It's a New Year and the beginning of new season of growing! The planning for each growing season often starts far before the beginning of the year, but this is the time of year when all the planning starts to take shape. Starting in November I review and compile all the notes I made on the previous season (often found on random scraps of paper and the back of old seed catelogues). December is generally a month where I do as little business work as possible because January is full of activity! So far this year, the crops have been chosen and plotted on the field map, the seeds have been ordered, and I am working on the planting schedule for both the greenhouse and the fields. We are also in the midst of hiring a part-time Farm Worker (more on that later), completing our 2017 sales and expenses projections, and soon will need to start compiling our annual renewal application of organic certification. And let's not forget about taxes: last year I didn't submit our tax information to our accountant until September (ha!) so my goal this year is to submit by the end of March. Compiling tax information is my most hated farm task, mostly because it involves endless entering of numbers in spreadsheets, which makes my head want to explode. Despite the vast number of spreadsheets involved in the planning of a farm season, it is one of my favourite seasons on the farm. Not weather-wise, mind you, but in terms of farm tasks. This time of year is full of potential: the crops look beautiful in my head and new share members are starting to purchase shares. By early March, new seeds will be sprouting in the greenhouse, getting ready to be planted outside in early May. And these will be the first delicious vegetables you receive in mid-June. It's almost awe inspiring how quickly the tiny seeds you see in my hand can grow into a vegetable that provides us fuel and nutrients. In this case, these seeds are destined to become kale.
As mentioned, we are currently hiring for a part-time Farm Worker. In previous years, we have hired interns but have decided to try a different approach this season. For those that aren't sure what the difference between an intern and a part-time employee is, I'll explain below. Each farm approaches these jobs differently but this is how we have defined them.
Intern positions are seen is educational positions, where the interns work on the farm in exchange for learning how to farm. While most of the learning is done 'on the job', we would spend 1 day per month doing more focused learning inside on aspects of the farm such as crop planning and finances/administration. Interns are not paid an hourly wage but instead receive a modest weekly stipend as a thank-you for their work. We also provide room and board to our interns, so they share our house and meals with our family. Many people are surprised to know that there isn't actually a minimum wage requirement for farm workers, which means that our interns (despite being paid less than minimum wage) qualified as employees in the eyes of the government and so we pay into EI, CPP, and WSIB the same as any other employer. Since formal education opportunities for those interested in organic farming are (nearly) non-existant, interning is an excellent way to gain valuable skills.
This year, we are hiring a part-time Farm Worker, rather than an intern. This person will work approximately 16 hours per week (compared to the 40+ hours worked by the interns) and will be paid minimum wage as well as receive a weekly vegetable share just like our share members. The farm worker will not live on the farm or eat meals with our family nor will there be a formal education component. We would love to pay more than minimum wage but we have to start somewhere that is feasible for us. This means it will cost us roughly the same to employ 1 part-time employee as it did to pay, house, and feed 1 full-time intern. I (Lorraine) will have to pickup the difference in the field work but there will be slightly less adminsitrative work related to providing education.
So why are we making this change? The primary reason is that as our kids get older, we have less space in our house to accommodate another adult. Many farms have a separate outbuilding that houses the interns, but this doesn't exist on our farm and building a new house for interns would be cost prohibitive for us. In previous years, some of our interns have chosen to live in a trailer we have on the property and use our house for meals, washrooms, laundry, etc. But the trailer has seen better days and needed replacing. A secondary reason is that I find that living 24-7 with my employees to be a challenge. We've always been lucky to have lovely, considerate interns who really have made great roommates. But I find I need more space from people after working with / supervising them each day. My highly introverted self likes my own space (this is Lorraine writing this, and not Rob, who definitely does not have these challenges :))! A third reason is that we planned, when starting the farm, to eventually be able to pay living wages to anyone working on the farm (including ourselves). While I'm not going to argue that minimum wage is a living wage, it is a step in the right direction for our farm.
I'd like to extend a big thank-you to those share members who have already reserved their share for 2017! For those that have not yet reserved, Early Bird pricing extends until February 15th and shares can be reserved on our website. Be sure to check out some great new options this year: home delivery in Guelph and Mount Forest as well as several new vegetable add-ons.
Happy Snow Shovelling to All!