Inland FoodWise Online – Newsletters and Action Alerts for the Inland Northwest Foodshed

ForFB-2It’s high time the Inland Northwest region had its own web portal dedicated to reporting on issues related to building a sustainable local food system.

We all eat, and we all have a stake in what goes on in our foodshed. Not only that, but because food is so fundamental to our existence on so many levels (our health, productivity, economic well-being, quality of life, sense of community… where does one stop?), the intention is for this project to be a vehicle that informs as well as activates its subscriber base to take positions on food policy and push our decision-makers to refine their perspectives and make the right choices.

Please have a look at the Premier Edition of the Inland FoodWise Newsletter on the Inland FoodWise Online website. The newsletter, edited and published by Chrys Ostrander, will include interviews with local food activists, farmers and gardeners, profiles of local food businesses and non-profits and write-ups about current food policy issues. The newsletter’s approach will be one of unabashed advocacy journalism with a strong point of view founded on the values of the original organic food movement, progressive sustainable agriculture and permaculture principles.

In addition to the newsletter, in between published editions, subscribers will receive timely email “FoodWise Action Alerts” informing them of actions they can take to help craft a more sustainable and equitable food system. You will not be deluged by emails from us, but the ones we do send be selected because your voice will make a difference in some of the most crucial issues facing our region today.

The newsletter is starting out as a quarterly journal that will be available as an email subscription as well as on-line. It will always be a free publication. In addition, you may also choose to register a user account on the Inland FoodWise Newsletter website, which will enable you to engage in conversations by commenting on the articles posted there. We hope that you like what you see.

http://inlandfoodwise.online/

Here are the titles of the articles featured in the premier edition. Look for our second edition coming out Sept. 1.

Chasing Toxic Herbicides Out of Washington State
Chrys Ostrander

Eastern Washington Farm Receives Grant from West-side Foundation for Solar-powered Drip Irrigation System
Thom Foote

Getting Flame Retardants Out of the Food Supply
Erika Schreder

Rural Roots: Healthy Farms, Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities
Karen Chojnacki

The Inland Northwest Food Network Celebrates our Region’s Food System
Teri McKenzie

The Permaculture Conservation Trust
Deborah Berman, Suvia Judd

The Soil Food Web: Life Beneath Our Feet
Jefferson Edward

What’s Wrong with Organic
Chrys Ostrander

Wild Foods of Spring: Nettles and Morels served up with some musings!
Carol McFarland

Subscribe!
http://newsletter.inlandnorthwestpermaculture.com/lists/?p=subscribe

Thinking About a New Greenhouse for Heartsong

Folks,

The little greenhouse here at Heartsong, I’m going to call it the Garden Greenhouse, is falling apart.

existing

I put together some ideas about what might be done so I could present them to the Heartsong Families so we can plan for the coming season. But first, a little background: Continue reading

Permaculture Apprentice Opportunity at Heartsong, Tumtum, WA

Work/Study in Exchange for Room and Board

hsHeartsong is a beautiful, 8 1/2-acre former retreat center nestled in a forest-ringed meadow just 20 miles northwest of Spokane, Washington. The owners are accepting applications for an apprenticeship position which will begin in April, 2017 and last through October, 2017. They seek a motivated, neophyte permaculturist willing to commit to 4 hours of work and study, five days per week. Room and board provided in exchange.

For more details and to fill out an application, please go to:
http://tinyurl.com/heartsong-application

Plans for 2017: The apprentice will work and study under the guidance of Heartsong’s caretaker who is a certified permaculture designer. The caretaker and apprentice will be tasked with implementing an ever-evolving work plan, including maintaining and expanding the bee-keeping operation, enhancing and maintaining the 8000 sq. ft. garden (including weekly harvests and distributions), designing and constructing rainwater catchment, building an outdoor oven, putting up raspberry trellises, establishing a blackberry patch on a folding trellis, maintaining a flock of laying hens, tending the goat herd, seed saving, food preserving, coming up with a pasture management plan and continuing with planting the food forest. In addition, other general site maintenance, upkeep and improvements will also be included in the work plan and determined from time to time.

Work/Study: The apprentice is expected to perform a minimum two hours of study per week which are included in the 20 hrs./wk. work requirement, following a lesson plan provided by the caretaker. The lesson plan will cover a broad range of topics related to permaculture with emphasis on subjects that apply to the work at hand. The apprentice will keep a journal and complete a written final project.

Who’s being sought/What’s being expected: The apprenticeship is designed to be a semi-immersion in living a lifestyle of a permaculture homesteader. Each day there is work. Some of the work is tedious and repetitive. Some of the work is physically taxing. Some of the work is a learning experience. Some of the work is fun. Some of the work is just work. At times, it feels as if there are too many tasks to accomplish, and there are. Since a person can only effectively do one task at a time, a skill to learn is how to choose the most appropriate task from all the options. Heartsong is looking for an apprentice who tends naturally to be busy and finds an outlet for creativity through work.

Life at Heartsong can seem isolated. Often it is only the Caretaker and the Apprentice on the property. The nearest town is 20 minutes away and the city of Spokane is about 40 minutes away. Some people yearn to get away from the rat race, thrive on nature and find enjoyment when there’s lots of physical space and fewer humans around. The Heartsong families are looking for a person who enjoys quiet and focus and is self-reliant in terms of putting time to its best use, on or off “the clock.”

Contact: Chrys Ostrander – PO Box 1255 Tumtum, WA 99034 Email: farmrchrys@gmail.com

Photo by Estar.

No-till & Woodchips Gardening

Asanga Jayasinghe, a journalist from Sri Lanka who reports on agriculture posted a question on the Regrarians Facebook page:

I have read that Zero tillage is a good practice, so how do I cultivate annual crops without tillage? How do I make growing beds, how do I mix organic matter without tillage? Please help me to understand the Zero tillage concept.

On a grey and snowy morning in the woods, I had a little time to respond.

IMG_7233You are correct, Asanga, zero tillage is a good practice. How you actually go about it depends on your scale. It depends on what machinery you have available or how much you are dependent on hand labor. It also depends on what kinds of organic matter mulches you can grow or are available in your area. The terms “zero-till” or “no-till” can be somewhat misleading. What we are really trying to achieve is “reduced tillage” agriculture– greatly reduced tillage. When I garden no-till-style, I consider any soil disturbance deeper than 4″ to be tilling, but that does allow me to practice hoeing or surface cultivation when appropriate, like when you are preparing a fine seed bed, without going against the principal of reduced tillage. In nature, soil is most often built by adding nutrients to the surface. There is no need to “till in” composts and manures. Often you can distribute these on the surface and leave them there. Mulching afterwards is always best when feeding in this way, or using a shallow cultivation, no deeper than 4″, to mix the amendment in, putting the amendment in greater contact with the soil. My aim is to allow the majority of the topsoil layer and upper subsoil to remain undisturbed for as many seasons as possible. A major key to all this is to eliminate all sources of compaction whether it comes in the form of foot traffic or machinery. A soil left to its own devices will develop a texture like a loaf of bread. This arises in multiple ways: In reduced-till growing, often spent plants are cut off at ground level and their roots are left in place in the soil to decompose. As the roots decompose, the channels they have formed remain to facilitate air and moisture movement and provide pathways for soil flora and fauna to use when traveling. The channels left by worms and the like will also serve these functions if they are not destroyed by tillage.

Sometimes tillage occurs anyway like when you dig potatoes or other root crops that might require it. You can plan your crop rotations to include one time in several seasons when the soil in any given location is more deeply disturbed, but the elimination of tillage is always the goal. Carrots and the like that are often dug out with much soil disturbance, I don’t dig out. I use a garden fork to loosen the soil only and pull them out vertically leaving the soil in place as much as possible. Whenever possible, I use mulch. It is said that nature abhors bare soil and uses many different methods to make sure there’s always something on top, protecting the soil. For instance, I will prepare a fine seed bed for carrots which might lie bare for several weeks, but once the carrots are tall enough, I will place mulch between the rows. The carrots can be harvested without removing the mulch (in fact you will discover carrots to be so much easier to harvest in the pliable, loose soil that’s always found under a good layer of mulch).

Transplants can be planted into the mulch for a follow-on crop. Just make a well in the mulch and plant your starts right in. You can try this: Do an ample feeding and a shallow cultivation on a bed where you will grow potatoes. Take your seed potatoes and place them on top of the soil where you want the plants to grow, possibly pressing them in so they’re half exposed. Now cover the entire bed with a think mulch. A minimum of 8″ of wood chips (any kind, it doesn’t matter). You can put on 12″ to 16″ of wood chips if you have enough. I would use a minimum of 18″ of mulch if straw or a similar, looser material is used, 2 feet thick or more if available. It will settle some. The potatoes will grow under the mulch. No light should reach them if mulched well. You won’t need to hill the potatoes. Just make sure when you harvest them that you pull off all the mulch first. A layer of course organic material on top of your soil protects and builds your soil without any binding up of nutrients. Soil fauna rise to feed on the mulch where it touches the soil and they carry the nutrients obtained deeper into the soil. It’s when you mix your mulch into your soil that your nutrients get bound up. Remember, even if this does occur, the binding up lasts only as long as it takes for the organic matter to fully decompose. Then your soil will be richer than when you started. Weeds that make it through mulch are always easy to pull out because the soil under the mulch will be loose. They can be pulled without disturbing the mulch.

If you are transitioning from a tillage system to a no-till system, often there is much soil compaction to overcome. Again, depending on your scale, there are different ways to mitigate this. On a broad scale, using a deep shank subsoil ripper is often used. Some people utilize the “Keyline” system when doing such subsoiling using a “Keyline Plow.” The Keyline system is a way to increase the utilization of water within a system and also as a way to restore tilth to abused soils. I’ve never really liked the use of the word “plow” when talking about Keyline. To me, to plow implies something gets turned, or rolled over. A Keyline plow is really a proprietary version of a “deep shank,” “ripper” or “subsoiler.” The idea being to fracture the soil without turning it in order to aerate it, break up hard pan (also known as plow pan) and compaction and facilitate deep water absorption. Chisel plows utilize shanks, but they are often arranged in relatively close-spaced gangs. They are usually spaced so close that there really is a huge amount of soil disturbance even if the soil isn’t being turned over excessively. This amount of disturbance results in much death and destruction of the soil biome which, like all tillage, results in a flush of available nutrients in the short-term, but robs the soil of its long-term fertility and structure (also known as “tilth”). In Keyline plowing the rips are often made by pulling a single shank with passes many feet apart, leaving large volumes of undisturbed soil between them. So it’s useful to run a deep shank through soil that has been badly managed as a one-time mitigation measure to start one on the road to no-till. From then on, you eliminate sources of compaction. This often involves laying out permanent pathways between permanent beds. In my gardens, my permanent beds are four feet wide and my permanent paths are two feet wide. No feet (or knees) on the beds is a strictly enforced rule. Often much plant wastes end up in the paths (although you should get into the habit of leaving weeds that have been pulled on the surface of the bed as mulch). Your pathways become nutrient reservoirs and will become a source of nutrients to your beds by virtue of the nutrient mobilization that is occurring under our feet every day. Deep rooted cover crops also assist in mitigating compaction and maintaining low compaction. A good example are fodder radishes. These can be grown in combination with other cover crops and green manures. The difference in no till situations is you will not be tilling your cover crops in. You will be cutting them off at soil level, leaving their roots in place and carrying the top growth to the compost pile or using it as mulch. The deep taproots of the radishes poke holes right through soil compaction and their decomposition adds to the bread-loaf texture that you are trying to encourage in your topsoil and upper subsoil.

IMG_6832On a smaller scale, soils transitioning to no-till can be prepared for a future of no-till with the use of deep broadforks. I use a long-tined (16″ to 21″) broad fork (U-bar) on soils where I sense there is more compaction than I like (these are the best ones I know of: https://meadowcreature.com/broadforks ). I ride the broadfork into the ground with both feet on the crossbar, rocking back and forth as my weight lowers the tines all the way into the ground. I needn’t exert any more force than my weight affords. U-barring is enough work just moving the tool from one spot to the next and pulling back on the handles to add extra exertion by jumping up and down and forcing the tines in. They are just as happy to slide in on their own with the assistance of gravity. Then I only pull the handle back to about a 45 degree angle. I don’t lift the soil up and shake it through the tines. I’m just cracking the soil open but leaving large chunks intact. A well-managed no-till soil might never need to see a broad fork.

After a couple of years of not tilling, you will see positive results.

For larger scale no-till information, you might find this website of interest:
http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/organic-no-till/

One of the other comments someone left pointed me to a pretty good article on wood chip gardening.

http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/gardening-techniques/building-garden-soil-wood-mulch-zmaz10onzraw.aspx

The suggestion to till chips mixed with a high nitrogen source into the topsoil is intriguing. Certainly this would give a boost to very poor soils. If you already have good fertility from composting and you want to try wood chip mulching, you’re good to go without that. Go ahead and spread them. Thick is good. Just try to keep the mixing of topsoil and chips to a minimum so you have distinct layers– soil and chips. The critters in your composted soil know what to do with the wood chips. There should be a lot of wood chips available considering the recent wind storm.

So, that is that. Next time, maybe sheet mulching.

New Year – Different Path: What Lies Ahead

The

The “Birdhouse” at Heartsong

It’s the third day of 2015 as I write this new post on my renamed WordPress blog. I’m sitting at my desk in my new home– a 400 sq. ft. “tinyhouse” called “The Birdhouse” on a beautiful, 8 1/2-acre parcel in Tumtum, WA known as Heartsong (formerly known as the Heartsong Retreat Center). For the past three years the land has been under new ownership. Three very friendly and progressive families purchased it from its former owner who had developed the facilities as a retreat center more than 20 years ago. In fact, I attended a strategic planning retreat of the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network here back in 1999. Back then, I felt a strong connection to the place and if I was accepting of metaphysical phenomena (which is a condition in me that comes and goes), I’d say that feeling was one of reverse déjà vu (I’ll be here again). And so, here I am.

The 2014 Inland Northwest Permaculture Guild's 2014 Convergence at Heartsong.

The 2014 Inland Northwest Permaculture Guild’s 2014 Convergence at Heartsong.

I’ve joined the community as live-in caretaker. It all came about as a kind of spin-off from my involvement in helping organize the Inland Northwest Permaculture Guild’s 2014 Convergence which took place here back in September. The Heartsong Families had decided they wanted a live-in caretaker and since they knew that I am pretty good at getting word out about such things to a wide audience, they asked me if I would spread the word about this job opportunity, so I said “sure.” Thinking about it for a day or two, I said to myself “maybe I should apply for this.”

So why would I, securely ensconced at my homestead at Tolstoy Farm, leave that to become a caretaker somewhere else? Primarily, the water shortage at my Tolstoy homestead, which has been a perennial issue since moving there in 1990 and despite the sinking of two wells, was only getting worse. My garden withered and died from lack of water last summer with the well taking more than a week to fill my small 1500 gallon tank. For someone like me who doesn’t just want to garden, but needs to garden (to keep sane), it just wasn’t working.

In my new role as caretaker I am happy to apply my skills in permaculture design, gardening, building, goatherding, cheese-making (once kidding season comes and goes), event coordinating, photography, group dynamics and community building… and hopefully more regularly, blogging. I am looking forward to reviving the newly enlarged garden here and growing crops with adequate water for a change. Even at the Pine Meadow farm where we had a half-acre garden, I lived with a water shortage. I am putting together, with input from the Families, a nice big seed order to augment the many seeds I brought with me and a garden plan that I’m finding really inspiring.

I am also looking forward to beginning to establish an extensive Food Forest here. The existing orchard and the fruit trees that are interspersed around the property are healthy and productive. There’s an abundance of sub-soil moisture on the land that allow trees and shrubs to grow well un-irrigated once they’re established and plans call for establishing new plantings of fruit, nuts, berries, fodder hedges and associated guilds which will be an exciting project that could take up a good portion of the up-coming decade.

Other plans for the near future include building another greenhouse, a composting outhouse, a goat shelter and goat “tractor,” an outdoor kitchen, refurbishing a small yurt on the property that’s used as guest accommodations, keeping up the existing buildings… There’s no shortage at all of ways to be creative and engaged here.

And it looks like hosting periodic events here related to permaculture and community-building, like last September’s Convergence, will be an on-going feature. In fact, word just in is that the First Spokane Herbal Fair and a two-week, residential Permaculture Design Course taught by Michael “Skeeter” Pilarski will be happening here in May and June. I had a blast at the Pine Meadow Farm Center hosting groups who were eager to learn agrarian and simple living skills and everyone remembers fondly the warm feelings of closer community we shared at the INPG Convergence last fall. I am looking forward to helping to facilitate future successful similar events here at Heartsong.

And, last but not least, in response to several folks at the 2014 Convergence expressing their desire to come out to Heartsong and volunteer their time and skills working alongside me improving and beautifying this great community resource– and getting the garden and food forests going strong– I will be having regular work parties here every Tuesday and Thursday starting March 3rd. We’ll start mornings at 9am or so. Folks will need to bring food and drink to eat and/or share, dress for work and being outdoors (we’ll not be using any indoor facilities except the bathroom building, nor will there be any overnight stays). If you’re interested, drop me an email at farmrchrys@gmail.com. I’ll eventually set up an email listserve made up of folks who are taking part so folks know what work to expect to be doing and so that I can know who to expect to come on any given work day. Please no showing up without contacting me prior.

We will also be hosting, every now and again, work parties on the weekends. The first one of these will be on Sunday, March 8. These will definitely include potluck lunches. Again, please contact me at your soonest opportunity to let me know you will be coming. Drop me an email at farmrchrys@gmail.com.

This is a big adventure for all of us here at Heartsong and everyone for whom this magical little power spot holds a charm. Heartsong is a private home owned by some very generous and community-minded families who recognize the value of this space as a retreat and learning center benefiting the community and the planet. Together we can create a unique and sumptuous permaculture sanctuary. Let’s get started!

TOLSTOY FARM, DAMAGED BY FLOODS, IS REACHING OUT FOR HELP

Diane (Tolstoy Farmer and long-time manager of the Spokane Farmers' Market) stands in the deep gully that used to be the main driveway to the community

Diane (Tolstoy Farmer and long-time manager of the Spokane Farmers’ Market) stands in the deep gully that used to be the main driveway to the community

Tolstoy Farm, founded in 1963, is an intentional community situated in a scenic canyon near Davenport, WA. It’s the oldest, still extant, non-religious intentional community in the U.S. About 30 folks reside on the communally-owned land. It is also home to a 5-acre organic market farm known to some as Eden Gardens and to others as Tolstoy Farms. The farm, which has existed for most of the community’s 50-year history, is a collectively-managed organic produce farm growing a vast diversity of crops. It is the anchor organic produce vendor at the thriving Spokane Farmers’ Market (a market that farmers from Tolstoy were instrumental in establishing in 1998). Tolstoy Farms operates a coveted CSA program for about 60 customers (and still have shares available for 2014). CSA customers and farmers’ market regulars know how dedicated the Tolstoy farmers are to organic ethics and methods. They know they will always get the finest quality produce and knowledgeable, friendly service from the Tolstoy farmers.

This year, however, is going to be one of the most difficult in the history of Tolstoy Farm. Earlier this year, on Feb. 12th and February 26th, both the community of residents and the farm at Tolstoy suffered severe damage from two back-to-back major floods. Caused by a “perfect storm” combination of hard, frozen ground (not allowing run-off to soak in), warm temperatures with rapid snow melt and a record 24 hour rain event, creeks overflowed, houses were flooded, water lines washed away and four community bridges were destroyed. On top of that, the main driveway to the community was gouged out by flood waters to a depth of four feet in places making it impassable. Most devastating of all, one of the creeks that used to supply water to several houses and irrigation to the farm was rerouted by the flood. It now disappears into the ground leaving those houses without their water supply and causing the farm to purchase and install 800 additional feet of expensive, four-inch aluminum irrigation pipe in order to access the above-ground portion of the creek so that farming can commence.

I live and farm at Tolstoy, but my homestead is half-way up the canyon side so I was spared damage from the floods. I’m reaching out on behalf of my fellow communitarians who could really use some support.

Tolstoy Farm has touched the lives of thousands of people over the years whether they were visitors to the community who came away with a fresh perspective of how society could be organized in more egalitarian manner or if they were customers at the farmers’ market stand in Spokane.

Now, Tolstoy Farm needs some help from the greater community to bounce back from the hit they took earlier this year with the floods. Please visit their web page and find out how you can contribute, either by joining a work party or contributing financially. This is a time to join together to support a community in need. Please visit the Tolstoy Farm Flood Recovery Fund page at:

http://www.tolstoyfarms.org/flood-recovery

There is a PayPal button on this page to make donating fast and easy.

New Law in Washington State Expands Farm Internship Pilot Program

A new law in Washington State, Establishing a Farm Internship Program (FIP), introduced as bill SB 5123 to the Washington State legislature in 2013, was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee on March 28, 2014.

The law, which by all practical matters extends and expands a pilot program that had been in existence in Skagit and San Juan counties during 2010 and 2011, sets up a new, three-year pilot program to allow small farms in sixteen WA counties to take on interns, paid or unpaid. These interns will perform farm work, benefit from a structured educational program approved by the Washington State Dept. of Labor and Industries and administered by the farmer and receive Workers’ Compensation coverage with premiums paid by the farm. The new version revives the former pilot program, refines it, and extends it to King, Whatcom, Kitsap, Pierce, Jefferson, Spokane, Yakima, Chelan, Grant, Island, Snohomish, Kittitas, Lincoln, and Thurston counties (the full text of the new law can be viewed HERE).

The new pilot program has an effective date of June 12, 2014. The Employment Standards Program of Labor & Industries is currently in the process of building an implementation plan. A new Industrial Relations Agent (IRA) will be hired to assist with program implementation. The target hire date for the IRA is June 1, 2014.

Once the IRA is hired, s/he will begin reviewing and updating internship program forms, letters, etc., with an anticipated completion date of June 15, 2014. A stakeholder contact list is expected to be developed by June 1, 2014, and beginning the week of June 16, draft materials will be sent out for stakeholder review. L&I will be working with stakeholders and farm organizations to coordinate the outreach efforts.

Tisa Soeteber will be the Employment Standards point of contact for the pilot program. Her information is provided below. Please contact Tisa directly with any requests, questions, etc.

Tisa Soeteber
Industrial Relations Agent
(360) 902-4537
zepq235@LNI.wa.gov

The small farm economy in Washington is experiencing growth and with that comes a higher demand for trained farmworkers, many of whom will go on to become farm managers and farm owners. The Farm Internship Pilot Program will expand opportunities for on-the-job training for beginning farmers and farmworkers. The new law requires that the farms provide an educational component for farm interns in order to qualify for enrollment in the program. The educational component requirement is relatively simple for the small farm to comply with. The bill stipulates that each participating small farm “provides a curriculum of learning modules and supervised participation in farm work activities designed to teach farm interns about farming practices and farm enterprises[,] is based on the bona fide curriculum of an educational or vocational institution and is reasonably designed to provide the intern with vocational knowledge and skills about farming practices and enterprises.” Such curricula are available on-line and can be modified by each farm to fit its circumstances. It is also likely that that some agencies and organizations will make curricula that are specially tailored to FIP available to participating farmers. The bill calls for farm organizations and agencies such as WSU Extension, Tilth Producers of Washington, the Farm Bureau and others to offer assistance to participating small farms in fulfilling this and other aspects of their farm internship offerings.

An official assessment of the first pilot project was submitted to the legislature in 2011. Although participation in the program was low (six farms participating, nine interns enrolled), the report concluded “both the farms and interns are reporting high levels of satisfaction with this project. Their desire is to continue providing internships that are “sanctioned” instead of questionably legal [“flying under the radar”]. The farms and interns especially value the availability of worker’s compensation for interns available through the FIP project. Farmers have reported that the quantity and quality of the educational component of their internships has increased as a result of participating in the project. All of the enrolled farmers said that they would recommend the program to other farmers. Interns have reported high praise for the educational component of their internships.”

Traditionally, many small farms have relied on “informal employment” of interns or apprentices. Whether such arrangements are legal or not depends on the interpretation of unpaid internship criteria published by the WA Department of Labor & Industries (L& I) which are, in turn, based on the U. S. Department of Labor Fair Labor Standards Act (http://www.lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/files/UnpaidInternshipsFactSheet.pdf).

The bill does not prohibit interns from being paid, that is left up to each farm to work out, but farms would not bound by minimum wage laws in regards to farm interns. The Interns would sign an agreement with the farm that establishes compensation, if any. Payment can be made in the form of stipends, room and board, combination of same, etc. Even if the intern is un-paid, the bill makes sure it is not simply free labor. The internship will need to be an educational experience based upon an approved curriculum. The intern will be receiving value in exchange for the time put in on the farm and the farmer will incur cost in fulfilling the educational and reporting obligations of the program as well as paying Workers’ Compensation insurance premiums to the state.

As the number of jobs on small farms grows the potential for farms to run afoul of labor laws increases. A farm’s viability comes under threat if it becomes embroiled in costly and time-consuming compliance and enforcement disputes with L& I. A small farm lacks sustainability if it allows risky employment practices and unnecessary exposure to legal entanglements to weaken its “economic viability”, which is one of the pillars of “sustainable agriculture.”

Another pillar of sustainable agriculture is “social responsibility.” One of the conditions that gave rise to a social responsibility aspect in sustainable agriculture was the long history of worker exploitation in agriculture. While it is true that many informal employment arrangements on small farms are on friendly terms, the protection that legal workers enjoy in terms of on-the-job injuries or financial security does not exist.

Under the new law, an intern on a small farm is not allowed to remain an intern indefinitely; that not only violates the tenant that unpaid interns cannot displace wage-earning workers (L & I criteria), but it disrespects decades of hard-fought, worker-led struggles to impose minimum wage protections upon labor exploiters of the past. Minimum wage laws exist to protect the rights of workers to receive fair compensation.*

Part of creating a revitalized, sustainable local food system, besides improving training for farmers and farmworkers, is increasing their security and stability by regularizing under-paid and un-paid internships – a tradition that dates back ages. The Farm Internship Pilot Program is an experimental step in that direction. Let’s encourage farmers to utilize its provisions so that we can assess its workability and possibly create a permanent, state-wide farm internship program.

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* There are three exemptions to the state minimum wage for agricultural workers. They only apply if all three of the following requirements are met: 1. Workers are employed as hand-harvest laborers who are paid piece rate; and 2. They commute daily from their permanent residence to the farm; and 3. They were employed in agriculture less than 13 weeks during the preceding calendar year. (Source: http://agr.wa.gov/Marketing/SmallFarm/DOCS/5-LaborOnTheFarm.pdf)