways to do things." 

From Gretel at Sunny Meadows Flower Farm (OH)- "We updated our employee handbook to include more translation of Spanish speaking, and a section about [employees] having access to their files. We increased the farm employee starting wage based on H2A starting pay in our state."

From Hannah and Emily at Humble Hands Harvest (IA)- "We so appreciated the report you sent us, and have been in a process of implementing better practices. It feels very helpful to have someone outside of our farm, and outside of our circles, give a clear and unbiased assessment of where we are and what we can do better. It's also nice that you all reach out about it on occasion to remind us that the report on our farm exists! We did create an employee manual since receiving the report, which is a huge step forward!"


" The model employee handbook you shared  with us is great!  I can use what I want and delete what I don't need.  It makes it so much easier to be a fair employer and legal too!"

~Producer and Educator in Southwest Ohio

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.