[permaculture] Fwd: [SANET-MG] Act TODAY! Don't Wait! Voice your support for SB 5123, establishing a farm internship program in WA

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lflj at bellsouth.net
Wed Apr 24 12:44:15 EDT 2013

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [SANET-MG] Act TODAY! Don't Wait! Voice your support for SB 
5123, establishing a farm internship program in WA
Date: Wed, 24 Apr 2013 07:36:02 -0700
From: Chrys Ostrander <farmrchrys at GMAIL.COM>

*Voice your support TODAY for SB 5123, establishing a farm internship
program. This bill will help grow new farmers from the ground up.

Please! Call your WA State Representative and also Speaker Frank Chopp and
Rep. Pat Sullivan (Majority Leader).*

*DON'T WAIT!* There's not much time because the legislative session is
about to end, but the bill is finished and has already been approved for a
vote once. Your help is needed to convince the legislature that this bill
is important and deserves a vote. Please ask legislators to pull the bill
from the Rules Committee and pass it off to the floor of the House for a

Here's the information. *At this late date, it's best to CALL ON THE PHONE*:

Find Your Legislator. Use this link to get the contact info for your WA
State Representative:

Rep. Frank Chopp, Speaker of the House
(360) 786-7920

Rep. Pat Sullivan, Majority Leader
(360) 786-7858


SB 5123 was introduced in the 2013 Washington Legislature to set up a pilot
program to allow small farms in sixteen WA counties to take on interns,
paid or unpaid, who would perform farm work, benefit from a structured
educational program administered by the farmer and receive Workers'
Compensation coverage.

The small farm economy in Washington is experiencing growth and with that
comes a higher demand for trained farmworkers. The internship pilot program
that would be established by SB 5123 would improve on-the-job training for
beginning farmers and farmworkers by requiring that the farms provide an
educational component for farm interns. The educational component
requirement is relatively simple for the small farm to comply with. The
bill proposes 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
... [that is] 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 readily available on-line and can be
modified by each farm to fit its circumstances. 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

*More Info:*

The bill is similar to a pilot program that had been in existence in Skagit
and San Juan counties during 2010 and 2011 but has since expired. The new
version would revive the pilot program and extend it to King, Whatcom,
Kitsap, Pierce, Jefferson, Spokane, Yakima, Chelan, Grant, Island,
Snohomish, Kittitas, Lincoln, and Thurston counties. An attempt was made in
the 2012 legislative session to extend the pilot program to these counties
and received strong support in the legislature but died in committee.

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) and are based on the U. S.
Department of Labor Fair Labor Standards Act (
As the number of jobs on small farms grows, the potential for a farm 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 reasons 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, there doesn't
exist the protection that legal workers enjoy in terms of on-the-job
injuries or financial security.  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 un-paid internships - a tradition
that dates back ages. Senate Bill 5123 is an experimental step in that
direction. Let's urge the legislature to pass this bill so that we can
assess its workability.


*Below, criticisms of the bill are paraphrased and responded to:*

Criticisms: Interns should be employees, and they should be paid. Anybody
can learn how to pick carrots or beets in ten minutes; after that it is NOT
an educational experience.  It is unpaid labor. If a farm relies on unpaid
labor to survive, then it is not a sustainable operation.


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. If anyone would like to see
an example of the type of curriculum that this pilot program would be
expecting from its farmer participants, I invite you to take a look at an
example from the Cultivating Success program at the following link (please
take careful note of the licensing agreement):

An important thing that should be understood about SB 5123 is that the bill
proposes a temporary pilot program that expires at the end of 2017. It is
an experiment. It does not set up a permanent program. What it does do is
modify and extend a very limited, earlier experiment that was reported by
program participants-- by both producers and, it is important to point out,
the interns themselves-- to have been beneficial. If the outcomes of this
larger scale experiment were to be as positive as the first pilot program
(the current bill calls for another detailed study of the pilot program to
be conducted by L & I), then the citizens of Washington State could have a
further discussion as to whether the program should be made permanent
through subsequent legislation. I believe the pilot program should be
afforded an opportunity to be tried with full recognition of the concerns
that have been voiced.

While there is room for a farm to develop its own curriculum (approval of
which would be required by L & I) and that curriculum could be of a more
limited scope than the example given, it is important to note that the bill
calls for the curriculum to encompass "learning modules and supervised
participation in farm work activities designed to teach farm interns about
farming practices and farm enterprises; ... [that is] 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."

Any small farmer would take offense at the notion that "anybody can learn
how to pick carrots or beets in ten minutes; after that it is NOT an
educational experience." First of all, to pick carrots and beets well takes
far longer than ten minutes to teach (if the farmer has quality standards
s/he wishes to maintain). Furthermore, providing a way for small farms to
get un-paid menial labor is not the intent of the bill and a farm doing so
would be in violation of the law. The intent is that the interns learn the
full context within which the farm produces those carrots and beets-- How
are the varieties chosen? From what sources are the seeds procured? What
are the planting dates? How do you manage succession planting or
inter-planting schemes? What are the fertility requirements? How is the
seed bed prepared? What equipment is used to plant the seed? How is it
maintained? How is the irrigation managed? Where do the crops fit into the
crop rotation plan? How are weeds and insect pests managed? What
considerations must be taken into account to produce certified organic
carrots and beets? How do you handle the crops post-harvest to ensure
quality and food safety? What determines how and where the produce is
marketed? These questions illustrate a tiny fraction of what farmers must
know and practice to be successful. This knowledge is what is intended to
be imparted to the interns who would participate in this pilot program if
passed. There are few places where someone interested in learning the art
of small-scale farming can absorb the full context of this knowledge
reservoir like they can by working on a farm side-by-side with a farmer
mentor. The intent of the bill is to foster the professional development of
a new generation of farmers to supply the paid labor force for a growing
sector of Washington's economy, namely, the small farm.

It's true that "if a farm relies on unpaid labor to survive, then it is not
a sustainable operation." This bill envisions a regulatory environment in
which the hosting of interns, paid (with the possibility of that pay being
less than minimum wage yet with Workers' Compensation insurance paid by the
farm) or unpaid, can become a regularized option for small farms. Passage
would not encourage or condone any farm "relying" on unpaid labor.

*Please contact your state Representatives to support SB 5123, the Farm
Internship Pilot Program.*

*Chrys Ostrander*
Executive Director and Farm Manager
Pine Meadow Farm Center
A Charitable and Educational Farm
10425 S. Andrus Rd.
Cheney, WA 99004
(509) 448-3066
Cell: (509) 217-2687
chrys at pinemeadowfarm.org
*Sow Seeds, Grow Minds, Feed Community*
Pine Meadow Farm Center is a sponsored project of Cascade Harvest

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