Legal guidelines for on-farm labor and learning

Final report for ONE17-290

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2017: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 11/15/2019
Grant Recipient: New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Jennifer Hashley
Trustees of Tufts College / New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
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Project Information


Work-based learning such as apprenticeships and internships are viable strategies for growing sustainable businesses and transferring skills and knowledge to a younger generation. Farming benefits from work-based learning because the transfer of farm knowledge is usually best done one-on-one and hands on. Currently, information on the legal requirements and knowledge about apprenticeship and internship labor laws on farms in New England is not readily available to farm business owners or is difficult to understand how it applies on the farm. Existing apprenticeship and mentoring programs desire shared guidelines and to implement best labor practices to meet clearly articulated learning goals for producers apprenticing and gaining farm management skills.  This project brought together farmers and organizations sponsoring agricultural apprenticeships to identify gaps in current programing and develop new resources and training materials for farms looking to improve their management or facilitation of apprenticeship learning. The project team researched existing apprenticeship program design, curricula, and operations to understand best practices and successes/challenges.  We liaisoned with the Department of Labor in Massachusetts and researched labor laws in six New England states to understand formal Apprenticeship requirements for diverse agricultural sectors.  We developed six farm employment guides (one for each state of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut), titled: "Getting Work Done on [Name of State] Farms: Employment law basics in classification and payroll issues."  Guides were distributed regionally through state and regional listservs. Four regional workshops for farm mentors were held in Maine (1) and Massachusetts (3) to educate 44 producers on labor law, to share best practices, receive professional development, evaluate resource materials, and set agendas for future programming.  We also held multiple webinars on ag labor laws reaching an additional 62 producers who attended and over 100 more who have since viewed the recordings. 

Project Objectives:

Our goal is to strengthen New England apprenticeship training programs to provide high quality, legally compliant experiential education and training for beginning farmers. The question is “Will providing accessible information and training on the legal requirements for formal apprenticeship and internships reduce the risk for farm employers and improve learning outcomes for prospective farmers?” The objective is to research, analyze, and evaluate current programs in order to address gaps in curriculum for on-farm apprenticeship learning and improve professional development for farm mentors. In cooperation with our project partners, we will develop resources, training materials, and suggested “best practices” for farm mentors.

The project objectives are:

Objective 1: Assess Resources: Research, review, and assess existing curricula and identify gaps in mentoring resources
Objective 2: Research Formal Apprenticeship Requirements working with Department of Labor in each New England state.
Objective 3: Develop state-specific agricultural labor resource guides to clarify employment law basics for farms hosting interns or apprentices in  six New England states.  These state-specific guides replaced our original intent to produce a single "New England Farm Labor Guide."
Objective 4: Disseminate Educational Resources through broad outreach, three regional workshops, and connections to agricultural service provider networks.
Objective 5: Support a Community of Practice and learning network for apprentice training programs.
Objective 6: Track and Evaluate Project Outcomes to assess the effectiveness of project outputs and develop a framework to evaluate apprenticeship outcomes.


Prior research on on-farm labor, practical skills training and mentoring resulted in several 2008 publications by New England Small Farm Institute covering on-farm work stays, mentor readiness, and educational approaches to farm-based mentoring. Farm Commons developed a “legally sound intern and volunteer program” tutorial and developed several state-specific guides to tax and paperwork checklists for hiring ag employees. Quivira Coalition recently developed an Apprenticeship Guidebook featuring program models of quality apprenticeships. Other organizations have developed fact sheets, resource guides, and trainings on farm labor regulations.  Yet, the Conservation Law Foundation’s Legal Services Food Hub had eight requests for legal support with employment and farm labor issues in the past year alone. Additionally, a 2016 survey by the Beginning Farmer Network of Massachusetts found farm employment and labor issues among the top concerns among new farmers.    Agricultural labor laws can be complicated and producers often lack easy access to accurate information around hiring, wages, workers’ compensation and liability insurance, tax filings and payroll, OSHA and farmworker protections, migrant workers, classification of volunteers or independent contractors, and how to meet Department of Labor (DOL)’s formal definition of apprenticeship or internship. A majority of smaller-scale farms utilize “apprenticeship or internship” to mean education and training in exchange for reduced wages, possibly on- farm room and board, or other educational benefits. These employers may not be meeting federal or state requirements and in recent years, DOL has begun implementing steep fines in California and most recently New York.

While current educational resources exist, they are often dense, confusing, and the requirements vary by state. Producers are interested in easy-to-follow guidelines for ensuring a lawful farm employment structure that meets business and operational needs of the farm. Collaborating with our partners and farmers, we will compile existing resources, develop simple fact sheets and decision trees, and develop case studies and situational examples to educate producers. This project begins with an assessment of existing resources and adds industry specific research from individual state Departments of Labor and other sources to develop a comprehensive, plain- language “New England Apprenticeship Toolkit” which commercial specialty crop farmers can utilize for structuring their employment, apprenticeship or internship programs to comply with current regulations. We will also develop a regional workshop series for farm mentors and broadly disseminate information through agricultural service providers, commodity groups, listservs, and at regional farming conferences. The impacts of this project will benefit producers who will reduce their legal risks by making sound hiring decisions around their farm’s workforce, provide more tools and training approaches for farm mentors who want to engage a young, eager-to-learn workforce through apprenticeship or internship programs, and it will benefit aspiring farmers (trainees) with opportunities to gain meaningful (and compliant), formally-structured work-learning experiences.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Rachel Armstrong, New (Educator)
  • Daniel MacPhee (Educator)
  • Sara Dewey (Educator)


Materials and methods:

Our approach combines our detailed work plan/method and activities for each program objective.

Objective 1: Assess Existing Resources: Review existing farm labor guides and apprenticeship training curricula and identify gaps in information on experiential education and training, and in mentoring resources. Through web searches, resource clearinghouses, apprenticeship listings, and referrals to known apprenticeship programs (including the 40 organizations from the recent Quivira Coalition survey), solicit and compile existing curricula and resource materials (applications, self-assessments, learning plan templates, program frameworks, etc.) and sort by topics and organizational support materials. Review materials and identify gaps in available farm labor resources for New England.  Using 2015 Quivira survey and data, review apprenticeship survey results and identify gaps in professional development /trainings available to address needs around apprenticeship program design and understanding of farm labor laws.


Objective 2: Research Formal Apprenticeship Requirements: Many agricultural apprenticeship training programs are not structured to meet industry-specific and Department of Labor requirements for formal apprenticeship; a framework is needed for industry engagement and accreditation of sector-specific training programs at the federal or state levels. We will review available resource materials and guidebooks on lawful apprenticeship training program requirements. We will identify federal and state-specific variations for further research and engage in conversations with the six New England states’ and the federal Department of Labor contacts for agricultural apprenticeship.  We will compile a resource fact sheet aggregating the available guides, webinars, and information available on apprenticeship/farm labor laws per state and create a framework for a comprehensive Toolkit. We will also determine if it is possible to develop a regional approach to formal apprenticeship by understanding DOL interpretation of industry “sponsor” requirements for Apprenticeship in the trades.

Objective 3: Develop a Comprehensive “New England Apprenticeship” Toolkit to facilitate training-of-trainer programs for farm and ranch mentors. The guide will contain plain-language information and decision trees to support farm employers to design and deliver a quality, legally-compliant Apprenticeship or Internship program. The guide will contain additional resource materials including stand-alone fact sheets and examples of apprenticeship curricula, programming, case studies, and administrative structures to make the comprehensive Toolkit more accessible to a broader audience. The Toolkit will include specific content for New England States (and include references to New York). The Toolkit will be posted online and disseminated broadly through partner and service provider listservs and websites and through farm-specific networks and commodity associations.

Objective 4: Strengthen Farm and Ranch Mentor Skills through Regional “Train-of-Trainer” (TOT) and Technical Assistance (TA) Capacity Building Programs: In addition to conducting outreach and promoting the Toolkit on quality Apprenticeship training programs to a broad audience, we will develop programming to provide three, focused 1-day regional “training of trainer” workshops for farm mentors. We will conduct the day-long workshops throughout New England and eastern NY (one each in Maine (hosted by Cultivating Community/Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association (MOFGA), Massachusetts (hosted by New Entry in collaboration with Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-Mass), and one in Eastern NY (hosted by Hawthorne Valley Place Based Learning Center) to attract a wide net of farm mentors and organizations sponsoring apprenticeship connection programs. We will also provide a resource and referral technical assistance program to organizations and farm mentors as a follow up to the trainings. We will target the Technical Assistance to those farm mentors and organizations interested in sponsoring quality on-farm learning experiences and being part of a more structured learning network.


Objective 5: Support a Community of Practice and regional learning network for apprentice training programs in New England and the Northeast through peer-to-peer sharing and networking. As part of the regional training workshops, we will strengthen the network of apprenticeship training program and farm mentors that are able to connect and facilitate informal and more formal information exchange through a regional listserv (Collaborative Regional Alliance of Farmer Training (CRAFT) listservs), connections at regional conferences (such as Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Mass Summer Conferences, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG), and through the Northeast Beginning Farmer Learning Network meetings hosted annually by Cornell University.


Objective 6: Tracking and Evaluate Outcomes: We will document and assess the effectiveness of project outputs and develop a framework to evaluate apprenticeship outcomes via a pre- and post-survey of agricultural employers to engage on-farm work-learning opportunities. Our goal will be to capture at least 100-150 completed surveys prior to the launch of a scheduled training of trainer session and we will complete post-training evaluations immediately after completion of the training. We will also follow up with a second post-training evaluation survey between 3 and 4 months after completion of the training to determine what changes have been implemented and any positive or unexpected outcomes that resulted after attending the training.

Activities in 2017

Foundational steps in the development of educational products have been accomplished, and one day long workshop has been completed. 

New Entry staff has reviewed existing farm labor guides and apprenticeship training curricula and identified gaps in information on experiential education and training, and in mentoring resources. We have worked with multiple partners including the Quivira Coalition, Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association (MOFGA), Conservation Law Foundation, Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship, Vilicus Training Institute, Rogue Farm Corps and US Department of Labor (DOL) to compile existing curricula and resource materials. These materials have been sorted and annotated. Through communication with federal DOL representatives, we have obtained resources related to federal labor laws pertaining to agriculture, and are being connected to state representatives who will assist in identifying state specific variations.

We have begun to compile a resource fact sheet and a framework for a comprehensive Toolkit, including a thorough review of federal agricultural labor laws and specifications in Massachusetts. The possibility of developing detailed state level components to the toolkit is being explored, however it may prove more difficult than originally thought due to the complexity of the laws, variation between states, and lack of trained professionals specializing in these areas. We hope that continued communication with state-level DOL officials will help us to better understand what support is available in charting and developing resources.

On December 5, 2017 forty mentor farmers and beginning farmer program staff gathered in Boston for a full-day pre-conference session prior to the Community Food Systems Conference. This group included 7 mentor farmers and 12 program staff from the Northeast. The day long workshop included sessions ranging from Legal Structures for on-Farm/Ranch Labor to Establishing Expectations and Effective Communications with Apprentices.

In December 2017 a workshop on 'Employment Law 101' was presented by our partner at Conn Kavanaugh at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. It provided an overview of key employment issues that farmers need to know. From apprenticeship to agricultural minimum wage, the workshop will cover key topics that come up on the farm and provide attendees with an agricultural employment law handbook. It included case studies that provided an opportunity to apply the topics to real situations.

Activities in 2018

We have worked to build on the success of the project from 2017 by coordinating four workshops, hosting two webinars, and finalizing our labor law handbook.

In January 2018, at NOFA Mass winter conference, Andrew Dennigton of Conn Kavanaugh presented 'So you think your apprenticeship is legal?'. This workshop was an interactive legal 101 for mentor farmers who offer hands-on learning opportunities on their farms. Drawing on an Agricultural Employment Law booklet developed by New Entry and Conservation Law Foundation, the session will cover federal and state laws that apply to farmers as employers. We had four people attend the workshop in person, however, the workshop was recorded and is available online.

On February 13, 2018 a workshop on agriculture labor laws was presented at CISA (Community Involved for Sustaining Agriculture) winter workshop series at Holyoke Community College. Presenters included Sara Dewey, CLF Legal Food Hub; Stevie Schafenacker, CISA Local Hero Program; John Gannon, Skoler Abbott & Presser; and Patty Colarossi, DOL Wage and Hour Education and Outreach. The workshop focused on scope of employment law, handling lawsuits, and wage and hour compliance. We had 10 people in attendance for this workshop.

A workshop titled 'Working on the Farm: Employment Law 101' took place in Dighton, MA as part of SEMAP (Southeast Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership) annual conference. The workshop was hosted by New Entry Sustainable Farming Project and the Legal Food Hub, and provided an overview of important employment issues that farmers need to know. From apprenticeships to minimum wage and overtime, an attorney who is an employment law expert covered key topics that come up on the farm. Attendees received an agricultural employment law handbook. The speaker was Brian Killoy an attorney, employment law expert, and experienced litigator at Conn Kavanaugh Law Firm in Boston. We had 10 attendees at this workshop.

In Maine, we coordinated a workshop on agricultural labor laws with Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association (MOFGA) and Cultivating Community which took place on March 22, 2018. Speakers included Elaine Bourne of Maine Agricultural Mediation Program and Tom Tremholm of Drummond Woodsum law firm. This was a round-table discussion with 20 attendees and lots of time for questions and answers from the speakers. 

We pursued two other options to host workshops, but the opportunities did not work out. We put a proposal to do talk at Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-NY) in 2018 about labor laws but our proposal was not selected. We also were planning on doing a workshop with Hawthorne Valley and Glynwood in New York but Cornell Extension has already been doing a good bit of work in this subject area and it would be redundant to do something in this area. 

We have hosted two webinars on ag labor topics, one on March 14, 2018 titled 'Ag Employment Law and Your Farm' with Beth O'Neal from Conn Kavanaugh. We had 22 people attend the webinar and have received 81 views since the webinar has been recorded and available on our website. On May 31, 2018 we hosted 'Employment Law for the Farm: Q&A Webinar' with Beth O'Neal from Conn Kavanaugh as presenter. We had 40 attendees and 29 views since the webinar has been available on our website.

In October 2018, 55 people from around the country met for the AgALN Annual Gathering in Albuquerque, New Mexico as a pre-conference to the Quivira Coalition Regenerate Conference. We toured two farms in the Albuquerque area and coordinated 8 workshops on topics relating to ag apprentice mentors and their programming. Overall, 10 attendees were from the Northeast and 4 of those Northeastern attendees gave talks. We promoted our Ag Apprentice Toolkit at the gathering, which includes information about the legal requirements of apprentices, interns, and farm staff. Since the Toolkit has been available on our website this year, it has received 521 unique pageviews. 

We completed our handbook on 'Agricultural Labor Law and Your Farm-Northeast Guide to Labor Law Compliance for Agricultural Apprenticeships' and will need to have it reviewed by partners, format it and begin distributing it via listservs and make it available on our website.

Activities for 2019

For 2019, we held an in-person apprenticeship mentor training at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture on February 6, 2019.  The focus of this training centered on supporting farm mentors with understanding qualities of a good mentor, addressing communication skills, sharing relational health strategies, providing feedback and listening skills, understanding adult learning basics, and supporting self-directed learning on the farm.  Mentor resources were circulated and shared with the 34 attendees of the training.  We also circulated our Northeast Ag Labor Law Guide to two of our legal partners for review, Farm Commons and Conservation Law Foundation.  The feedback we received from Farm Commons was that the guide may not contain sufficiently detailed information to producers on the nuances and differences in agricultural employment law between the New England states.  We requested a project extension and budget amendment to be able to work with Farm Commons to build on some of their previous efforts and the result was that we created individual Ag Labor Guides for Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.  We had already worked with Conservation Law Foundation on a prior farm labor project to create a guide for Massachusetts.  These materials were completed in September 2019 and are posted to our website and will be circulated to various agricultural listservs. 

Research results and discussion:

This project addressed legal education for farmers hiring workers on their farms.  Many producers adopt approaches to combine the roles and functions of farm employees with opportunities for experiential education and providing aspiring farmers with the skills and practical experience to learn the "job" of farming.  These employment arrangements are loosely categorized as "internships or apprenticeships" though they may not meet the US Department of Labor classifications for internships or registered apprenticeships.  Many farms also engage volunteers to complete farm tasks.  We learned throughout this project that farmers have a lot of questions and concerns about the appropriate classification of employees and their legal risks and liabilities related to what seems to be "common" hiring practices.  Our project required working carefully with the Massachusetts and New England Department of Labor Compliance division to be sure that our workshop and training content met the legal requirements and that information shared with producers was accurate.  We worked in collaboration with the Conservation Law Foundation's Legal Food Hub's network of pro-bono attorneys who specialize in employment law.  We also worked closely with Farm Commons, who specializes in farm law for small to mid-sized sustainable farms.  Both organizations are extremely knowledgeable on agriculture labor laws and contributed significantly to the outcomes and training and educational materials for this project.

One of the things we learned through this project is that farm labor law is not "one size fits all" for every farm, nor could we develop a generic resource guide for New England referencing specific state level resources and guidelines given the complexity of how each state approaches employment law. We researched and developed a New England Ag Labor Guide and upon review by our legal partners, it was determined that the guide was too general and could create confusion or at worst, misinformation for producers and it was recommended we develop state-specific guides for each New England State.  This delayed the completion of the project, but in the end, resulted in better, more accurate educational resources to share with producers.

We also held multiple workshops and producer meetings around apprenticeship and farm labor law in collaboration with Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association (MOFGA), Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), and Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership Project (SEMAP) during the project period.  During each of the workshop training sessions and webinars held, there were consistently significant questions about each individual farms' unique approach to labor relationships.  We learned that it was best to present the information as succinctly and factually as possible and allow sufficient time for question and answers with presenters.  This prompted us to host a "Q&A" webinar with the New England DOL representative to be able to allow producers to ask questions in a no-risk environment.    We also learned that addressing labor issues on farms is not simple; many farms struggle with issues of farm viability and paying unskilled workers minimum wage, workers' compensation insurance, or other costs when the primary farm operator is not earning a salary or profit is a challenge.  Producers were dismayed to learn the risks of engaging volunteers.  Many producers shared stories of challenges with attracting and retaining qualified employees and appreciated learning information about labor law, but were unsure how they would be able to afford compliance.  Many producers left the workshops better informed, but unsure how to financially address labor compliance risks.  Many producers were referred to the resources of Conservation Law Foundation's Legal Food Hub network of pro-bono attorneys who could support any individual labor concerns.

Research conclusions:

This project addressed legal education for farmers hiring workers on their farms.  Many producers adopt approaches to combine the roles and functions of farm employees with opportunities for experiential education and providing aspiring farmers with the skills and practical experience to learn the "job" of farming through "internships or apprenticeships" though they may be placing their farms at risk if they are not compliant with farm employment law.  We offered four in-person farm employment law workshops in Massachusetts and Maine with 44 producers.  We produced multliple webinars on farm labor law attended by 62 producers and viewed by hundreds more.  We hosted a farm mentor training with 34 producers in NY and we partnered with Farm Commons who developed fiive new guides to classifying employees on the farm for the New England states of ME, VT, NH, RI, and CT, in addition to an existing farm employment guide created by Conservation Law Foundation for Massachusetts. Our project required working carefully with the Massachusetts and New England Department of Labor Compliance division to be sure that our workshop and training content met the legal requirements and that information shared with producers was accurate.  We worked in collaboration with the Conservation Law Foundation's Legal Food Hub's network of pro-bono attorneys who specialize in employment law.  We also worked closely with Farm Commons, who specializes in farm law for small to mid-sized sustainable farms.  Producers had many questions about their specific operations and appreciated the resources, Q&A with presenters, and raising awareness of the risks they may be facing in their employment relationships if they are not compliant with ag labor laws.

Participation Summary
121 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

5 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
4 Webinars / talks / presentations
4 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

121 Farmers participated
63 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:
Mentor farmers and beginning farmer program staff discuss the benefits and future of collaboration at an ag apprenticeship workshop in Boston, MA.


New Entry will be circulating the New England Farm Labor Guides through its listservs, newsletters, State Department of Agriculture newsletters, Extension newsletters, and with partner organizations.  In addition to the Labor Guides, the communications will also highlight the recorded webinars, driving more traffic to those resources, and to information about the CLF Legal Food Hub pro-bono attorney network if producers have labor law questions or concerns they need legal guidance to resolve.  We are happy to report back any results of this outreach and to track downloads or "hits" to these resources at a future date.

Learning Outcomes

121 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • Workshop evaluations demonstrated that farmers better understood the risks/opportunities of developing ag apprenticeship programs, and felt better equipped to improve their program and/or engage with local and state-level efforts to train new farmers.

    Responses from the workshop evaluations:
    "It was a huge benefit to get together in person with the folks who I've been on the phone with so many times."
    "I will be reporting the information I heard back to the food systems program leader as she works to create a state-wide farmer training program."
    "I look forward to sharing the information I learned with folks around my state that are interested in building apprenticeship programs."
    "I gathered many good resources and made several valuable connections that will expedite and improve the development of our apprenticeship program."
    "Good to know all the hazards of trying to start an apprenticeship program! We will definitely re-think our plans."

Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

Evaluations completed after the Ag Apprentice Learning Network Annual Gathering showed that 12 attendees found the event to be 'extremely useful' or 'moderately useful' compared to other professional events that they attend. All workshops at the Gathering were rated highly by attendees in terms of content and relevance.  

Evaluations completed after CISA workshop by eight individuals showed that all gained some knowledge in federal/state employment laws as they apply to the farm and gained some confidence in ability to host interns/apprentices/employees in ways that are compliant. Out of the eight who completed the evaluations, seven responded that they are going to make changes to their current business operation as a result of the workshop.

SEMAP evaluations were completed by five individuals. All rated their learning experience from the workshop as 'good' or 'excellent' and all said that in general the work shop was 'good' or 'excellent'.

Here is a quote from one of our farmer attendees at the workshop in Maine with MOFGA and Cultivating Community, "I greatly appreciated the opportunity to work with Tom Trenholm to answer some of my questions regarding the ambiguous area what kind of workers a farm can legally have and how they must be compensated. I now feel confident in my approach to find affordable labor which is essential in the success of my business."


Project Outcomes

3 Grants applied for that built upon this project
2 Grants received that built upon this project
$62,456.00 Dollar amount of grants received that built upon this project
9 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

New Entry conducts an annual agricultural apprenticeship survey through our networks and listserv.  Our 2018 apprenticeship survey (conducted in December 2018) for farm mentors received 40 responses from organizations across the country.  We did not drill down to conduct a specific Northeast Apprenticeship program analysis, however of the 40 respondent, 13 were from the Northeast Region.  We did ask several questions on the annual survey about knowledge of and familiarity with agricultural labor laws.  Only a few survey respondents (n=16) were extremely familiar or somewhat familiar with the DOL's requirements for a Registered Apprenticeship, and 18 respondents were somewhat to extremely familiar with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or the Migrant and Seasonal Agriculture Worker Protection Act (MSAWPA). We hope the Northeast Employment guides will support apprenticeship serving-organizations and farmers to answer employment questions and provide clarity about what is and isn't allowed in farm apprenticeship programs.  We plan to issue the 2019 survey and will incorporate additional questions around farmer practices and behaviors around labor management and apprentice training programs.  Additionally, in our ongoing workshops, webinars, and upcoming mentor trainings that will be held in 2019-2020, we will develop pre- and post-workshop evaluations to assess knowledge gained and desired or anticipated changes in employment practices as a result of the workshops.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

For this project, our approach to research and pull together educational materials and programs around agricultural labor laws and apprenticeships was challenging.  Our staff are not experts in labor laws and we needed to rely on attorneys, DOL educators, and legal expertise to conduct the workshops, trainings, develop and review materials, and educate producers.  Much of the learning was dispelling commonly held assumptions and introducing the sustainable agriculture community to the levels of risk they are assuming by not fully understanding or choosing to comply with agricultural labor laws.  Going into this, we assumed we could put together a Northeast Labor Resource Guide that would introduce basic content and then include links to state-specific resources and information.  Upon developing this guide, and after review, we realized that we might not be providing enough context or specifics to make the guide meaningful and we worked with Farm Commons to develop in-depth resource guides for each state in New England.  The resulting project is yielded far more in-depth and comprehensive results and educational materials than we anticipated, and although they are just now being circulated, we are positive they will be useful guides for New England farmers.  We will continue to promote the guides and the webinars that have been archived on our website to educate producers on legal compliance for internships, apprenticeships, volunteers, and other forms of on-farm employment arrangements. 

There is still much work to be done on this topic.  Producers are still struggling to recruit, attract, train, and retain agricultural workers at a price they can afford.  We also need to continue to educate producers about their obligations to follow farm labor laws and to carefully choose the terms and employment conditions they offer to employees.  Work needs to continue around understanding legal definitions for interns and what requirements need to be met to call on-farm experiential learning for aspiring farmers an actual "apprenticeship."  The long-term goal of these continuing educational outreach and awareness around ag labor law is to insure that producers are aware of their responsibilities and obligations as farm employers.

Information Products

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.