About the Program
Thank you for considering listing your work opportunity on the Farm Link Montana site! We developed this resource because we were approached by farmers who were looking for a better way to find workers. Some of the challenges they were dealing with include:
- Getting too many emails from applicants who seemed to be copying-and-pasting the same information to 100 different farms and didn’t seem to have any particular interest in their farm
- Lacking a tool for dispute resolution and losing workers part-way through the season due to communication issues
- Feeling like not enough potential workers knew about the opportunities available in Montana and wanting to improve their workforce by making Montana a more desirable destination for workers
In response to this feedback, we interviewed staff at some of the best internship programs around the country. We heard from them that the host farms they work with see great benefits from participating in their programs because of a few key best practices that we have integrated into our program:
- Common Application Forms: Using a common application for every applicant means that the host farms get the same information from everyone and can evaluate every applicant fairly. We have developed a common application that will allow workers to select only up to 8 farms in which they’re interested, meaning that you get applicants who have really reviewed your farm listing. Note: if you list your position in many places, we encourage you to ask all of your applicants to apply through the Work Link program so that you can reap the benefits of this aspect of the program.
- Dispute Resolution: Having an unbiased, neutral partner organization who can offer dispute resolution takes pressure off of the host farms and can help to solve a problem before it gets to the point when the worker wants to leave. We are partnering with the Community Dispute Resolution Center (and have connections with other mediators around the state as well) to assist you in keeping your workers happy.
- National Prominence: Creating a statewide resource raises the profile of a state as a great, supportive environment for farm training. We will be advertising Farm Link Montana and our state’s farm training opportunities heavily on national listservs and with colleges and universities across the country, to ensure that Montana’s applicant pool becomes better and better.
There a couple ways in which our program has broken from national best practice. For one, we allow you to create a full listing on our site or create a brief listing with a direct link to your ATTRA listing so you don’t have to duplicate information. Second, it’s free! Although most other organizations charge fees from $50 – $1,500 to host farms and/or participants, while we have federal funding (currently allocated through 2017), this program will be offered to you free of charge. We hope you’ll join us!
Note: On the listings map, we only display work hosts who are actively seeking workers so if the map looks a bit sparse over the summer, please check back late summer/fall to see more Montana listings!
The Listing Process
To create a listing:
- Review the information on this page to build your understanding of the opportunities and challenges of hosting a worker and to ensure your listing includes all of the important info. You may also want to read through the Info for Workers page to learn about what we’re asking for from the applicants.
- Create a Farm Link account and fill out the farm host application. Please complete the application as thoroughly and thoughtfully as you can. The application will allow you to save your work and come back to finish it at a later time, so feel free to take your time before submitting your application.
- The application will allow you to answer a few brief questions and then link to an existing ATTRA listing or continue to answer additional questions on the Farm Link site if you do not have an ATTRA listing. If there are questions in our application that you feel are not answered by your ATTRA listing, you can link to an ATTRA listing and provide additional information by answering one or more of our questions.
- As we receive applications, we will briefly review them to ensure that the applicants have answered all of the questions and then we will forward the application to you if the applicant has selected you as one of their top 8 choices.
- We have encouraged the applicants to contact you about a week after they submit their application to us to follow up with you about any additional questions. However, the primary responsibility is on you to follow up with applicants and manage the hiring process. In addition, if there are any additional questions specific to your operation, lifestyle, or other unique situation that you would like to ask, you may send those directly to the applicant when you receive their application.
- Once you’ve found a worker, please contact Dave at the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition (CFAC) to let us know so we can remove your listing. While your listing will no longer appear on the site, it will be saved in your account, so you can re-activate it at any time if you need additional workers or want to use the site next season.
About Hosting an Intern
Any Montana farmer or rancher can participate in an internship program. While farmers are not required to be organic or marketing direct-to-consumer, our experience indicated that the majority of interns are seeking training on farms that utilize sustainable practices and/or direct marketing.
While working with interns can be rewarding and productive, these relationships are not without their difficulties. We have found that interns tend to have a different set of expectations than a typical paid employee, with much more of an interest on building knowledge and relationships. By hosting and intern in the Work Link program, you are agreeing to be a mentor as well as a boss. This is an important responsibility that we hope you will take seriously, but we recognize that it isn’t easy. Being a good mentor in addition to being a good farmer is tough!
Having an intern will require that you take time to explain your procedures, demonstrate techniques, and correct mistakes. Describing a position as an internship implies more than simply working by your side, most interns will also seek further education into why you make the decisions you make, how your values inform your way of farming, and more. It is essential to the success of an internship program that the host farmer possess a strong commitment to sharing his or her knowledge and experience with people who may not be efficient workers right off the bat. With time, an intern can become skilled and valuable to your operation. From the experienced hosts we’ve talked to, having effective, well-trained interns can be a game-changer, providing them with the assistance and support they need to scale up their farms, diversify their marketing, and even take a summer vacation once in a while! Here are a few best practices we captured during a workshop hosted in 2015:
- Feed them well
- Have fun and provide opportunities for recreation
- Welcome them and engage them in your farm and in your family
- Pay on time
- Develop a solid agreement in advance of their arrival
- Give them something to take ownership of, be it a bed of carrots or bringing in the sheep at night
- Assign tasks that will give them a sense of accomplishment, i.e. design tasks so they can be accomplished within a reasonable and visible time frame
- Give them a living space separate from your own (for your sake and theirs!)
In addition to listing work opportunities, here are a few other local resources you should know about:
- Courses and Workshops: CFAC offers on-farm, production-oriented field days in Western Montana each summer and classroom-based, business planning workshops each winter. Through partnerships with MSU Extension and small business development experts, business planning workshops are available in various communities across the state each year. In particular, the field days are geared towards farm workers and others who are in the early stages of farming. Many of our work hosts were integral to launching our field day program. We strongly encourage you to support your workers in attending these trainings, by providing them with time off, transportation if needed, and space to make food they can bring to potlucks, when applicable. If you are interested in hosting a field day at your farm, contact Dave for more details.
- Conflict Resolution: You know that farming can be tedious, frustrating, and tiring work and shared living arrangements can be challenging. Sometimes this environment can take a toll on personal relationships and from time to time, we see workers leaving in the middle of the season due to communication issues, leaving the farmer really hustling for the remainder of the season. We have partnered with the Community Dispute Resolution Center in Missoula to offer free conflict resolution services to workers and host farms. If you have a worker who seems unhappy, we encourage you to reach out to us and we can help to connect you with an unbiased, fair mediator at CDRC. Contact Dave for more details.
There are many resources online that can help you in developing a successful internship program. Here are a few we like:
- Internships in Sustainable Farming: A Handbook for Farmers – this resource was developed by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York and has some good information on creating a positive learning experience, dealing with living arrangements, legal issues, and other considerations.
- Farm Internship Curriculum and Handbook – a tool developed by farmers in Oregon with some SARE funding that became the kickstart for the Rogue Farm Corps program.
- Interview Checklist – The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) developed this comprehensive list of things you might want to ask potential interns when they come to visit your farm or when you do a phone interviews.
- Advice for Farmers – This info guide was developed by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) and covers many things you may want to consider for your intern program.
Things to Consider and Questions to Ask
Sometimes it’s easy to get so accustomed to our environment that we forget how different farming is from most other occupations. To aid you in getting the right worker for your farm, we recommend taking some time to walk through a season in your mind and consider the kind of physical strength, endurance, skill, interest, and other attributes that it would take for someone to be successful on your farm. Be clear about what you’re looking for and be clear about what your bare minimums are. While we don’t recommend that you get so specific that it’s hard to find help, we do recommend getting a good sense of your needs. Here are a few things you should consider:
- What is the work schedule? Does it change throughout the season?
- What kinds of recreational opportunities or other neat regional attributes can you highlight to draw workers to your region?
- Does the worker need to provide their own transportation? Will they be required to use their vehicle for work-related tasks and, if so, will they be compensated for that use?
- What will you offer as an educational component? We have heard from interns that this is a key consideration for them. What is your teaching style?
- What kind of compensation will you provide? Note that labor laws on farms are very specific. Details on labor laws and legal issues are provided below.
- What kind of work can you effectively teach and delegate to a worker? This will likely depend on the specific individual you hire, but it’s good to have a general sense of the kind of work you would expect them to do.
- Can you host someone who has dietary habits different from your own (i.e. omnivore, vegan, gluten-free)? Someone who has pets?
Although there has been a long history of farms and ranches providing volunteer opportunities for people to learn the skills of the trade, labor law is specific about the requirements for having any help on your farm. On the east coast, farmers are starting to be targeted by lawsuits from unpaid or underpaid interns and labor departments across the country are starting to pay more attention to our field. We strongly encourage you to review the information below and learn more about your rights and responsibilities. Although the listing information asks you to state whether or not you are offering payment to your interns, we strongly encourage everyone to offer fair and legal payment to interns. For more on an array of legal issues, visit http://farmcommons.org/.
- Farm Commons’ Five Minute Guide to Workers and Employees (link)
- Overview of Federal and Montana Employment Regulations (doc)
- More Info on Volunteers and Interns on Farms (doc)
- Federal Fact Sheet on Agricultural Labor (pdf)
- Federal Fact Sheet on Internships (pdf)
CFAC does not vet or endorse host or worker candidates. It is the responsibility of the host and worker participants to safeguard themselves by clearly defining and clarifying expectations, checking references, and asking questions. CFAC is not a party to any work agreement and the terms of any agreements should be considered private agreements between the host and the worker only.
CFAC is not responsible or liable for any harm or injury that may occur during a position. Proper safety training and precautions should be taken to reduce the chances of injury or accidents.