Hosting an intern (apprentice) is a time honored tradition that can benefit both the intern and the farmer. Interns are committed to learning all they can about sustainable agriculture and have devoted weeks of their life to learn and gain experience, often at considerable financial sacrifice. Host farmers should respect their commitment; a host farmer should be prepared to spend considerable time with interns providing adequate instruction, discussing farming methods, and constructing learning opportunities. While interns will help out on the farm, hosting interns should not be used primarily as a source of cheap labor. A farmer needs to do far more than simply explain and demonstrate a certain task (as one would do for an ordinary employee). Farmers need to also explain why this activity needs to be done (at all, or at this time), what other methods are possible to get the same goals accomplished, why at your farm you do it the way you do, etc. Whenever possible, a farmers should discuss with interns the broader health, environmental, and economic implications of his/her farm’s particular practices: weed control methods, soil fertility plan, grazing plan, crop rotation plan, marketing methods, and the like. Farmers should encourage questions, both specific and general, from the intern and be extremely receptive to questions asked.
It is strongly suggested that, at the beginning of the internship, farmers ask interns to make a list of what they want to learn by the end of the internship experience. Farmers should also make a list of what they think they can best teach. After reviewing each other’s lists, farmers and interns should work together to make a plan to realize as many of the intern’s goals as possible. As a farmer, you need to be honest about where your expertise is not able to meet your intern’s expectations. Interns can be flexible and modify their goals to meet the opportunity at hand. However, do consider arranging other experiences to enrich your intern’s learning (and possibly your own!) such as mutual reading and discussion of a book, article, or chapter. Consider sending your intern to agricultural workshops offered during the internship, or on a "field trip" to a neighboring farm for a day or two for the intern to learn what you cannot teach, and then discussing this afterwards.
2. Remuneration and Logistics:
Most host farmers provide room and at least partial board for interns who are working full time. However, in recent years farmers within commuting distances of urban areas have successfully offered full or part-time internships without on-farm housing. Either way, most farmers offer modest stipends on an hourly, weekly, or monthly basis. Check your farm's liability insurance policy to ensure that you are properly prepared to host a live-in intern. IMPORTANT: intern stipends, if offered, are taxable just like earned wages. Ohio’s state law mandates that interns, whether full or part-time, be covered by workers compensation insurance just like regular farm employees. Under rare circumstances, minimum wage laws may also apply. Check with your state labor relations office.
Be as clear as possible in your farmer application about what you are offering in terms of stipend, room, board, benefits, etc. Even if there is room for negotiation, it’s best to state a base-line offer (for a candidate with minimal experience) as clearly as possible in your application materials. interns without any prior experience may be uncomfortable about negotiating, and may shy away from an opportunity where too much is "negotiable."
3. Screening, Interviewing, and Accepting an Intern:
Farmers should periodically review the list of applicants on the OEFFA website and make efforts to contact intern applicants who appear to be a good match for your needs and type of offering. (Save the link you are sent; you cannot access the apprentice application pages from the public OEFFA website.) If at all possible, talk to the intern candidate on the phone once, and encourage him or her to visit the farm for an extended interview before committing. The OEFFA conference in March can also be a good opportunity to interview potential interns.
During the interview and decision making process, it is sometimes difficult to think of all the situations that might come up during an internship, especially if this is the first time you are hosting an intern. The following ideas may help you fill out your farmer application as well as guide you in the interviewing process. In your interviews, be sure to clarify mutual expectations and ground rules in regard to the following:
- How many hours of work are expected in a typical day? Week? Month?
- Amount of time off? Regular "off" hours during the day or week?
- How regular/irregular and flexible/inflexible is the work schedule? Which times/days/hours is work almost always expected? Which times/days/hours are more open to scheduling of another part-time job, doctor’s appointments, recreational opportunities, social events, visits by friends and relatives?
- Seasonal activities which may affect time off, such as lambing, haying, etc.
- Usual quitting and rising times, breaks during the day, etc.
- What does the intern want to learn from this experience? (Ask the intern to make a detailed list, at or before the interview, or no later than the first week of the experience.)
- What skills and knowledge are you, the farmer, best able to teach on your farm? (The farmer should make a detailed list and share this with the intern. intern and farmer should compare lists and discuss these either before making an agreement or no later than the first week of the experience.)
- What books, magazines, or on-line resources on sustainable agriculture are available for interns for reading and discussion during non-work hours? Will there be regularly scheduled reading, discussion or other educational times during the week?
- What other resources (field trips to other farms, retail or wholesale businesses or markets, seminars or workshops etc.) can be arranged to meet the educational goals of the intern? Transportation to these?
Compensation and Record-Keeping
- Is an hourly, weekly or monthly stipend being offered? Are state, local and federal tax withholding regulations being followed? How often or at what intervals will payment be made?
- Will the intern be reimbursed for gas or expenses for commuting to the farm, making deliveries, running farm errands, etc. in his/her own vehicle?
- Is workers' compensation insurance provided? (This is mandatory under Ohio law, and a certificate of coverage needs to be posted in a visible place on the farm.)
- Insurance and record- keeping: A system (such as a log book) needs to be set up where the intern can record his/her "on-duty" work hours on a daily basis. This is very important to maintain a clear distinction between work hours covered by workers compensation and off-duty hours (which are not so covered). Without this log, a workers compensation claim might be denied, even if coverage payments have been made. Check your homeowner’s liability insurance to make sure intern or visitor injuries which are not work-related will be covered. An hours log can also serve as a basis for stipend payment. The system should also allow for proper recording of any intern-occurred expenses for which the farmer would reimburse the intern.
Workings of the Farm
- Will an intern work with livestock? Does he/she have any philosophical, ethical, health and safety concerns about that?
- Expectations of interns during time off or in case of the absence of the farmer (monitoring livestock or greenhouse, etc.)
- Private family times or space and level of intern involvement.
- Work clothing and equipment needs (boots, rain gear, etc.)
- Teaching techniques and farming philosophies. Is there a good match between intern and farmer here?
- (For live-in interns.) Are intern living quarters safe, healthy, reasonably private and comfortable? Are the quarters reasonably temperature controlled? (Air conditioning? Heat? Fans?)Are interns expected to share a bedroom with another intern? (Do not expect interns to share a bedroom with other members of your own family, but they do not need their own bathroom.)
- Other available accommodations in the house or on the farm for relaxing, recreation, storage of possessions or equipment. Which areas of the farmer’s house can the intern freely use? Bathroom facilities?
- Are either the host or intern vegetarian? Vegan?
- Cooking and clean up responsibilities?
- Meal and cooking arrangements, food purchasing, special dietary needs. What meals are offered by the farmer? Are interns expected to prepare some meals on their own? If so, do they have designated food storage areas, kitchen privileges? Who shops and pays for this food?
- Routine house cleaning - to what extent is intern help expected? Standards of cleanliness expected for intern’s own quarters? Shared bathrooms?
- Bedding and towels -Who provides? Who changes and cleans?
- Privacy issues for all parties involved. Noise?
- Intern use of host property- telephone, stereos, computers, musical instruments, television, car, etc. (Note: Farmers who have computers may need to allow interns living on the farm some time to use their computers for internet access to check e-mail, etc. and should establish any rules or time restrictions for this. What about long-distance calls?)
- Is childcare an issue?
- Does the intern have (or need) a car? Is it insured? Where to park it? Does he/she have access to the farmer’s vehicle either for personal or farm-related use?
- Chronic health problems which may affect work performance.
- Smoking, drug and alcohol issues.
- Health insurance.
- Phobias, fantasies, pet peeves and personal quirks. Make and share a list of yours, and ask the intern to do the same.
- Visitation of friends, during the day or overnight. Any restrictions or requests? What sleeping arrangements are available and/or acceptable for overnight guests?
- Does the intern have pets? Are they permitted?
Go over this checklist at your on-farm interview or no later than the beginning of the internship to make sure a strong agreement has been reached between you and your intern. Create an atmosphere of easy communication so that problems or misunderstandings can be discussed and dealt with quickly and amicably. Don’t allow tensions to simmer and build! Seek out feedback often and try to react constructively, without defensiveness, to complaints or criticism received.