Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA
In farming, volunteerism has a long history. “Back in the day” traditions were passed down this way, and there were no great economic consequences. Then internships became more organized, with the quid pro quo being trading labor for learning.
Not paying workers in the US is illegal, and farmers have been walking a fine line to stay on the right side of the law for some time, but we're hearing from farmers who are voicing other concerns. One has written about a farmer she knows who has a great knack for getting people to work for her for free. They make labels for her for free, they make signs for her for free, they work farmer’s market for free, they prep her products for free. Every single volunteer is doing a business critical task. And the farmer then sells her products for less since she is not paying for labor.
Another farmer points out the amount of state and federal funding available for training programs which, in essence, pays for labor on non- profit farms. The non-profits then turn around and sell produce grown with public money and compete with private business. These stipend interns or paid students give the non-profit (ostensibly a service organization) a competitive advantage over private farms. Basically, these
well-intended programs are biting the hands that feed us.
This raises the question we all should be giving careful consideration to: Is the new food system we are all striving to create sustainable, if the farms that it is made up of can’t stay in business without relying on unpaid labor?
Does volunteer and subsidized labor undermine the farming business?
Read Part 1 of this post by Wally Satzewich here.