Many Hands Farm Corps

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2011: $14,995.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Grant Recipient: Many Hands Farm Corps
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Ryan Karb
Many Hands Farm Corps

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: berries (strawberries), melons
  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips
  • Additional Plants: herbs, ornamentals
  • Animals: bees, poultry


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: mentoring, networking, workshop, youth education
  • Energy: solar energy
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, marketing management, value added, whole farm planning
  • Pest Management: biological control, competition, cultivation, economic threshold, mulches - living, mulching - plastic, physical control, prevention, row covers (for pests)
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, community planning, community services, employment opportunities, leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, social capital, social networks, social psychological indicators, sustainability measures, urban/rural integration

    Proposal abstract:

    Unsustainable strategies such as increased reliance on mechanization, and farming with higher inputs have reduced farmers’ abilities to subsist on profits from farming alone. This trend towards more mechanization and inputs has been an attempt to avoid the high cost of labor, which typically accounts for the majority of costs associated with growing food. Labor costs have continued to be high despite a growing interest in locally produced foods which has resulted in an increase in the amount of people looking for work on farms (often young people looking for part time work, or WWOOFing, that is working on farms as a means of traveling), as well as a national unemployment rate hovering just under 10 percent. The reasons for this are a high turnover rate, a lack of appropriate training, and a perceived low quality of life for farmers. Season long contracts with farm hands (apprenticeships), help address the issue of high labor costs by providing the worker with necessary resources (housing and food) that are typically more available to the farmer than money, but because the amount of labor required varies so greatly from week to week due to weather conditions and other unpredictable events (crop disease, pests, equipment malfunction) farmers often need to hire part time labor for short periods of time in order to meet deadlines in planting, harvesting, or weeding. To address this issue, we will develop a program that will be hiring and training crews for the three sessions (15 employees throughout June, July, and August) and securing contracts with other farms for the crews to work on. Results will be disseminated through a website that describes the program and provides pictures and journal entries from the crew members themselves.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The goals for hiring will be to have the crews hired at least two weeks before their first day of orientation (crews for the first session starting June 1st should be hired by May 18th, the second session starting July 1st hired by June 17th, and the third session starting August 1st hired by July 18th).

    Reaching out to farmers and providing them with information about the program and how it can benefit them would be essential for securing contracts. A goal of meeting with at least 24 individual farms throughout the Pioneer Valley will be met by May 1st, with the hopes that 6-12 of those farms will be interested in hiring our crews.

    Because of the variability of weather and other growing conditions, the majority of contracts are not likely to be secured earlier than within a week before the contract starts. Up to half of the crew’s work can be contracted by the Many Hands Farm Cooperative on which they will be trained, so a goal of 20 hours per week per crew member on other farms would be required, or twelve 200 hour weekly contracts throughout the summer. Completing half the work on the training farm enables the leaders to provide diverse work in order to better train the crews and ensures that no crew is limited to weeding for the entire session.

    The program will begin with an orientation on the farm during which participants will become acquainted with the farm, the leaders, and each other. Participants will be walked through a typical day, with thorough demonstrations of chores, work activities, and community building activities. Over the course of the first few days, participants will complete a wide range of activities on the farm, receiving intensive training from the leaders to prepare them for work on other farms as well as continued work on the Many Hands Cooperative Farm. Under the care and supervision of the leaders, participants will live in a house rented for the summer specifically for this program and will share the responsibilities of cleaning, food preparation, and work preparation as taught by the leaders.

    Each morning the crews and leaders will eat breakfast, prepare for work, then go to work either on the Many Hands Farm, or on another farm, driven by the leaders in a van or bus leased specifically for that purpose. Work days will be eight hours long and consist of two 15 minute paid breaks and one half hour unpaid lunch break. Leaders will be responsible for providing the crews with goals (as the farm or contact dictates) and ensuring the crews have the training, understanding, and supplies necessary to meet those goals. After work, the crews will be responsible for daily chores associated with the farm and general living, will be engaged in nightly educational activities and/or discussions pertaining to agriculture.

    Participants of the Many Hands Farm Corps will be encouraged to interact with workers on other farms, and farmers will be given the opportunity to talk about their farms, describe the challenges and benefits of operating a small farm, and teach any subjects they are particularly well versed in.

    These methods closely mirror those of the Northwest Youth Corps, but with one important distinction mentioned above. The Northwest Youth Corps does not manage a forest and therefore cannot always ensure diversity in projects, whereas the Many Hands Farm Corps would be centered on its own private training farm, the Many Hands Farm Cooperative. Also, there are more diverse methods applied in farming on each individual farm than there are methods for trail maintenance applied for National Forests, so even if a crew completes the same tasks on different farms the experiences might be vastly different depending on each farmer’s preferences.

    The very means of producing the results is also packaging and disseminating the results. The marketing required to find labor and contracts will spread the idea throughout the community and each month 10 youth from the community will get to experience work on as many as a dozen farms as well as those farms experiencing the benefits of proper training and cooperation to achieve a goal. Diplomas that the crew members will receive at the end of their session will be certificates representing their accomplishments and can help farmers identify them as valuable potential employees.

    As our reputation grows and farmers become more familiar with idea of hiring crews for one day to one week contracts, the number of crews hired in a summer could increase to meet the demands of the local farms. I would share my experiences and operating methods with the community through lectures and discussions in classes at the University of Massachusetts, and would provide intensive farm management and leadership training for crew leaders over the winter to prepare for the next season. In its inaugural season three leaders, 30 crew members, and at least 12 farms will work together to the benefit of all and then be able to speak directly to everyone about their experiences. Alumni will be encouraged to continue working on farms, and possibly even recreate the program in another region with a high density of farms.

    Results will further be disseminated through a website that describes the program and provides pictures and journal entries from the crew members themselves. The Many Hands Farm Cooperative will have a CSA and the members will be updated on the progress of the crews and will often work together during CSA home garden workshops (led by crew members), work days, and distribution days.

    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.