Preparing the Ground for Local Fair Trade: Helping Farmers and their Buyers Improve Labor and Pricing

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2009: $7,933.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Elizabeth Henderson
Peacework Farm

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: public policy, employment opportunities, social capital, sustainability measures, quality of life

    Proposal summary:

    Current issue

    Finding and keeping an adequate supply of skilled workers and paying them a living wage is one of the major challenges to the sustainability of Northeast farms. The recent surge in buy local campaigns of many kinds promises a lift to the local farm economy if farmers can produce enough high quality and safe food in environmentally sound ways. Solving the labor/money puzzle is critical.

    Citizens who make the commitment to buy local want to support family-scale farming and imagine that these farms are providing good working conditions for all the people who work on them, including farmers, farm family and farm workers. These ardent shoppers know very little about the difficult economic realities of farming. On their side, most NE farmers have good intentions and try to treat their hired workers with respect, often paying them more per hour than the farmers earn themselves. But few small farms have clear, written labor policies that tell their workers what to expect, a written protocol for safety training or negotiated contracts with buyers that assure that the price covers the farm’s production costs and make expectations clear on both sides.

    These farms also lack procedures for calculating their costs of production so that the farm can even be sure of asking a fair price. Without a sound economic basis that supports enough workers, a farm cannot be sustainable over the long run. Well-meaning locavores need to understand these realities in order to become, in Carlo Petrinin of Slow Foods terms: “co-producers” with the farmers whose food they eat.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will help farmers, their employees and their buyers gain a better understanding of how to conduct trade that is fair to all parties. The project will produce a Tool-Kit of templates for developing clear, written employment and safety policies for workers and interns on family-scale farms and written contracts or agreements between farms and buyers and provide training in how to negotiate terms in a participatory way and how to implement them.

    The Tool-Kit will also include an annotated list of resources for calculating farm costs of production to assist farmers in pricing their products so that they can receive a fair price.

    Based on her years of experience and interviews with farmers involved in this project, the project leader will write a series of articles documenting the economic realities of family-scale local farms for the newsletters of participating food coops and farmers markets to help customers understand fair pricing.

    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.