- Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, participatory research, technical assistance, workshop
- Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, apprentice/intern training, budgets/cost and returns, business planning, cooperatives, feasibility study, financial management, labor/employment, new enterprise development, risk management
- Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships
a) Problem: New England’s growing number of diversified farmers urgently need new options for addressing high costs and shortages of qualified farm labor, which limit profitability and quality of life. As the skills and experience, type of work, number of workers, and hours needed vary on a single farm, flexible labor options are required. Farm workers need better options too. Seasonal farmworkers aspire for more reliable work, equitable compensation, and career advancement opportunities. Collaboration offers an innovative solution for both farmers and farm workers. Working together, farmers could attract a more qualified workforce, share the costs of training and compliance, and streamline HR operations. Collaborating could create consistent, attractive employment opportunities for farm workers, including upward mobility through ownership interests. The adoption and success of collaborative farm labor solutions require extensive research, including direct input from farmers and farm workers regarding goals, needs, and preferences. Collaborative farm labor solutions have been explored, including by a SARE-funded “Cooperative Farming” publication, but this proposed project would be the first extensive feasibility study conducted.
- b) Hypothesis and Research Plan: Collaborative farm labor ventures will increase availability of qualified labor available to farmers, reduce hiring, training, and retention costs, address seasonality limitations of employment, and increase benefits and career pathways for employees. Farm labor models will align to specific producer and farmworker needs and resources. Legal frameworks and implementation strategies to develop collaborative labor business models will provide pathways to adoption and compliance. Qualitative and quantitative methods—including interviews (individual and focus groups), document analysis (legal research), and surveys—will be used to identify emerging themes regarding needs, interests, and feasibility of potential collaborative solutions to farm labor and management. Data collected, business models researched, and producer feedback will structure recommended solutions. A “design thinking” research approach will fully engage farmers and farmworkers in MA, NH, VT, NY, CT and RI.
- c) Outreach Plan: Research results and guides developed will be disseminated by Extension, state, and NGO partners through press releases, electronic and print newsletters, listservs, webinars, social media, and via conference presentations with producer groups throughout New England and NY.
- d) Project objectives include:
Focus group participants (farmers and farmworkers) and project partners (agricultural professionals and educators) will increase knowledge about collaborative labor models to address farm labor needs and desires.
• Focus group participants will evaluate feasibility and legal frameworks of adopting a collaborative model to address farm labor challenges.
• Focus group participants who determine that a collaborative model is feasible will develop implementation strategies.
• Project partners will incorporate project findings about collaborative farm labor models and feasibility into their work, courses, publications, etc. Project partners will commit to future research, farmer engagement, and collaboration on addressing farm labor issues.
Performance targets from proposal:
Northeast Producers will receive detailed feasibility studies and implementation frameworks for 4 innovative solutions to labor challenges: 1) producer-owned collaborative that shares workers, 2) worker-owned collaborative that leases workers, 3) a nonprofit-owned temporary farm employment agency, and a 4) nonprofit collaborative internship curriculum and compliance program.
Project partners will commit to incorporating project findings about innovative farm labor models and feasibility into their work, and commit to future engagement addressing farm labor issues.