Washington Farm Intern Bill Hearing
I’m not sure who to blame for my historic lack of interest in politics or public policy. I’m loathe to admit that until (very) recently I contributed to the dismal statistics of “young apathetics.” Like many, the 2008 election piqued my interest, but the effect was dampened by distance and humidity — watching events unfold from rural Cambodia just wasn’t the same as dancing in the streets in the Mission in SF.
But now, I’m starting to understand and really care. I’ve seen small policy take shape first-hand and it’s exciting. And I’m starting to see how much policy matters in the issues that move me.
While on the farm, Peter and Susan invited me to come along to a meeting of the Agricultural Resources Committee — a group which advised the County government on agricultural policy. The ARC was discussing farm intern policy in response to a situation in which the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) began to audit local farm’s internship practices. The state’s labor law does not currently recognize farm internships as a valid worker category unless interns are registered students at a recognized educational institution.
Thanks to work by local farmers and activists, that first conversation eventually developed into a bill sponsored by Senator Kevin Ranker, a major small farm advocate in the state. The bill will establish principles for small farm internships in the state, and will allow farms to offer internships at less than the minimum wage, given specific requirements including an internship agreement signed by the farmer and the intern which includes some sort of record of the educational/vocational component of the arrangement.
The law will make it possible for small farms to continue to hire and train a new generation of young farmers without undue financial burden. This is not meant as a way for farms to dodge the law or gain unfair advantage, but rather as a way for them to provide a much-demanded public service of educating young would-be farmers.
Now, the bill’s having its public hearing:
“Senator Ranker’s SB 6349, establishing a farm internship program, has been scheduled for public hearing before the Labor Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee on January 28th at 3:30 pm. The Senator hopes that he has several farmers and interns at the hearing. The latter will be critical in order for the bill to pass. Please pass this along to stakeholders and those who are willing to provide testimony during the public hearing.”
The tool stand in Synergy Farm’s barn
I can’t make it to Seattle, but I did write a letter of support:
Dear Senator Kohl-Welles,
I am writing in support of Washington State Senate Bill 6349, the proposed law on farm interns. As a farm intern in the San Juan Islands, I participated in the early stages of development of the bill within the San Juan County Agricultural Resources Committee and am very excited to see it move forward in the Washington state legislature.
From April to September of 2009, I apprenticed on Synergy Farm on San Juan Island with Peter and Susan Corning. During my six months at Synergy, I gained hands-on experience and knowledge about sustainable farming, plant cultivation, and the business of running a small farm.
I came to my interest in agriculture through work in Cambodia, and the experience at Synergy has been an invaluable step in my career and personal development. Now I plan to return to graduate school to study sustainable business, with an emphasis on developing local economies and food systems. I would eventually like to run my own farm and value-added food business, very likely in Washington State. The season I spent at Synergy laid a strong foundation to pursue these goals and strengthened my desire to farm in the region.
This bill would make it possible for small farms like Synergy to continue to offer hands-on technical training for a future generation of farmers and I hope you support it in the upcoming hearing.