The human cost of food: Sustaining farm labor using alternative labor practices on diversified farms in Pennsylvania

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2012: $4,042.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: Pennsylvania State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Carolyn Sachs
Pennsylvania State University

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: mentoring, on-farm/ranch research
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, community planning, community services, employment opportunities, ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, quality of life, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Our project examines how sustainable agriculture sustains farm labor, and how farm labor sustains sustainable agriculture. This research will document the importance of internships and apprenticeships as a model for training future farmers and assess whether sustainable agriculture is economically viable and provides a good quality of life for interns and apprentices who labor on diversified, sustainable farms. Intern and apprentice programs fill an inimical gap between the scarcity of agricultural training in sustainable methods and interest in farming from people who lack the experience or skills to be successful. Moreover, sustainable farmers adopt the intern/apprentice model to secure labor and reduce costs. Questions remain however, whether such a model provides the necessary support for interns and/or apprentices to become principal operators and if social inequities are reinstated in sustainable agriculture in the use of cheap labor to subsidize sustainably grown food.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will explore the viability of internships and apprenticeships for future farmers and ask whether the quality of life for these laborers is enhanced by sustainable agriculture. The aim of this research is to analyze intern and apprentice experiences to provide insight on the opportunities and barriers for expanding innovative and just labor practices in support of sustainable agriculture.

    Objective 1:Investigate, document and analyze the role of farm internships/apprenticeships in teaching sustainable farm practices to the next generation of farmers
    Objective 2: Assess how the internship/apprentice model provides an alternative to traditional labor practices by making internships and apprenticeships economically viable for participants
    Objective 3: Assess how the internship/apprentice model provides an alternative to traditional farm labor by ensuring the nonexploitative treatment of interns/apprentices and establishing socially responsible labor practices

    To meet the proposed objectives we will collect qualitative data through in-depth interviews and discussion groups, in addition to quantitative data from an online survey and intern/apprentice time-use diaries.

    20 total on-farm, semi-structured interviews with interns/apprentices in the four regions designated by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA.

    3 small group conversational interviews with six to eight participants.

    Online survey of people who participated in sustainable farm internship/apprenticeships in the SARE northeast region.

    8 farm labor time-use diaries to be completed by interns/apprentices in Pennsylvania for 2 consecutive weeks in September 2012.

    Unstructured follow-up interviews with time-use diary participants.

    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.