Farming Internships: Vital or Illegal? The Answer is Both

From the TriplePundit:

By Dayna Burtness

“I never knew that I had such a deep desire to break the law.

In fact, it’s my dream. Sometime in the next couple of years, I want to start the Twin Cities’ first rooftop farm.  Between rows of raised beds full of heirloom tomatoes and herbs, I want to watch my farm interns learn the joys of getting their hands dirty and planting seeds.  I want school kids to listen to the buzz of my rooftop beehives and help out by picking their own cucumbers.  I want retired engineers to collaborate with me to design a hydroponics system that makes use of all the vertical space and sunshine of a warm, south-facing wall.

Rather, I wanted to do all these things right up until I attended workshop at the EcoFarm Conference last week in California entitled “Are Internships Illegal?”  I was shocked to learn that the answer is yes, most of the time, as are volunteers on for-profit farms.  This answer blew my mind for several reasons.  First, farms offering internships are everywhere, in practically every state.  Second, internships are how all of the young farmers I know got started in the field.  Third, for better or worse, low-paid farm interns and volunteers are a huge part of why many small farms can stay in the black. As a Fellow for Bon Appetit Management Company, I’ve traveled to enough small farms in the Midwest to see these three trends repeated over and over again, all of which would be disrupted if farmers are afraid to hire interns.

But why? Why can’t a farm take on interns when big companies routinely have college students answer phones and make coffee runs? Why can’t school kids help pick potatoes to learn about their food? A panel of two small-scale farmers (both of whom had been burned badly by this issue) and a law professor explained the situation to a standing-room-only crowd….”

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