Excerpted from The Farm to Market Handbook by Janet Hurst.
Finding laborers is often one of the most difficult obstacles for a farmer to overcome, but there are means to assist with this ongoing problem. Farmers often bring apprentices onto the farm. Although they are usually not paid, apprentices can learn valuable skills from the experienced farmer while receiving room and board. Of course, bringing someone onto the farm creates an additional responsibility for the farmer, but many growers find this responsibility worth the exchange in labor. Some industrious farmers actually charge a fee for an apprentice to work with them.
Occasionally there are volunteers who want to come and experience the farm environment. One local farmer had a neighbor who was dealing with a loss in her family. She asked to come to the farm and pick green beans. She simply wanted to do something worthwhile that got her out in the field and occupied her hands and mind. She became such a fixture that the farm family nicknamed her Bottom’s Up! It turned out to be a great deal for both parties. Bottom’s Up went home with a share of green beans for her efforts, not to mention a lighter heart, and the farm family had buckets of green beans to show for her labor.
Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF; www.wwoofusa.org) is a nonprofit network of host farmers and volunteers who wish to connect to work out a labor exchange. Its website states: “Since 2001 we have been connecting sustainable farmers with willing volunteers, in an exchange of education, culture, and sweat to bring forth wholesome agricultural products from the farms of the USA.” Visitors, called WWOOFers, are from varied backgrounds and volunteer on farms to receive some practical experience and learn about farming and organic agriculture. Labor is in exchange for room and board. These arrangements seem to work out very well; once farmers have a successful experience with one WWOOFer, they are anxious to open the door to another.
Internships are another way of involving people in your farm. You have learned valuable things over the years. Some may seem elementary to you. However, there are people willing to work to gain knowledge. Consider offering an internship (paid or unpaid) on your farm. Plan to spend time with the intern, actually teaching skills and sharing your knowledge.
While sharecropping is not as prevalent as it once was, this is also a means to assist with labor shortages. Workers literally labor for a share of the pickings. This can be a good value for both the worker and the farmer.
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This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Farm to Market Handbook by Janet Hurst and published by Voyager Press, 2014.