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Live-in help - how to compensate?  RSS feed

 
Owen Cramer
Posts: 7
Location: Near Bloomington, Indiana
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I'm not sure if this is in the correct forum or not.

I've been living on about12.5 acres for a few years, and would like to start getting some production from it. The site is quite sloped, has some major erosion issues. It is largely wooded with early succession trees, but was at one point definitely a pasture, as evidenced by the several giant spreading oaks on the property. I was also logged around 2003-2004, so all of the trees of any size are generally ill suited as lumber for what ever reason.


The problem is that I work 50-60 hours a week, travel often for that job, and live alone. I was thinking about finding a house mate to help/drive the change over to a permaculture project, but I am not sure what would be an equitable way to handle this. While I make enough money to cover room and board for an individual, I can't afford to pay wages, and I feel like the help this person would be providing should be compensated for beyond 3 hots and a cot. In addition, they would still need to have ajobto buy their clothes, save for retirement, etc. We're talking about some fairly backbreaking labor here, that will result in a multi-decade, payout, and spending a couple of years at a place, and potentially walking away with nothing in the bank a few years later sounds like an awful deal.

Any suggestions on how to equitably compensate this person for the hard work they will be doing?
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1013
Location: Northern Italy
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You might want to start out small and as the worker's work starts to pay for itself, bump up the compensation.

I've been thinking about this too, since I've come to question my own relation to wwoofers and help-exers. I've never taken any on, but we've had a few people ask to work for us. For one thing, there is no real acceptance in the Italian law for having undocumented workers (aka volonteers) on your property for any length of time. If someone breaks a leg they could ruin your business. Some people get around this by rotating workers for 2 week stretches only, others are in a place far enough away from the law that it doesn't matter too much, and some people (excuse the vulgarity) get their ass handed to them when something bad happens. For instance, one farm I heard of had a volunteer for a year and after the stay they got a notice from the union that the person was going to sue them for all back pay.

Mark Shepard is hosting people on his farm under an entrepreneurial model. Some work out, some don't. The point is it's safe, legal, and doesn't have the tinge of exploitation that I suppose some people might attribute to other models (personally I don't, as all circumstances are in and of themselves).

One good way around the employment mess, if it can be done (it's more difficult with foreign workers) is to set the person up with a self-employed contract, charge them for room and board equivalent to their hours of work (usually 20 hrs), and if they want to do more, set them up working at a micro-business on your property. That way they are covered tax-wise, you are covered because you're not employing anyone directly (more like subcontracting work). As for taking payment for room and board, most places have ways of doing that for short-term stays that doesn't become the encumbering thing that renting is. In italy we have the ability to convert part of the house to a B&B just by notifying the town hall. I know in seattle you can take roomers and it's not exactly a rental agreement.

If you want to pay people out of your own pocket, you just give them more than the room and board. How much you're able to give them depends on how much you can afford to spend. That, in theory, should grow with the expansion of the business that this person's work helped to create. But at the beginning it could be just like the volunteer, 20 hrs workweek setup that wwoofing promotes, except completely legal.

We still have to hammer out the specifics with our agriculture union, but I think on the whole it could work.

William

ps: Another idea: transform into a worker's coop? that way anyone coming in has equal say in how to distribute profits as things proceed.
 
John Saltveit
gardener
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Find a cute girl and marry her.
john S
PDX OR
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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The wwoof model allows for a part time job because it only requires a half day's work. Housing is very expensive, a cot is worth a lot! And if the food you're providing is healthy A's organize/whole and natural, that is worth quite a lot also. The experience and training is valuable, and the reference you can provide after a person has worked with you can also mean a lot to them.
 
Owen Cramer
Posts: 7
Location: Near Bloomington, Indiana
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John Saltveit wrote:Find a cute girl and marry her.
john S
PDX OR


Heh, If I knew how to do that, I would have done it 20 years ago!

Housing is very expensive, a cot is worth a lot! And if the food you're providing is healthy A's organize/whole and natural, that is worth quite a lot also.


I guess I'm looking at this is being about a $600/m value: normal rental for a single room in my area would be something like $300/month, and I figure I spend about $250/month feeding myself, and then maybe another $50 for extra utilities. $600 for for 20*4.3= 86 hours of work seems like not a great deal to me. In fact, its quite a bit less than minimum wage. The deal gets even worse whe this person is putting signigant effort into growing food on the property, cutting wood etc, because room and board gets much cheaper for me to provide.

I was thinking that I could offer up that anything that comes off the property we split 80/20. If it was here when they arrived, I get 80% (i.e cutting wood). If it is a direct result of their efforts they get 80% (i.e. they have a meat chicken/egg operation running).
 
Evelyn Smith
Posts: 15
Location: Rice WA Zone 6
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If you have a liveable building or mobile you could make that available for a couple or even a family. One could work for you the other in town. Specify a certain amt of produce & animals for their own use. Such as a piglet every year a kid chicken etc etc. That would certainly cover $600 a mon
th.
 
Owen Cramer
Posts: 7
Location: Near Bloomington, Indiana
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One of the items on the list is to build some sort of guest housing to enable wwoofers, but at the moment all I have is the spare bedroom. I'd thought about a trailer, but I'm trying to undo the part of my property that was a nudist trailer park. My understanding is that they pushed entire traliers into holes when they shut the place down. I have about an acre and a half that is has no top soil at all. Its also the only really flat pieces of ground I have. I think I am going to ry the tillage radish thing next year, and see how that goes.
 
leila hamaya
pollinator
Posts: 1121
Location: northern northern california
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i like that you are asking these questions, and that you are considering the other person's POV in this. especially as someone who has been on the other side of this issue, looking for equitable work trades and land share agreements with people and finding instead a lot of exploitation disguised. well i have had some good situations too, but the majority of bad situations, the drama and power trips and BS just outweigh the positive experiences i have had. so here's my two cents....

to me it sounds like you are looking for more of a land share situation than a woofer or a work trader. i suppose the words arent that important, what you call it doesnt matter, but it sounds like you are looking for someone who is willing to invest more and therefore hopefully get more out of the deal than a woofer or a work trader. maybe though actually you would be looking for both, someone who is lightly invested as a work trader, someone who is more long term, looking to invest in a place.

someone with a lot more or equal, experience and knowledge than you have, and not to train someone, a self starter. i think that someone who has the level of skill needed would be looking for more than just a spare room and food provided. imo the things that would attract that more experienced person have a lot to do with intangible things, things such as having a lot of autonomy, private space and a space where they can be independant.... and ability to call their own shots, not be so much under your thumb and always having to do things in your way.

would you consider carving out a small bit of your land to give in exchange for the work? obviously i dont know if you can legally do this, or would desire to do this. if you were, i think this would be attractive to the sort of person you would want to attract. even if it is just done in a way that for your mutual understanding that section was theirs to do as they please (within obvious limits of common sense and etc) and there was some kind of written agreement to express that understanding, without a legal subdivision. the most attractive would be to offer an actual deed of a smaller portion of your land, in exchange for the required work for however many years. obviously you would want to try out this situation with someone before committing.

something i have heard of people doing is to compensate people by having so much time, at a specific rate to be worked out (in writing ideally), at the completion of a project to enjoy it. for instance someone builds a small cabin and then after it is complete enjoys a couple of years with no obligation to work as compensation. in that example it would be only fair that you would have to provide tools and materials or money to buy them. or another simple example they work for six months of the year, at 20 hours a week(or whatever is decided, again ideally in writing), and then have six months free. if space was provided for their own projects, and there was encouragement for the person to do their own independant projects, even with six months "off" the person would likely still be doing interesting things that improved the situation, just with their own motivation and without being monitored.

this would draw more of the sort i think you are looking for, someone who is interested in starting their own businesses or income producing gardens, building their own structure with their own tools and materials, a self starter type who doesnt have land of their own. and going into it you would have a different dynamic than that of a worker and boss, more of a partnership type relationship.not to suggest things still couldnt go wrong, but i think this is a better framework.

i also like your idea of the 80/20 split.

out here i know of several people who are looking for situations more of this sort, and who have been through different (mostly dysfunctional) situations with work trade and are basically burnt out on the idea because of negative experiences. they would go more for something like this, though, where they had a lot more say and security in the situation, or more of a business partnership where they have the will, the back, and knowledge to make a farm related business, but not the land, and someone else has the land but not the time or drive to make it happen.

it would be fabulous if people were coming up with much better models than the exploitive situations that happen, because it seems it could be quite simple and a win/win for all involved. thats what i thought when i first started with situations like this, that it seemed simple and should work, but negative experiences have made me more wary.
 
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