In farming, volunteerism has a long history. “Back in the day”, traditions were passed down this way, and there were no great economic consequences. Then internships became more organized, with the quid pro quo being trading labor for learning.
Not paying workers in the US is illegal, and farmers have been walking a fine line to stay on the right side of the law for some time. Big Ag’s reliance on migrant labor has been a source of controversy for a while, but some farmers are also voicing concerns about the use of unpaid help by small-scale farmers. One says, “I know a farmer who has a great knack for getting people to work for her for free. They make labels for her for free, they make signs for her for free, they work farmer’s market for free, they prep her products for free. Every single volunteer is doing a business critical task. And the farmer then sells her products for less since she is not paying for labor.”
Another farmer points out the amount of state and federal funding available for training programs which, in essence, pays for labor on non-profit farms. The non-profits then turn around and sell produce grown with public money and compete with private business. These stipend interns or paid students give the non-profit, ostensibly a service organization, a competitive advantage over private farms. Basically, these well-intended programs are biting the hands that feed us.
This raises two questions we all should be giving careful consideration to as Labor Day approaches this year: Is the new food system we are all striving for sustainable, if the new types of farms being created can’t stay in business without relying on unpaid labor? Does volunteer and subsidized labor undermine the farming business?
That is why SPIN-Farming is viable. It is an owner-operated model. Labor is the single biggest expense in a small farm operation. SPIN farmers aim to eliminate or minimize it. The owner does most of the work, with occasional help from family and friends. When the need for outside labor does arise, SPIN farmers can afford to pay a wage rate comparable to other businesses. How to use the most cost-efficient use of labor is one of the key components in SPIN-Farming training.
SPIN’s workflow is based on three hour work sessions focused on specific tasks a few times a week. Managing labor is a big time suck for a farm owner, so the less of it you have to do, the better. Short, focused work sessions eliminates the need for much oversight, and you don’t have to factor in a lunch break.
More and more people are realizing that making the world a better place is up to them, and many of these enterprising and visionary do-it-yourselfers are finding their way to SPIN farmers to learn from and work for. How to meet their goals and a farmer’s needs, while also following local, state and federal labor rules and regulations, is up to each SPIN farmer to figure out. The important point for farmers, consumers and policymakers to understand is that the cost of labor has to be factored into the cost of production and prices. If a farm operation can’t afford to pay a fair wage to workers when they are needed, it’s not a viable business.
FIND OUT HOW FARMERS HANDLE ALL THE WORK, AVOID BURNOUT AND STAY IN BUSINESS FOR THE LONG HAUL IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE HERE.