Warning RE: Organic Farms/Permaculture "Internships"

Hi all,

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.

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I worked there for the full six months. Quit crying you whiner.
wow, so the right to vioce opinion is under your control? how about you state the positive experience you had there and let us decide, as opposed to calling names
i agree
Hey, I really appreciate you posting this.
I've been doing a lot of research on working at organic farms, (such as wwoof.org), and it all seems SO AMAZING, that I knew it probably wasn't. I mean, I guess it all depends on where you go, and who runs the farm. But I tend to only see the good things about new opportunities, because I get so excited, that I ignore anything bad I hear.

I'm really glad you posted such an honest response to your experiences.

Have you heard of WWOOF? What do you think about it?
Hey, I just got back from WWOOF Hawaii. if youd like info let me know.
Job's, you sound like one of the farmers trying to make the experience sound good. It seems funny that you have spent time replying to one text and never bothered to fill out a profile. Very credible opinion for sure.
For those of you planning on organic farming, DO NOT let the experience of one person ruin what can be a GREAT thing. I know this because I just got back from organic farming with my girlfriend in Hawaii for several months. We did organic farming through WWOOF. And it was great experience!

Like everything in life, you can bump into those places where you come into a completely different situation than you were told or expected, and that sucks. This has happened to me in seasonal jobs, for example. But that didn't stop me from moving on to the next, where it turned out to be great.

My best advice for organic farming is to reeeally do your homework on where you are going. Of course, this is no guarantee as to how they'll really turn out. But the more questions the better. A good thing would be to try to do it through a well known and good organization (such as WWOOF). I got a booklet from them with farm listings, their descriptions, and even comments by the WWOOF staff as to the farm and the people who run it. You go through it, pick the farms that sound the best for you from what they offer, and ask as much as you can. One thing about WWOOF, and perhaps about organic farming in general, is that it is not the kind of work to be looking for profit. Some farms offer pay (and it will most likely be low), some only offer pay after certain amount of hours, and most are volunteer. It is mostly about the learning experience of the job, and the culture of where your are (if you happen to find yourself somewhere you've never been).

Here are some of the things I wanted to know and asked my host farm:
-what the living would be like, and asked for pics. If they didn't give me any, I probably wouldn't consider. I need to know where they're going to stick me.
-farm pics. I want to know what the place looks like where I'll be working.
-transportation provided by the farm owners themselves to and from the farm when you arrive and leave, rides to town, or any public transportation near by. Most farms are on a remote location so you want to make sure you will know how to get there, and get around if you need or want to go somewhere. Also, know what is there to do in the area on your off time. Its nice to get out. lol.
-electricity. As silly as this sounds, many farms cut their costs and provide little to no electricity; and there are many where electricity is not a problem. So you just want to make sure they have it if its something you definitely want to have.
-running water/toilet. at least for Hawaii this was a big thing because I found out that many farms lacked running water and flushable toilets. no joke. I wanted to make sure I can use water when I need to, wash my clothes, and use a good toilet.
-other workers/interns. Just depends whether you want a lot of people or barely any. A really good thing to do is to ask them if they have any contact info on past or current interns/employees that you can possibly email and ask for experiences.

These are the main things I can think of so far. If the experience turns out differently or unfavorable, and you want to leave, have some backup money to get you back home or to wherever you need to go next. It is highly important to be prepared for an experience like this, since more than likely you will be far from home.

You can search around on forums for people who have shared their experiences in organic farming, and I believe it is mostly positive. Do your research and don't be swayed by one experience. WWOOF was good to me, as to many others who have done it. I found out about it through a friend who did it in New Zeland and loved her experience as well. And you'll come to find that out if you keep looking. Just do your research and do it well, ask around, and create your own experience.

If anyone has more questions about organic farming or WWOOF, contact me.
thank you!!!
what you said was exactly what i wanted to hear :)

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