Farm Internship Program Increases Farm Profitability and Quality of Life
The 16-acre Suncrest Gardens produces vegetables sold through community supported agriculture (CSA) subscriptions, raspberries, and a diversified line of homemade products including jams, handcrafted soaps, and wood-fired pizza. Owner Heather Secrist sought seasonal, low-cost labor to help with farmwork to increase production and free up time needed for other business activities, but she found hiring difficult due to cost and lack of worker availability.
Secrist explored developing a farm internship program in west central Wisconsin/southeastern Minnesota to train and connect interns with area farmers, similar to the current Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training program in southern Wisconsin/northern Illinois.
Secrist’s goals were to increase farm profitability, the number of sustainable practices used, and management efficiency in the off season.
Secrist used gross income data to compare production years. The year before the grant project began, one intermittent intern assisted on the farm. In 2007, two full-time interns committed, and gross income jumped $12,724. In 2008, one full-time intern and one CSA member fulfilled labor needs, and gross income increased $12,691 over the previous year. Secrist noted labor was only one factor contributing to the growth.
A qualitative scale, with a maximum score of 50, was used to measure how the farm’s sustainable practices were changing. In 2004, 14 was scored; 2005, 15; 2006, 19; and 2007 and 2008, 34. The jump of the final two years correlated with more intern labor.
Secrist used off-season hours to identify farm priorities and schedule workers best matched to those needs. She recorded the number of intern hours worked over two growing seasons. In 2007, 1,048 hours were logged and in 2008, 984. Secrist plans to schedule an average of 1,000 hours of intern labor for each season.
For all the issues Secrist looked at, positive changes occurred. She found available, low cost seasonal labor; increased farm income and sustainable practices; improved quality of life; and raised the satisfaction of interns. The program Secrist created connects interns with local farms and provides a network through which future sustainable farmers are educated.
As a way to reach potential interns and educate customers about Suncrest Gardens, an informational website — www.suncrestgardensfarms.com — was created by Secrist. She also participates in meetings to grow local awareness and tries to broaden interns’ knowledge about sustainable farming.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) FNC06-633, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Meeting Seasonal Labor Demands by Integrating a Farm Internship Program .
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This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.