Small Farm Labor: Hiring Freelance Laborers or Employees

Farm laborer picking beans

You may be able to start a small farm with just your own labor and the help of family members and friends, but eventually a successful market farming operation will grow big enough to need outside labor. Without enough workers on hand, you can miss out on crucial growing and harvesting windows and lose an entire farm vegetable crop. Choosing a type of labor is a major part of small farm planning because each option offers a mix of restrictions and benefits. Explore the two main options for staffing a growing vegetable farming operation to pick the right fit for your market farming plans.

Hiring Freelance Laborers or Employees

Whether you need help only with harvesting a growing bumper crop or year round work, hiring an independent contractor or farm employee is often the most reliable way to close the labor gap. Freelancers and contractors are particularly helpful for piecemeal and single time market farming work, such as harvesting, while any long-term schedule and need for close control over the work requires you to hire on a permanent employee for your small farm.

In order to hire a freelance farm laborer or team for market farming, you must meet the standards set by the Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for this arrangement. These requirements may include:

  • The contractor supplying their own tools and equipment, including combines and harvesters on large farm jobs
  • The job requires only broad objectives, such as bringing in a specific amount of crop by a certain date, with relatively few specifications on how the work is done
  • The contractor is free to offer the same services to other farms
  • The employment offer is based per project and not on an ongoing daily, weekly, or monthly schedule
  • The contractor sets and controls their own schedule, although the farm hiring them can specify a deadline for the work.

Unlike many labor requirements, your growing farm may not have to meet all of these requirements in order to legally hire freelancers and independent contractors. When you choose this kind of small farm labor, you don’t have to pay half of each employee’s FICA taxes like you do with employees. However, you will still need to file income reporting forms with the IRS if you pay your contractors more than a few hundred dollars within each calendar year.

Hiring an employee for your small farm may lead you to do more paperwork and pay a small amount of tax per worker, but you’ll gain many benefits in exchange. You can directly control an employee’s method of completing work, down to specifying when they arrive and when they take their breaks. If you need to move them around to different growing and harvesting tasks on the farm, there’s no need to renegotiate a new project contract. You are responsible for filing a W-4 and I-9 form for all employees you hire. The first form tracks your responsibility for part of the employee’s Social Security taxes, while the second determines if the employee is legally allowed to work in the United States. Failing to complete either form for an employee could lead to thousands of dollars’ worth of fines from both the DOL and IRS.

Inviting Volunteers to Help

When you only need help occasionally and in a relaxed way, such as making small improvements to existing market farming infrastructure, you may only need volunteer and intern labor. Be careful when using these kinds of arrangements, even when working with a well-established organization. Unless the volunteer group is providing the insurance, you may be liable for any injuries that occur while guests are visiting your farm.

There are multiple organizations that provide short to long term free labor in exchange for room and board on a small farm. Some organizations prefer farms to offer guests a small stipend per month to help cover their living costs as well. Groups like World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), Workaway, HelpX, Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), and many others provide free or low cost listings for growing market farming operations looking to attract volunteers, guests, and interns. However, you’ll need to follow both federal and state guidelines for utilizing free labor on your farm, especially if you refer to your opportunity as an unpaid internship.

Interns in particular are protected by federal law and by even stricter standards in many states. Federal requirements include:

  • Educational opportunities similar to what one could receive from a college classroom setting
  • No automatic offer of employment at the end of the internship
  • A mutual understanding that no wages will be exchanged, even if a stipend is involved
  • Someone from the farm is designated as the leader of the internship program
  • No immediate profit or advantage can be gained from the intern’s labor
  • The entire experience is primarily for the benefit of the intern and not the farm.

You’ll still need insurance if you stick within the regulations for internships and volunteer opportunities. Even if your guests sign waivers, you’ll want the extra protection of liability insurance since farms are inherently risky environments for inexperienced volunteers.

Jessica Kolifrath farmer, educator and blogger

Jessica grew up eating homegrown tomatoes and showing rabbits at livestock shows, so it’s no wonder she has her own 3 acre organic hobby farm today that will soon be home to a small licensed nursery for valuable trees and native shrubs. When she’s not busy with her own gardens and chickens, she enjoys helping build greenhouses and weed the blueberry fields at her friend’s 30 acre organic fruit and vegetable plant farm.

 

 

Sources

http://organicgrowersschool.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2016-Structuring-Labor-on-the-Small-Farm-FINAL.pdf

https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/download.php?id=505

https://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource006459_Rep9258.pdf

6 Market Farming Crops That Tap Into the Healthy Holiday Cooking Trend

When you’re trying to make the most of limited greenhouse resources, trying to plan your crop scheduling around culinary trends may sound futile. However, a willingness to at least try and keep up with long lasting trends in cooking can make the difference between success and failure at market farming. With traditional holiday foods featuring high levels of saturated fat, sodium, sugar, and refined flour, there’s been a decade-long shift towards healthy holiday cooking that you can tap into. Try at least one popular farm vegetable crop listed below that can help boost your sales during the holiday season.

  1. Cauliflower

With the increase of adherence to vegetarian and vegan diets, many home cooks have recently turned to roasting whole heads of cauliflower in place of meat main dishes like turkeys and hams. Mashed, pureed, or even riced cauliflowers has been a trendy replacement for starch heavy potato and rice dishes for nearly a decade now. This is one of the more time and labor intensive cruciform vegetables to grow, but the higher price per pound for a quality head makes it worth the work of adding it to your marketing farming efforts. Smaller side shoots and miniature varieties ripen fast and are easily marketed as quick roasting and easy to slice after cooking whole.

  1. Lentils

Lentils won’t work for greenhouse or hydroponics growing in most cases, but it’s a great rotational crop for small farms with open field acreage and a relatively long cool season with mild temperatures. Locally grown lentils demand a high price per pound as a specialty organic crop, while they’re also replenishing the soil where you grow them since they’re a legume that fixes nitrogen. Make sure you’re willing to invest in small scale winnowing and threshing equipment if you add this crop to your routine. Brown, green, red, and yellow lentils are all commonly used to create tasty vegan and vegetarian meat-free lentil loaves for holiday meals that are packed with flavor, protein, and fiber.

  1. Sweet Potatoes

Growing in a hot and humid climate or a heated greenhouse environment instead? Try sweet potatoes for a double crop that is in high demand for all sorts of holiday dishes. While many market farmer customers are primarily familiar with eating the roots of the sweet potato, they’ll be happy to learn that the greens are mild and nutritious as well. Sell your trimmings from exuberant growth in your greenhouse or hydroponics system to make money on salad mixes in addition to sweet potatoes sold to make Thanksgiving casseroles and Christmas pies.

  1. Root Crops

Root crops often go out of vogue for decades at a time, but they’re enjoying a renaissance for now and deserve attention since many of them grow quickly and produce a harvest within one to three months. From specialty radishes to colorful carrots, tiny tender turnips, creamy parsnips, and even unusual sunchokes, you have plenty of options to find root crops that fit your chosen market farming method and climate. Many root crops like parsnips are lower in carbohydrates than potatoes and other holiday standards, so they’re popular even among market shoppers following paleo and low carb diets.

  1. Winter Squash

While butternuts and acorn squash were once primary in demand only for holiday meals, now these squash are easily sold from long-term storage all year round. Unique and unusual hybrids of spaghetti squash mixed with sweeter kabocha and pumpkin are in high demand for trendy holiday dishes that also happen to fit into many diets and satisfy healthy eating concerns. Be sure to outline the exact features and benefits of specific winter squash at the market since many varieties feature high levels of important vitamins and nutrients with low fat and moderate carb content.

  1. Kale

Kale’s time as a superstar has come and gone, but it remains a staple for healthier eating for many people. It’s one of the easiest greens to mix into stuffing, salads, appetizers, and even vegetarian and vegan main dishes like nut and lentil loaves. While it’s no longer quite trendy enough to plan an entire season around, most markets will support a steady sale of many dark and bitter greens during the holiday season. Commit to a little space for the most popular varieties of kale in your farm vegetable crop planning for a easy to grow holiday crop that remains in-demand from year to year.

Regardless of the crops you choose to grow for holiday markets and CSA delivers, you’ll need the right farm planning software to manage recordkeeping and rotational information. Check your fall and winter growing and sales plan at a glance by using Farm Production Manager to keep everything under control and boost productivity at the same time.

Jessica Kolifrath farmer, educator and blogger

Jessica grew up eating homegrown tomatoes and showing rabbits at livestock shows, so it’s no wonder she has her own 3 acre organic hobby farm today that will soon be home to a small licensed nursery for valuable trees and native shrubs. When she’s not busy with her own gardens and chickens, she enjoys helping build greenhouses and weed the blueberry fields at her friend’s 30 acre organic fruit and vegetable plant farm.

 

Edible Flower: Varieties to Expand Both Food & Flower Operations

Edible Day Lily adds variety, color, insect attractant and wonderful smells to you market garden and farm stand.

Eating flowers rather than just admiring them in a garden or vase sounds like a modern fad, but there’s evidence that humans have been munching on colorful blossoms since the Stone Age. The trend of using flowers as food has come and gone over the ages and it’s returning right now in full force. There are thousands of edible flowers, yet not all of them taste good enough to entice farmer’s market shoppers to want to spend hard-earned money on them.

Continue reading

Why Winter Is The Best Season For Expanding Your Farm’s Infrastructure

Red barn shown in quiet, cold winter - a good time to plan for next year!

Unless you live in Southern California, Florida, or other parts of the Deep South, winter is likely a fallow time with few viable crops and little income on the farm. While some farmers may use the time for vacationing, most market growers are operating on a tight enough budget that they need to do as much productive work as possible during the down season. Winter is the ideal time for upgrading infrastructure on the farm regardless of the size of your operation.

Continue reading

How to Find Restaurants to Partner with for Farm-to-Table Contracts

Dinner at Farm-to-Table Restaurant

There’s not a small farmer or market grower in the country who hasn’t heard of the booming farm-to-table movement, but that doesn’t mean everyone feels equally comfortable diving into the world of selling directly to restaurants. It’s true, contacting restaurants with Michelin stars and month-long waiting lists for reservations is intimidating to someone who only has experience selling directly to farmer’s market customers or through an impersonal wholesale contract. However, taking the plunge with a smart plan of attack could help turn a struggling farm into a thriving one.

Continue reading