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

2009 Annual Report for FNE09-660

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

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

Summary

Progress Report

FNE09-660: Preparing the Ground for Local Fair Trade: Helping Farmers and their Buyers Improve Labor and Pricing Practices
Elizabeth Henderson

Goals: 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.

My farm, Peacework Organic Farm, has been producing fresh market certified organic vegetables for 11 years. Our gross sales are over $100,000 a year from 10 acres of vegetables. Most of our production goes to the members of our local Community Supported Agriculture project and to the Genesee Valley Organic CSA (GVOCSA) in Rochester, New York. During the ten previous years, I also grew for the GVOCSA, which I helped found at Rose Valley Farm. We celebrated the 21th anniversary of the GVOCSA in 2009. I have been making my living at farming since 1980 and this year will be retiring from full time farm management and farm work. At Peacework, our labor force has consisted of me and my two partners, all three of us working full time, and two interns who usually work full time from March through November. When I started farming at Rose Valley, I calculated that I earned about $2 an hour, after all farm expenses were paid. At that time, we paid our interns $75 to $100 a week and did not comply with labor laws such as workmens compensation. In our defense, I will say that we chose as interns people who intended to farm and we shared our knowledge and skills with them generously. Many have gone on to farm on their own. At Peacework, we have improved the legal status of our labor practices and increased our own hourly wages through our negotiations with the members of our CSA.

Cooperators

Robert Hadad is the technical advisor for this project. He is a Cornell Cooperative Extension Vegetable Agent for Western New York with specialties in organic and small farms and marketing. Together we have designed two workshops for training farmers in developing labor policies for their farms and in calculating costs of production. We have done a trial run of these workshops at the NOFA-NY winter conference, Friday, January 22, and will do five more workshops over the coming year.

Daryl Odhner is Senior Industrial Hygienist for the NYS Department of Labor division of Health and Safety. He spent an afternoon touring my farm examining the barns and fields for hazards. On the basis of this and his experience of many years, he designed a guide for farmers to use in training their employees in farm safety.
Alaine Espenscheid is an attorney. She will review the Tool-kit to make sure the documents meet NYS legal requirements.

I have discussed Peacework farm labor policies with the interns who worked with us during the 2009 season. They considered the work contract that we currently offer as adequate, so I did not make any changes. They appreciate the opportunity to write a learning contract with the farm. The GVOCSA made a few minor changes to the contract that they use for CSA membership.

I have reviewed NY State labor law and the summary of all of the NE states’ laws compiled by the New England Small Farm Institute for their Farm Workstays Project.
During the fall of 2009, I wrote an appeal to farmers with good reputations as employers. Several of them sent me copies of their labor policies, contracts, and wrote about their philosophies of working with people on their farms. I also did a review of the websites of farms that post apprenticeship announcements and descriptions of labor policies on their websites.

In December, I compiled an updated version of the Tool-kit of labor policies. Intern Jonell Michael helped me research and compile an annotated list of resources for farmers who seek training in calculating production costs. In January, we added this resource to the Tool-kit. Daryl Ohdner contributed a section on farm safety training. I also compiled the international documents from the International Labor Organization and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that provide the basis for the Agricultural Justice Project social justice standards.

Five farmers are currently reviewing the Tool-kit. So far, only one has submitted his suggestions for improvements.

Robert Hadad and I designed and delivered two workshops at the NOFA-NY winter conference. Sixteen people, (including 14 farmers, a man who is organizing a farm and the CSA coordinator from Just Food) attended the morning session, "Creating an Effective Workforce for Your Farm"; 54 people (including 49 farmers and farm interns, the Just Food coordinator and several farm advisors) attended the afternoon session, “Getting a Fair Price that Covers Your Farm’s Production Costs Plus a Reasonable Profit.”
Since early in 2009, I have been contributing a regular column on local farm issues to the newsletter of the Abundance Coop in Rochester, NY. In these articles, based on interviews with other area farmers and research, I am trying to help coop members understand the economics of local farming.

The first run of the workshops was well-received. I have not yet received the conference evaluations from the NOFA-NY Conference organizers.

Robert Hadad and I are currently scheduling additional workshops in Rochester, western NY, Ithaca, Alfred State and Syracuse that will include food coop and farmers market personnel as well as farmers and interns.

We have not yet designed the negotiation component and will be meeting with personnel from several area coops during the month of March to work on this aspect of the trainings.
We have not yet designed the evaluation survey.

The excellent attendance at the workshops on labor policies and pricing confirms that these are critical issues for farmers and would-be farmers. The new book by Richard Wiswall, The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops and Staff – and Making a Profit, and crop production spreadsheets designed by Brian Caldwell will enable farmers to understand their finances in a much more sophisticated and detailed way. Robert and I will incorporate these materials into the workshops we deliver over the coming months. As a next step, some farmers and area stores may want to adopt a domestic fair trade label. The Agricultural Justice Project has been revising our standards; the process will be complete in May 2010. We have also prepared the materials a certifier, such as the NOFA-NY Organic Certification Program, would need to certify that a farm or food business is complying with the highest standards of fair trade.

Elizabeth Henderson
February 10, 2010

Collaborators:

Robert Hadad

rgh26@cornell.edu
Technical Advisor
Cornell Cooperative Extension
4487 Lake Ave
Lockport, NY 14694
Office Phone: 5857394065