On-farm workstays: Creating safe and lawful on-farm training opportunities in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $63,171.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Judith Fuller
New England Small Farm Institute

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: general education and training

    Proposal abstract:

    Numerous small-scale Northeast farmers offer summer “workstays.” A time-honored tradition, this is one way they get the help they need while passing along important farming skills. NEWOOF, a regional workstay matching service, has profiled these farmers through annual surveys. Not surprisingly, 80-to-90% rank “providing farm labor” as very important” or “most important” reasons for hosting trainees. However, many of these farmers are poorly informed about their standing as agricultural employers. Many see themselves as educators housing “interns” in exchange for labor. Others believe that “space in the barn and all the veggies you can eat” is not pay. While time a trainee spends in class or hands-on instruction can legitimately be considered “education,” the minute she performs work that contributes to a farm’s bottom line, she becomes an employee. For many farmers, this is an unpleasant surprise. In an increasingly regulatory environment, they are at serious risk. The project seeks to address this serious gap in employment information and practice. It offers important information to all trainee hosts and peer guidance to those who are open to self-assessment and agree to plan, implement and document change. It anticipates that current efforts to build awareness of farming risk and risk management will encourage open dialogue about farm labor employment issues. And it builds on the work of NESFI’s six-year On-Farm Mentors Project, the project’s new publications and developing website, and the newly emerging Northeast On-Farm Mentors’ Network, an unincorporated association sponsored by NESFI, whose members are committed to fostering professional development and safe and lawful on-farm training in the Northeast.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Milestone #1: A group of 400 Northeast farmers who host trainees on their farms are informed about the project and its goal through an informational packet, to include general information* about employment and housing regulation, an invitation to become actively involved in project activities, and a brief survey/response form with both on-line response option and SASE. Each farmer will receive a follow-up telephone call. Months 1-5.

    Milestone #2: Of 400 farmer-mentors receiving Project information, 60 (15%) agree to attend one of ten project-sponsored workshops or meetings facilitated by a project coordinator and a trained peer mentor (a member of the Northeast On-Farm Mentor’s Network steering committee). A consistent agenda and expanded resource package*, including a new employment practices self-assessment tools focused on workers compensation, on-farm housing and recordkeeping, will be used throughout. Months 6-11.

    Milestone #3: Of 60 farmer-mentors attending a project workshop or meeting, 20 (33%) agree to a follow-up peer consultation/review of their on-farm employment practices (minimum of two contacts), with the goal of identifying, implementing and documenting one or more specific changes in employment practice that result in compliance with legal requirements (i.e., behavioral change). Months 7-24.

    Milestone #4: Of 20 farmer-mentors who implement and document changes in employment practice, up to eight (40%) will agree to participate in project outreach by agreeing to serve as anonymous project “case histories.” Months 18-25.

    Performance Target: From an initial group of 400 Northeast on-farm mentors who receive project information, 20 (5%) make and document changes in employment practice that result in compliance with legal requirements.

    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.