What I have to say is probably shocking and what many folks would like to ignore. But this is important to read if you are plannig to go off and away to work at a farm, expecting something close to idyllic.
I spent nearly six years working nonstop at various retreat centers and alternative health schools. For the most part, it was a good even a great exchange: three good meals a day, classes, cool people, different scenery, and fresh air.
I entered a new realm when I went into farming. I had worked hard before and thought I could handle it. I had the same ideals as the uninitated that organic farmers or those into permaculture had integrity, were sane and sensible. I asked good questions of the farmers and they lied about their stress levels or even access to water(for showers/laundry)
What I learned, in my opinion, is they have all the privilege of the saint and are none other than an old fashioned slave driving merchant.
What I learned at an Organic Farm (Persephone of Lebabon/Sweet Home) and a poor in community spirit permaculture experiment called PPI in Portland, OR.
What I experienced:
They will try as a rule and illegally, to underpay you or not pay you at all, calling you a student. My co-workers and I got paid $4/hr for a 55 or 60 day hard labor non-stop work week. Farmers will say they can't make enough money. Legally, you are entitled to minimum wage. The Wages and Hours Claims division will go to bat for you. Make sure to document the days and hours you work.
When you find yourself far and away, farmers can become a law unto themselves, in mind if not in body. While explicit violations may not occur, farmers can be emotionally, energetically and spiritually abusive. Once again, people experienced working for farmers know they are slave drivers. That is where probably the term derived from. Getting the most out of a person for the sole profit of another is likely the goal of a for-profit farmer, organic or permaculturist.
Make sure you have a car or have access to one so you can leave an abusive situation. The following is information presented to give you an idea of your rights but is still an incomplete description. Review this ans persue more about your rights and responsibility to yourself:
Work related reasons for good cause to quit to still qualify for unemployment (and back yourself up at your next interview) are: complaints with tools and equipment, undue risk of phyisical injury, too many or too few work hours, (at Persephone Farm they claimed they worked us only 40 hours a week but drove us 55 especially as the harvest was under way, but we always worked over 40 from week one...), reduction of wages or changes in job duties, religious or moral objectsions, transportation problems, family problems, change of marital status, other job prospects, union problems, etc
Remember check the Unemployment handbook BEFORE you have to rely on them.
Become aware of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)office in the area you are planning to work. Call them when there are no latrines available when you are picking strawberries for the farmers' market, or water available, or breaks allowed.
Every place you work should have the minimum wage posters and OSHA posters in both English and Spanish.
These places want blood from a stone. What I thought would be a fruitful learning experience, turned out to literally a harvest through hell.
Feel free to contact me for more information.
Please pass this on.