“Managing Farm Labor: How to Structure Labor on the Small Farm” workshop

Farming on a small farm requires significant labor, not just from the farmers themselves,  but from others as well. Sometimes these are family members, especially on small farms, but often farmers hire hourly workers or engage in apprenticeship programs to fill their labor needs.  In 2015, Organic Growers School conducted a “Barriers to Farming” survey and concluded that  labor was a significant barrier to farm success. According to Steven Beltram,of Balsam Gardens in Asheville,  a mixed vegetable farm managing 30 acres of certified organic produce, “Managing labor is an entirely different story and an entirely different skill set than managing plants and animals. I think that fair pay, good working conditions, not expecting anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do, and just being nice to people are all things that I prioritize.” However, to do that well, farmers are often balancing production demands, seasonality of work, ebbs and flows of product, and learning how to train and educate farm employees and apprentices. At Balsam Gardens, “Most people need employment year round and so the seasonal nature of this business creates turnover and bottlenecks in training. Even in season, we have peaks where we need lots of people for a few weeks and then less other times,” Beltram said.

Organic Growers School’s upcoming 4-hour workshop will showcase how to structure labor on a small farm through the eyes of established regional farmers. This workshop is for those who are already farming or who are just starting out to understand systems and structure of on-farm labor. Legal and financial considerations will be highlighted and discussed to better understand which labor structure best fits your farming model.

Participants will:

  1. Learn about different ways to structure labor on your farm including apprenticeship, paid hourly workers, temporary workers, and volunteers.
  2. Discover best practices for managing people on the ground.
  3. Learn how to incorporate education on the farm.
  4. Understand legal considerations you need to know for your labor structure.
  5. Clarify the financial process for paying workers or apprentices.
  6. Be aware of equity issues with on-farm labor.
  7. Hear from experienced farmers running successful farms in WNC.

Vanessa Campbell of Full Sun Farm, one of the farmer presenters for the workshop,  has hosted apprentices on her farm for 20 years: “[It] keeps changing and evolving,” she says, “We try to straddle the fence on offering an experience that is truly educational and getting the work that needs to be done on the farm done.” According to Campbell, “One of the challenges of having apprentices is having to train folks year after year, remembering what it was like to know nothing, to not be able to see the difference between the bed and the path. We ask a lot of the apprentices and they keep stepping up to the challenge. Even when they are not getting it right or just the way we like it, treating them with respect and recognizing all the effort they are making goes a long way.” She will present and share her expertise with other farmers at this four hour workshop and participants who attend will have a chance to delve into how to structure labor on their own farm for increased success and education.

You can register for this upcoming workshop for only $40 (dinner included!) at www.organicgrowersschool.org/farmers/managing-farm-labor

The Organic Growers school has been providing organic education to farmers and home growers since 1993. The organization  grew out of the volunteer efforts of a group of farmers and extension specialists who gathered to discuss the need for nuts and bolts, region-specific crop growing information applicable for farmers in Western North Carolina. From this meeting, OGS was born, along with a mission to deliver practical information about organic agriculture at a reasonable price. Organic Growers School is the premiere provider of practical and affordable organic education in the Southern Appalachians, building a vibrant food & farming community by boosting the success of organic home growers and farmers in our region.

Nicole Delcogliano