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Who will grow your food in 2020?
 

By California State Grange Website (5/2011)

  JUNE 3, 2011 --

The average age of the American farmer is 55, and rising.  It is obvious that unless we want to be as dependent on other countries for our food as we are for our oil, we must replace these aging farmers.  The California State Grange, seeking to preserve American agriculture and protect California farmers, is asking our Legislature to review current labor law and preserve the practice of agricultural internships and volunteers.

In the past, families trained family members to take over the family farm, providing them with the practical knowledge to make the book-learned skills work. Today, our culture is changing. Fewer young people are remaining on the farm, be it economics or simply social preference. On-the-job training (OJT) gained from a childhood on the farm is being lost. As the old song asks, “How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?” 

One answer to this question is to train a new crop of farmers though an OJT program called an internship. Young people interested in farming do not have family members who can provide the experience needed, and have found volunteering or interning on small, family farms an ideal way to try out their interest while learning important skills.  Farmers who take on volunteers and interns contribute in many ways to the intern’s education. With the profit margin so close on most farming operations, these farmers could not take on “hired” hands, so in return for the training, they benefit from the interns work, a true win-win arrangement.

Back in 1946, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Anderson v. Mt. Clements Pottery Co. that work performed by interns are properly included as working time under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Now, 60 years later, the State of California has begun a campaign of enforcement aimed at forcing farmers hosting volunteer interns to comply in all particulars, such as paying minimum wage and paying payroll taxes. And the State gets a hefty fine from farmers they find out of compliance, farmers who are struggling just to survive.

The California State Grange is asking the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement to cease investigation and prosecution of farmers hosting interns and volunteers, unless pursuant to a complaint. Further, the Grange is petitioning the State Legislature to begin hearings to review California Labor Law aimed at accommodating the practice of volunteering and interning on small farms. Further, they are seeking specific exclusion from existing law for farms grossing under $100,000 annually who wish to host volunteers and interns.

Bob McFarland, President of the California State Grange, said, “These interns work voluntarily on farms to learn a valuable trade. They are not asking for compensation, why should the State?”

Peggy Price-Hartz of the Elk Grove, California Grange, asked, “If our farmers must pay wages to their interns, shouldn’t the County, State and Federal Pages and interns also be wage earners?” 

 
 
 
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