2015 25.3 Staffing Your Farm: Successful Management of Interns and Employees

Summary of the Springtime Workshop at Cedar River Watershed Education Center

Over the course of one day this March, 15 farmers learned about successful management of both farm interns and farm employees. Five knowledgeable presenters shared tips, ideas, and resources for farmers that both currently employ interns and workers, or are exploring new ways to staff their farm. These presenters were Arwen Norman (Sky Root Farm), Tisa Soeteber (Washington State Labor and Industries), Tim Terpstra (farm manager, Ralph’s Greenhouse), Doug Collins (WSU Small Farms Team), and Laura Lewis (WSU Jefferson County Extension).

Arwen Norman kicked off the day with a thoughtful presentation regarding on-farm education and internship programs. Currently a farmer at Sky Root Farm, Arwen expressed how her own internship experiences were invaluable to her farm education and had given her a general perspective on structuring internship opportunities. Her tips included adding formality to the process of hiring interns, having a clear balance between labor and providing education, setting goals for the interns, and giving consistent feedback based on those set goals.

The second presentation of the day came from Tisa Soeteber, Agricultural Employment Standards Specialist from the Department of Labor and Industries. Tisa went over the employment standards needed for hiring interns, employees, and contractors such as wage requirements, deductions, recordkeeping, and the Small Farm Internship project. Tisa was interested in making sure all farmers understand the processes involved with agriculture employment and that the department is there to answer any and all questions.

To begin the afternoon, Tim Terpstra presented on hiring practices and employee management at Ralph’s Greenhouse. Respect is the basis for all their management practices. Tim explained that the interview process looks for aspects of a person that can’t be taught—traits such as trustworthiness, reliability, and work ethic. Tim gave general guidelines that he and owner Ray deVries use when managing employees. First, set employees up for success by plugging people into tasks that fit their strengths. Second, be willing to let people make mistakes (within reason), because that is the best sort of job training. Third, instill self-confidence in people so they feel proud of their work and capable to tackle new tasks. Fourth, consider preventing employees from becoming too territorial about their work, as it can cause problems within large crews.

The final presentations were given by WSU Extension Faculty Laura Lewis and Doug Collins. Laura presented on the FIELD (Farm Innovation, Education & Leadership Development) Program offered in Jefferson County. This multidisciplinary education program combines formal instruction on sustainable agriculture paired with field-based internships on farms within the county. It  allows  individuals  to  receive  both  hands-on  experience  and  formalized study.

A similar educational opportunity to the FIELD Program is Cultivating Success, a statewide program with curriculum requirements and a network of farm mentors. Doug explained that this program also offers the opportunity for Continuing Education Credits through  its various classes held at extension centers and approved on-farm  internships with Cultivating Success mentor farms.

In both the FIELD and WSU’s Cultivating Success programs, farms are required to apply to be mentors, ensuring that participants in  the programs receive a good on-farm experience. In the coming  years, Doug shared that Cultivating Success will look to expand  its online class offerings and resources for both farm interns and mentor farms.

Summary by Angela Anegon, Tilth Producers Education Coordinator.

This workshop was supported in part by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher  Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture,  USDA, Grant # 2012-49400-19575. For more resources and programs for  beginning farmers and ranchers please visit www.Start2Farm.gov.

Tags: Business, FIELD, Staff, Workshop, WSU