2010 will be another significant expansion for us, and we’ll be looking to hire some help. Unfortunately, we don’t think our budget can accommodate cash wages, even at minimum wage. We’re not keen on internships or volunteer labor, because both IRS and labor laws are pretty strict on the proper ways to do these. While many small farms either ignore these laws or remain blissfully ignorant of them, we refuse to put the farm in jeopardy by playing fast and loose with the law, however odd (same reason we don’t sell cheese). We also want a setup that FEELS like a job, such that those involved take it seriously, and so we don’t abuse them.
We do have a potential option to pursue. IRS rules allow farms to compensate workers with non-cash wages consisting of farm products, and such wages are not subject to all the withholding that creates so much paperwork headache. The worker is still responsible for paying income tax on the cash equivalent value of the wages as income, but it saves hassle on both ends. Also, it allows us to pay in currency we do have on hand.
So here’s our proposed model. We would like to hire 3 or 4 part-time people, each for about 4 hours a week. At minimum wage, that equals about the cash value of a typical full CSA share. So our employees would be spending one morning or afternoon per week on a regular schedule working on the farm in exchange for pay in the form of truly farm-fresh produce.
We don’t want any given person to work more than four hours, because then the produce-pay becomes more than they can likely use, and we would have to pay them in other ways. Plus this keeps us from being too reliant on one person and it keeps any one person from getting too bored with repetitive tasks. Overall, more people will have the opportunity to come out and enjoy some weekly farm work.
The work days would primarily be focused on weekdays; we don’t really need help on weekends. We definitely would like to find one or two people who can work on Friday (in preparation for market). Other days are fairly flexible. We anticipate needing help as early as April or May, and the work arrangement could extend into October or November. (We wouldn’t necessarily rule out someone on an academic schedule, though.)
Paying in produce might have some kinks that we have to work out, especially in terms of assigning value to items. We often have an abundance of “seconds”: produce items that aren’t don’t meet the market standards of perfection but are nonetheless edible, nutritious, and delicious. (We eat largely seconds, so we should know.) Employees would certainly be encouraged to make as much use of seconds as possible, but with a reasonable balance of “firsts” and possibly some special items that we grow for ourselves but don’t normally sell. Of course, the employees would get plenty of choice on what to take any given week, creating more flexibility than many CSAs, and would also likely have the option to “save up” their pay to get larger amounts of produce in canning/freezing quantities if desired.
We’re curious if any readers have thoughts on this model. Are you interested? Know someone who would be? Think it’s crazy? Know of a legal or regulatory hurdle that we’ve missed that might throw a wrench into the whole thing? Post a comment or email us with feedback. We want this arrangement to be fair to all sides, as well as legal and practical.