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Farm Help

Four Stories About Farm Help

By COLLEEN NYMAN, SHIRLEY BYERS and FIONA HAMERSLEY CHAMBERS

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To WWOOF or not to WWOOF

Four farms with experience in volunteer labour speak about the pros & cons of taking in help. | BY COLLEEN NYMAN

Scarf down dinner, clean up the kitchen and cajole my husband into doing the bedtime routine for our three year old.?Make the half hour run to the bus station to pick up total strangers with serious language barriers—but they’re going to help us on the farm.?We’ve decided to become a host farm to a traveling volunteer (commonly called a WWOOFer—a title which, originally, stood for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms—but which has morphed to become a general term for young people who work for room and board in return for learning about agriculture or, in an even looser sense, young travelers seeking room and board abroad).
Unpaid farm labour—this is going to be great, right?
Maybe.
Many Canadian small farms and eco-businesses are getting into the WWOOFing groove. Others are steering clear, citing the hassles of dealing with a rotating roster of strangers invading their businesses and lives. Taking on traveling volunteers (WWOOFers) can seem like a daunting task.
While we made the plunge into hosting WWOOFers easily, there are many small farmers who are sceptical.?There are a lot of details to work out before opening your farm to a volunteer.
Where to house them was easy for us, with extra space in the house. Picking volunteers up at the local bus station??No problem.? Cooking for one—or three—or more??Great.?Especially when they offer to cook.?Communication barriers??A tad stressful but rewarding in the end. One of our volunteers from Japan started his stay barely able to get a sentence together and finished off giving tours of our sugar shack to hundreds of festival goers.
Hosting WWOOFERS is definitely not for everyone.?Here, four small farms hash out the pros and cons.
Vicki’s Veggies
Vicki Emlaw & Tim Noxon
Black Creek, Prince Edward County, ON
www.vickisveggies.com

Over 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes- along with almost any other vegetable you can think of – are ‘Family Farmed, Fresh and Chemical Free’ for the roadside stand and weekly veggie boxes.
At Vicki’s Veggies, it’s as much about the people producing and eating the food as it is about the food itself.?“Feed the workers really well,”?Vicki emphasizes. “Pull out your favourite recipes and get them involved with cooking. Teach them to use the vegetables that they are helping to grow and they will carry this information on to others.”
Giving careful instruction and taking the time to work alongside new comers until things are done right is what transforms volunteers into truly useful help.?“The best part of being a host is that we get to meet so many wonderful people who are interested in helping out and being part of what people do on farms.” says Vicki.
Volunteers at Vicki’s Veggies get involved in every aspect of the farm—literally from seed to dinner plate. When asked what kind of experiences they provide WWOOFers, Vicki includes: getting to see how much work it takes to farm along with the importance of doing things other than work. Part of their farming philosophy is in “letting people know that nature really is at our fingertips and that everyone has the capability to grow their own food.”
Clear communication is the number one way Vicki and Tim make hosting volunteers go smoothly on their six acre vegetable farm.? Asking the WWOOFers if they have any wants and not assuming that they know what you’re talking about rank high on their list of hosting skills.
At the end of the day, it’s about making the experience good for the volunteer and the farmer. Vicki suggests that if you don’t connect with your volunteer, ask them to leave. “There is no sense in feeling bad in your own domain.”
Ferme Biologique
LA RéCOLTE D’OSIRIS
Danielle Turpin and Daniel Bigras
St-Marcel, Quebec
www.biosiris.ca

With 60 acres certified organic since 1995, La recolte d’Osiris specializes in gluten free culinary herbs and seasonings.?They grow every plant they use, harvest manually, and dehydrate and bottle on the farm to ensure the end product has the freshest fragrance, colour and taste possible.
Short of book work, WWOOFers are put to every job imaginable at La recolte d’Osiris. Volunteers get to participate in all the field work, product processing and packaging.?Depending on the individual’s skill, construction and forestry tasks might also be on their to-do list.
Co-owner, Danielle Turpin admits that there are drawbacks to hosting WWOOFers: scheduling around no-shows and volunteers who don’t want to work, for example.? Overall though, she’s happy with her experience. “Of course the help is quite appreciated, but the best part of being a host is that you travel to so many countries just by staying at home.”
For other farmers considering hosting, she has this advice: “Be extremely patient because most are doing this for the first time and they don’t have the knowledge or experience to be a pro at it.”
If you can’t deal with the mistakes of a newbie, you’re not likely to find hosting rewarding.?The fact that she can laugh about seeing plants coming out of the mechanical transplanting machine “with their roots sunny side up” speaks to the level of patience sometimes required.
The Stoddard Family Farm
Harry & Silvia Stoddart & Family
Little Britain, City of Kawartha Lakes, ON
www.stoddart.ca

The Stoddart Family Farm sells their certified organic grains, vegetables and meats at Toronto farmers’ markets and are Canada’s premier breeder of White Park cattle.
Harry and Silvia run a pretty intense operation most days and, while they haven’t hosted volunteers per se, they have participated in an internship program that has workers living on site and receiving token payment for their labour. But they are not convinced the experience is worthwhile.
For Harry, Silvia and their five children, who share their one bathroom with visitors, it comes down to personal space. “We have so little family time that we don’t want an intruder there when we do get some down time.” Harry says. He also cites the work ethic of some volunteers as a deterrent.?“My perception of a lot of WWOOFERs is that they’re looking for a relaxing reconnection with their food.”
Bloomfield Bicycle Company
Rick Willing & KT Misener
Bloomfield, Prince Edward County, ON
www.bloomfieldbicycle.ca

A terrific little bike shop in a small town.?With a big vegetable garden, some grape vines and two herb gardens, Bloomfield Bicycle Co. has had over 50 WWOOFers grace their gardens over the past five years.
“If you’re the kind of person who runs around making everything perfect before guests arrive, hosting volunteers is not for you,” says co-owner KT.? “When we open in the spring, the first job WWOOFers do is to make themselves a place to live in our [converted] barn.”
Bloomfield Bicycle Co. is an example of a non-traditional farm benefiting from hosting WWOOFers.? If you think you can’t be a host because you’re not a ‘real farm’, think again.?Rick and KT have a thriving bike shop business on Bloomfield’s main street. Their volunteers spend 80% of their time in a variety of gardens growing herbs, berries and grapes as well as working in their small greenhouse all located on the large town lot behind the shop.
When asked if they would recommend hosting volunteers to other farmers, Rick and KT say an enthusiastic: “Yes!? The more we visit and share and learn about each other the faster we share the smart things we’ve learned.”
Conclusion
In my world, the farmer is also the off-farm breadwinner. When WWOOFers are plentiful, our family has the luxury of relaxing after dinner instead of going straight back to work for a few hours.?A quick drive to the back of the farm in the truck to check the barley turns into a family walk full of teaching moments for our son and quiet enjoyment of the beauty we barely see in our normal haste.
As the keeper of the house, planning lunch is a larger task than when we are without volunteers. On a fencing day, I just can’t feed twenty year olds the same way I do the two preschoolers who are my constant companions. No carrot stick people and cheese cubes anyone!
Every traveler we have hosted has been an impeccable house-guest, making every effort not to disrupt our family balance more than is necessary.? Still, it’s another body, another person’s energy and there is no way around the feeling that you’re trading something valuable for something else of arguably, equal value.
Clearly, this is not a cut and dried debate.? For some, it’s a life saver and helps make time for things that would otherwise get shunted to the back burner.? Different farms, different personalities and different time constraints all play into the WWOOFing equation.?Take the time to assess your preferences.?Then if you’re so inclined, give it a try.? You just might find all the best of hosting WWOOFers coming your way.
Who can say no to free help and culture in your kitchen?

For more information:
? World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms Canada (WWOOF Canada)bóng đá trực tuyến http://www.woof.ca – Specializing in connecting organic and sustainable farms with traveling volunteers, this organization has national chapters in over 45 countries.
? HelpExchange.nethttp://www.helpx.net – Connecting traveling volunteers with not only small organic farms but non-organic farms, hostels, B&B’s and sailing boats to name a few.
? A slightly different model than WWOOFERS, Global Lifestyles Canada places workers on farms, as well as other volunteer positions. For a fee (to the traveler, not the farmer!) they help place travelers with suitable hosts. www.globallifestyles.ca

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Is it legal?
A province by province survey of regulations covering volunteer farm workers | BY SHIRLEY BYERS

Dave and Treena had never realized hosting a couple of farm apprentices could be so much fun. Or so expensive.
Room and board they’d counted on, but they hadn’t factored in things like higher heating bills.
Dave and Treena typically turn the thermostat way down before they leave for work in the morning but with Sam and Chrissie in and out all day they can’t do that anymore. Sam’s not accustomed to sleeping in a cool house at night and to be fair, that bedroom over the garage is a bit chilly on cool spring nights. So they’ve set the thermostat at what to them is an outrageous 22 degrees round the clock and prayed for a heat wave. Then there are the extra cleaning products, paper products, higher electricity bills… And yikes! Does that little Chrissie eat a ton of meat or what? Where does she put it?
Add the cost of driving a 500 km round trip to pick them up and deliver them back to the airport which entails Dave or Treena losing a day’s work/pay and the Browns are starting to wonder if they really can afford to host unpaid farm workers. They wonder if they can claim these extra expenses on their income tax.
The good news is that they can, but. . . .
“Farmers can claim the expenses involved with housing a volunteer worker on their income tax, but if they do they need to issue a T4 reporting the taxable benefits supplied to the volunteer,” said Lance Stockbrugger, chartered accountant with Price Waterhouse, Coopers at Humboldt Saskatchewan.
Canada Revenue Agency wants to make sure that if somebody claims an expense somebody else claims a benefit. That means that if Dave and Treena claim the expenses of hosting their volunteers on their income taxes, Sam and Chrissie will have to claim the benefits they received from Dave and Treena on theirs.
And if a farmer does decide to claim expenses incurred by the volunteer and issue T4s Stockbrugger warns that there could be other repercussions. “When issuing T4s for a benefit Canada Pension and Employment insurance need to be deducted.”
If a worker’s income or benefits received from an individual farmer/employer are under $3500.00 they don’t have to pay Canada pension on it.
Non-Canadian volunteers, depending on what country they’re from, might be able to get credit for taxes paid in Canada. This would depend on whether Canada had a tax treaty with that country (i.e. the Netherlands, which does).
Shelburne Ontario accountant Eric Bryant said that while it is legal for farmers to claim the expenses they incur while hosting volunteer farm workers, he feels the benefits are basically spiritual, as opposed to financial and he doesn’t encourage farmers to claim the benefits or payment in kind they provide to volunteers. He said that the farmers he’s dealt with have found their volunteers through farm groups whose aim is to encourage young people to go into farming.
New issue of farmers, new issue for regulators
In the US, a Cornell University site warns: Be very careful about how you set up internships. Internships can be a win-win situation, providing a high-quality hands-on learning experience for an aspiring farmer and providing you with non-family farm labour. Offering room and board, or even a small stipend, in exchange for this farm work is NOT considered legal by the Dept. of Labour, unless the intern is also getting credit at an institution of higher learning. If not, you must pay the intern minimum wage. Farms across the country have been nailed for this, so please research carefully before you create a farm internship. http://nebeginningfarmers.org/blog/tag/labor/
Scary! Could it happen here?
Labour laws are under provincial jurisdiction so we checked with each province via telephone and/or email. Our questions sent reps scurrying to their files and it took some time to round up all the answers. Clearly, this was not an issue that came up every day.
In British Columbia, Linda O’Connor Communications Manager Public Affairs Bureau for the Ministry of Labouremailed, “There’s no such thing as an intern for the purposes of Employment Standards legislation. If the individuals are deemed to be an employee then they must be paid in accordance with the legislation. The Branch is unable to supply hypothetical rulings on employment status that is determined by the specific facts in a case.”
In Alberta, the concern would be that the “intern” was in a program sponsored by a legitimate school, college or university. On the other hand, if someone wanted to explore a career in farming by volunteering on a farm Alberta Employment Standards wouldn’t stop them. They would only get involved if they received a complaint from the volunteer or from a third party to the effect that it looked more like an employer/employee relationship. Farm labour in Alberta is exempt from labour standards except for termination pay and parental leave.
In Saskatchewan persons employed as farm labour are not covered under the Labour Standards Act except if the farm operation or part of the farm operation could be classified as “commercial.” Egg hatcheries, green houses, custom combining, and feedlot operations would be examples of farms falling under the definition of commercial for this purpose. These operations would then be covered under the Labour Standards Act in Saskatchewan.
“In traditional farming, if you hire someone to till soil, look after cattle, that kind of thing, that’s exempt under the provisions of the Act,” said Glen McRorie—director of compliance and investigations for labour standards. “What it says is—employees employed primarily in farming, ranching or market gardening—those individuals are exempt from the act. That would cover volunteers too.”
The hypothetical intern situation wouldn’t be a problem in Saskatchewan unless the farmer was requiring an intern or a volunteer of any stripe to work on a farm or an area of a farm that is deemed by the Labour Standards Act to be “commercial.” And that’s where it gets tricky.
For example, volunteering to dig and bag potatoes would be okay. An on-farm French fry plant would be considered commercial and it would not be right for a volunteer to work there. Picking strawberries would be okay. Making jam or selling that jam at a local farmers’ market would not. Tending cattle on a farm would be okay. Working in a feedlot or at an on farm abattoir would not.
If farms are processing food then they are covered by provincial labour standards and that would mean that workers must be paid at least minimum wage and be given all the benefits of a paid employee.
In Manitoba all facets of farm labour except farm workers employed by family members are entitled to all rights including equal wages, payment of wages, minimum wage etc. If a volunteer wanted to work in any of these situations for no pay, he and the farmer would be within the law, but the farmer should be aware that the volunteer could at any time decide that he, in fact, wanted to be paid.
In Ontario volunteers would not be covered under provincial labour standards. Matt Blajer with the Ontario Ministry of Labour said, “Our employments standards acts specifically exempts people not covered, including individuals performing work under a program approved by a college of applied arts or University or secondary school student work experience – co-op placements and work experience programs are not covered by the Employment Standards Act.” In other words, volunteers would not be working illegally they just wouldn’t be covered by their Employment Standards act – because they’re not employed.
If an intern in Quebec was in a program recognized by the Ministry of Education that would give credit or provide an experience that would be credited in his training, therefore giving the opportunity to complete a semester or diploma – the “intern” would be excluded by Labour Standards law—for everything except harassment or if they were pregnant and had to be withdrawn from the program.
As regards a less formal arrangement between the farmer and an intern/volunteer each case would be considered individually. The parties involved should talk to the Director of the county where the internship would take place.
New Brunswick’s Employment Standards Act (ESA) provides for agricultural employees in only a few specific circumstances. There are currently no provisions in the ESA dealing with volunteers.
At Nova Scotia Labour and Workforce Development the policy is that people can volunteer. As long as the volunteer is not in a particularly vulnerable situation there would be no problem. When this happens wages may be ordered but a spokesperson said this issue has never come up in the farm context.
When presented with the hypothetical situation of a person working as an intern/apprentice/volunteer on a farm under an arrangement with the farmer, Newfoundland Labrador labour standards officer Phyllis Williams said, “If this person is under the control and direction of an employer and performing the same duties as if they were actually working, we would consider him an employee and (therefore he) should be paid and provided benefits under provincial labour standards. … This would also apply if the volunteer was apprenticed through a recognized school.”
Volunteers are not covered under Prince Edward Island labour laws, said media rep for Labour and Industrial Relations, Rebecca Bruce. They’ve had no inquiries about internships but if the situation did arise the interns would have to be enrolled in a post- secondary institution and receive minimum wage.

Accidental farmers
What happens when something goes wrong? | BY SHIRLEY BYERS

Jack’s decision to decline a decently paying job at Costco and volunteer on a small Saskatchewan farm the summer after his first year of university left a few people scratching their heads.
But Jack knew he’d made the right choice. He’d yearned to be a farmer since he was a little boy but he’d never had a chance to really take it for a test drive. This summer he’d get that chance- free room and board and gas money, and plenty of farm. He’d spend the summer herding sheep, making silage and fencing several small paddocks. It would be hard work but Jack figured that as far as his farming dream was concerned—the next four months would either make or break it.
As it turned out, it was Jack’s leg that was broken. He was jumping off the tractor; his foot slipped and down he went.
It was a particularly nasty break. With three weeks left in the summer Jack was faced with a hefty bill for the ambulance—in Saskatchewan ambulance charges are only partly covered by Saskatchewan Health—and a long recuperation that would make getting around the university very difficult. The job he was counting on to pay his winter bills was now impossible until early October, when it might or might not still be available.
Ambulance charges vary from province to province. Had this incident occurred in say Ontario, and Jack was a health card carrying resident of that province ambulance costs would have been covered. If he was from another province but working in Ontario, he likely would have had to pay $240.00 for the trip to the hospital. Residents of another country could expect to pay the full cost of any ambulance services.
Cover me, I’m going in
Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “I think I’ll have an accident on the farm today.”.” Depending on various factors volunteer workers may or may not be covered for accidents. . Also, farmers may be held liable for accidents that occur on their property.
The WWOOF Canada site is very clear: “`WWOOF Canada is not responsible for any loss, injury or damage to yourself or that you cause. You are responsible for your own Travel and Health insurance. Some farms may ask you to sign an additional waiver when you arrive.”
At BC based Global Lifestyles, program coordinator Paula Jamieson said, “All of our participants are travelling on international medical insurance. It’s mandatory. They’re covered.”
“We have a waiver of liability all of our participants read and sign. It’s covering off risk points associated with the activities they would be involved in. Basically it’s a “Hold harmless” agreement. They acknowledge and agree that there are risks associated with the terrain, the animals, the weather etc. and they would not hold us or the farmers responsible. Farmers who want to have a waiver in place would have to do that with their own lawyers.”
More informal arrangements such as Jack’s, between farmers and volunteers, would have to be handled by the individuals involved. Farmers hosting any volunteer farm workers should check with their insurance agent.
Farmers may or may not already have liability insurance that would cover anyone on their farm. But liability can be difficult to prove, said Kelvington, SK insurance agent, Hubert Linke. “You have to be negligent before you’re found liable. Liability means to neglect to do the actions that a reasonable, prudent person would do—or the actions that a reasonable, prudent person should have done but failed to do. It depends entirely on the circumstances. In the world of liability it’s not black and white.”
And it’s not easy to understand. Liability covers us when we are remiss. It covers our failings. If we are negligent, if we are to blame, and we are found to be to blame, found liable—liability insurance covers our backs. If we are found not liable liability insurance doesn’t pay the injured party.
If for example, Jack broke his leg while he was bungee jumping off the farmer’s barn, a practice the farmer had expressly forbidden, the farmer’s insurance adjuster might say, “Sorry, but it wasn’t the farmer’s fault. He is not responsible. We’re not responsible. We are not paying.”
If Jack, feeling the farmer was responsible, decided to sue him, the farmer’s insurance company, from whom he’d bought the liability insurance would probably cover his legal fees and if he was found liable, might pay the settlement.”
Buying an accident policy for the volunteer would be another option. These vary in price and amount of coverage. Some cover accidents, others sickness and accident. Both include death.
If the volunteer says, no worries, he/she is already covered Linke advises farmers to draw up a document to that effect. Make sure it’s something with a signature and have your lawyer take a look at it.
What about workers’ compensation?
Farming is not a mandated industry under our act, said Janice Siekawitch, Director of Planning and Communication at Workers Compensation Board of Saskatchewan. Two things would have to be in place for a volunteer to be eligible for coverage. The farmer would have had to have asked for and received coverage.
And, in order for the worker to be covered a worker/employer relationship would have to be established. This is typically done with wages or transactions, such as room and board, that stand in for wages. If you’re T-4ing a worker it may be he is a worker to the farmer.”
Farmers and volunteers should note that workers compensation programs are administered provincially. We were unsuccessful in our attempts to get information from another province which shows this is not an everyday situation. Tread carefully.
Farm safety is best considered before an accident happens. Global Lifestyles Farmstay coordinator Daniel Budgell recommends the FARSHA (farm and ranch safety and health association) site for hosts and volunteers. It can be found at: http://www.farsha.bc.ca/ . The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association is at:
http://www.casa-acsa.ca/english/

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HELP! How to get the most out of your volunteer farm workers (and make sure they have a good time too!) | BY FIONA HAMERSLEY CHAMBERS

I have a small farm and plant nursery located near Victoria, British Columbia. When my partner and I separated amicably two years ago I wanted to stay on the farm with our two small children. However, I quickly realized that I couldn’t succeed on my own. My 10-acre farm isn’t established enough at this time for me to afford to hire outside help, yet I am at a critical phase in the start-up of my organic plant nursery and farming business where there is a lot to be done. In addition to the practical tasks such as building a new greenhouse, expanding my nursery area and of course maintaining 10 acres and a household, there are the important business development aspects like creating a website and building a presence in the community.
Finances are tight, and I still need to work off the farm to pay the regular bills. I’m pretty handy, but I don’t have the time and some of the skills necessary to build my infrastructure and business as I need to. Two years ago this herculean situation all seemed a bit overwhelming and I considered giving up and moving back to town. However, I was amazed to discover that help is nearer at hand and a lot more fun than I had thought possible.
On the recommendation of a friend, I researched and then joined an internet-based group called Help Exchange. Participation is free, and while members can pay to upgrade to an advanced status that includes some extra benefits such as more advanced helper search options, I have never found this extra cost necessary. I also considered joining the WWOOF organization (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) but the $50 yearly membership fee was more than I was willing to pay. If you are looking for ‘free’ farm help, there are many organizations like WWOOF, Help Exchange and Workaway active in Canada. I have so many great applicants through Help Exchange, though, that I haven’t joined any of these other groups.
How it works
The general arrangement that hosts have with helpers through Help Exchange and similar organizations is that the host trades room and board and the experience of living/learning with a Canadian family in return for 30-35 hours of labour from the helper each week. Since many helpers are participating in these programmes to learn–a new language, a certain type of farming, about horticulture, etc.–it is also expected that the host will do their best to teach the helper what they know in their field of interest.
In my experience, there are many benefits of having farm helpers. I get extra help to run my farm and household such as chopping firewood, cooking and cleaning, building infrastructure like new fences and planting an orchard. My kids and I have also really enjoyed hosting people from different cultures and improving languages such as German, French, Japanese and Spanish. This is a bit confusing. Whose language is being improved? We have met wonderful people, some of whom have become life-long friends.
There’s Lindsay, the elementary school teacher who was like having Super Nanny to stay, who returns to us each summer to spend her holidays.
Our first helper was a Swiss German with a 4-year degree as a farm mechanic (what a dream!) who is planning to return here next year for his honeymoon.
Having helpers has turned us into tourists in our own town and it’s been a great excuse to get off the farm more often and appreciate where we live. It has helped me to slow down some days and take us all swimming at a local lake or beach instead of finishing yet one more task on the never–ending farm list.
I’ve also learned to make use of the unique skills that some of my helpers have brought to my home. I have a lovely set of watercolour paintings of my property, I’ve had morning yoga lessons from a Japanese instructor, one helper had a 5-year degree as a pastry chef, and an English landscape designer has imagined us a wonderful and functional front yard–still on paper and not yet built. That project is awaiting the helper who knows how to run a backhoe!
We have also been able to pass some much-needed help along to other neighbours to assist with not only farming tasks but elder care, carpentry, babysitting, gardening and house cleaning. A number of our farming neighbours have now signed up on Help Exchange or similar programs and it’s been great to see many young travelers becoming a part of our extended community. When my parents went to Europe last summer they made a grand tour visiting some of the helpers they had met on my farm, including an invitation to go truffle-hunting on a grain farm in France!
In my experience, most helpers are motivated, competent and pleasant to deal with. However, problems do sometimes arise and it’s a good idea to think about this in advance so you are prepared. I’ve come to realize that when a problem or issue develops, it is most often as a result of me not setting a clear expectation or rule, or me not managing the helper effectively, rather than the helper being at fault. The most common issues I’ve had to deal with from some helpers are: not being on time to start work; not understanding my instructions or following them exactly; poor work ethic; and helper being unhappy or grumpy.
In my years of doing help exchanges I can honestly say that I’ve only had three poor experiences. However annoying or stressful these were at the time, I have come to see each of these as an important learning opportunity and I now reap the benefits of having gone through these troubles.
First, there was the East German couple who came to stay for two weeks, stayed for six, stopped caring about the work, and simply wouldn’t leave, even when asked bluntly to do so. Lesson learned: set clear expectations about length of stay. It’s easier to commit to 3 weeks then offer to extend it than to commit to 5 weeks and find this is a mistake.
Secondly, there was the Australian couple who arrived to help with the haying knowing full well that they had extreme allergies to dust and grass. I ended up driving them to a hostel in Victoria in the middle of the busiest day as I was so concerned about their health. To complicate matters, one was a strict vegan and the other was acutely intolerant of gluten. Lesson learned: always ask helpers when I interview them about any health issues or dietary preferences.
Finally, there were two young Frenchmen who were the laziest and moodiest fellows I’ve had the misfortune to meet. They arrived for a two-week stay right at the end of a six-month trip and it was obvious from the first five minutes that they were no longer getting along with each other. I also got the distinct impression that while their bodies were eating and sleeping at my farm their hearts (and work ethic) had already returned to France. They started work late every morning, stopped as early as possible and left messes wherever they went. Lessons learned: don’t accept applicants for a short stay at the end of a long trip, ask couples and friends whether they have traveled together before, be very clear about work hours and say something right away when these expectations are not being met.
Interestingly, it was my other helpers who really couldn’t stand these two and their antics. It was only with a great deal of diplomacy that I avoided the Germans sending the French packing down the driveway with a large imprint of a German workboot on their backsides. Perhaps there was a bit of international history at play here, too, but I know better than to get into this. . .
I’ve also had to accept that despite my best efforts, there will always be accidents. Some of these result from a lack of experience (like the Spaniard who planted all the garlic upside down and tried to chop the firewood against the grain) while others are cultural (enamel-ware isn’t common in Europe, so I’ve learned to proactively tell the Europeans that these pretty bowls are actually metal and don’t go in the microwave.)
Until last year, I had only regular home insurance for my farm. When helpers arrived I made a point of writing down their passport number as well as medical insurance details, figuring that this would cover me in case they had an accident or medical emergency.
However, after doing more research about common farm injuries and liability, and talking to my insurance agent, I decided to upgrade to a proper farm insurance policy. While this costs me an additional $750 per year, I think that the peace of mind and additional coverage that my helpers and I receive is worth it. I found the best rates and coverage with Peace Hills General Insurance Co. The important clause is the $2000,000 ‘farm liability coverage’. The only downside to this coverage is that a helper has to sue the farmer personally in order to make a claim for an injury.
I also do my best to minimize risk by not letting helpers use heavy machinery or dangerous tools like a chainsaw unless they have professional training with it. I specifically talk to them about safety the day they arrive, and never let them operate machinery alone. Admittedly, helpers are a ‘grey area’ in the insurance world. They aren’t paid help, but they aren’t just farm visitors, either. It’s best to check with your insurance agent and the appropriate government agency in your area to be sure.

HELPER DO’S AND DON’TS

DO:
? figure out how long you want them to stay (one week may be sufficient, but if specialized training is required you might want to specify a longer stay)
? get their passport numbers, medical insurance details and emergency contact names and numbers immediately when they arrive
? find out in advance what insurance coverage you need for them
? deal with problems or concerns RIGHT AWAY. If an issue arises I first ask myself “Is this my fault for not being clearer?”, and “How could I set this up differently next time?”
? Think about details before the helper arrives such as: transportation, work schedule, accommodation, personal space, how helpers will spend their days off, any dietary restrictions, religious beliefs if this is important to you, health concerns, etc.
? if things really aren’t working out, it’s OK to politely tell the helper(s) that it’s time for them to move on for the rest of their stay so that they can enjoy the remainder of their vacation and meet new friends somewhere else
DON’T:
? take smokers, even casual ones. This is a liability issue
? take extreme ESL (English as a second language). There are too many things that can go wrong and it takes too much time
? take helpers who won’t work well independently or in groups
? take helpers who don’t fit your lifestyle. If you have kids, make sure that they are kid-friendly. If you have a small single bed for your accommodation, don’t accept couples

How to get the most out of your helper(s)
? Appreciate them (remember to say thank you, admire a job well done, give them a parting gift, etc.).
? Manage them well (set clear rules, work behaviour and expectations. Stay two steps ahead of them. A daily job list that’s on the table with breakfast is a good technique.
? Ask them when they arrive what they want to get out of their experience, what skills they have, and what jobs they like doing. Make sure you try to fulfill some of these in their stay on your farm.

Q: How to pick the good ones?
A: Ask their mother!

So, now that you have joined a help organization and you have some applicants, how do you pick the good ones? I usually choose helpers who are over the age of 20 (more likely to be house-trained and mature), and prefer the mid-20’s to mid 30’s age group–any older and I don’t feel comfortable being their boss. I always interview helpers by e-mail and then by phone, asking questions about whether they smoke, how old they are, what their family does, whether they have traveled before, how long they want to stay, and what they hope to get out of their stay on my farm.
This conversation also allows me to judge their English proficiency and gives me a vague idea of their background and personality. I always ask my helpers for references, and this normally includes a conversation with their mother. Yes, their mother! I have found this to be the most useful reference I can ask for. If language is a barrier–my Japanese isn’t very good anymore- I ask them for an employer and friend who speaks a language that I do. I always keep these references on file in case I may need them later.
Once you’ve chosen a helper and they are going to arrive, what else should you be thinking about? In addition to the Do’s and Don’t list on page 33, you will need to think about how to keep your helpers happy. Some farm jobs, like mucking out, are gruelling, unpleasant and even monotonous. Small gestures go a long way and the simple delivery of a hot cup of tea and cinnamon bun–a North American dish, and helper favourite I’ve discovered – to the couple who’s been digging a trench in the rain all afternoon will keep them happily digging for longer. If a helper has re-organized my horribly disorganized pot storage area, I make a point of gazing at it in rapture when they’ve finished, or publically thanking them over dinner that evening.
When I have an exceptional or long-term helper I ive them a thank-you gift. Sometimes it’s something unique and locally made like a knitted toque or pottery mug, or sometimes an experience such as a whale–watching trip. When a new helper arrives, I give them a binder containing local maps and tourist information, and a farm visitor sheet. This paper includes important information such as my address and home phone number, neighbours’ names and contact details in case of emergency, how to dial 911 (this is not standard throughout the world), details about my septic and composting systems, etc. The sheet also includes a household schedule regarding mealtimes and expected hours of work. I have two helper bicycles (with helmets and locks) that they are welcome to use on their days off.