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In Search Of better Farming Work Trade Opportunities, Can someone please help?  RSS feed

Posts: 1
Location: Amherst, Ma. USA
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Sooooo First of all let me ask the question

Is working for well over 8 hours a day for 5 days straight, being asked to do all sorts of tasks on your days off, assisting in the care of a 92 year old elder, and then to top it off being treated like you are in the way and a burden to the owners life, a fair trade for room and board?

I'm in the western Ma. area, in the foot hills of Amherst. I love this family to death and understand where the their stress is coming from but I am feeling very stressed out with all that is being asked of me.

I honestly want to know the true worth of all my hard work. What are some opportunities out there that are available for a hard worker? And what are the standards I should hold myself and my work trade up to?

I really want to find a place to work hard with the land bettering the soil and growing amazing plants and animals in a balanced and sustainable way. I have very minimal finances but have an abundance of heart and enthusiasm to give. I really need to gain experience in being out and growing, building, tending to animals, and working with fellow permaculturists and am at a loss as to how to make the connections and find a place where I can belong and bring benefit to.

I really hope that putting this message out there can help bring some clarity to me and my difficulties.

Any input shall be very much appreciated!!!
Posts: 1026
Location: Greater Houston, TX US Hardy:9a Annual Precipitation: 44.78" Wind:13.23mph Temperature:42.5-95F
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Ok, to start, I'm probably not the best person to be answering your question because I'm still very young, but I'll try to at least get the conversation going and get other people's attention.

To start, we can try defining terms:
Worth is the monetary value of something.
Value usually consists of monetary and emotional things.
For example, the volunteers at the nursing home are worth nothing (i.e. cost is free), but to the elderly people the volunteers' value is indeterminate.

You asked specifically for worth. The average minimum wage in Maine is about $7.50. If you took no holidays and did not get paid for overtime working an hour day for five days each week, then the worth of your work is equal to ($7.50/hour)*(8hours/day)*(5days/week)*(52weeks/year). So, your work would be worth $15,600 a year. If I checked the Bureau of Labour Statistics for Maine, the mean annual wage in 2013 was $41,440 across all occupations. For home health aides in Maine, the mean annual wage in 2013 was $23,780, and for community health workers, the mean annual wage was $33,700. You can check the link if you feel that a different occupation listed entails what you are doing.

Fair trade? That depends. How much do you think the room and board is worth? Are you getting more out of it than that? Are you actually learning anything from the experiences? If not, I do not think it is a fair trade.

Value is another thing. Does the family you are helping value your work and contributions? From what you said, they "treated [you] like you are in the way and a burden to the owner's life." That does not sound like you are being valued, but interestingly enough, you still "love this family to death" (i.e. value them).

Some places to check for opportunities are as follows:
World Wide opportunities on Organic Farms is pretty much exactly what the name says.
Work Away
HelpX is like WWOOF, just not as well-known or used.
Ecovillage Network
Permaculture Global is a map of permaculture projects from around the globe. It is a sister site to geoff lawton's websites Permaculture News and his educational videos website.
Twitter Permaculture Jobs
The Internships and Apprenticeships Listings/Map by the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

There weren't any projects going on in Maine through the Transition Network; however, there were some people listed in the Transition Network's People Map that you could try to connect with. In addition to that, you could connect with some people on Permaculture Global's User Map and see what they are doing and if they need any help. Or you could try starting a small project of your own.

The first and safest place I would advise for getting around is your public transportation network. I have the link to Go Maine here for you. At the bottom of my post, their is my signature and one of the links is the thread called Travel Ideas. Besides the opportunities listed above, I have some other modes of transportation listed in that thread.

I would not underestimate the value of volunteering, if and when spare time is available. I find it to be quite fun, and people really appreciate a hard work ethic. At some volunteering events, I have had the facilitators come to me thanking me for kicking butt and hoping for me to volunteer with them again. Maybe, this could lead to helping you find more leads to better opportunities.

At the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners' Association, they have an apprenticeship program. Other ways to get connected could include the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, or any other thing you can think of.
Posts: 1981
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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Dave gave a lot of pertinent thoughts. Have you expressed any of this to the family? They may be lost in their own stressors and missing your point of view entirely.

As a wwoof host I really appreciate feedback, and I also find it hard to get. If it's hard to say out loud, maybe a note would be easier. My suggestion is to be very clear with them about your boundaries and your feelings and tell them you're considering leaving. They might seem like they don't appreciate you and then the thought of losing you might be a terrible thought. Communication is key. "Accept feedback" is an important part of the permaculture principles!
Posts: 6
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I'm not sure what the "typical" expectations are for work/stay or internship scenarios, but to me that sounds pretty unbalanced. It makes me wonder though if there were clearly outlined expectations to begin with, and if so do they match your experience of time spent working and what you're being asked to do. I once had an internship (not farming related) that specified by contract that I was to do 12-15 hours of specified work per week, and they had me doing close to 35 hours of work that wasn't in the contract. That clearly didn't work, and I ended up having to leave as a result of not getting my contractually based req's met.

If you want to stay, I would agree that writing a clear and kindly worded letter about your experience would be valuable. I would recommend also figuring out what you are and aren't willing to do, and for what, and ask to have a sit down to re-negotiate the terms of your stay.

I'm a new farmer and just hosted 5 interns, all with pretty unpleasant results, but all I asked was 15 hours of labor per week in exchange for housing and staple foods. I think part of the problem was that as a newbie I didn't know much about hosting and failed to communicate specifically enough and give them clear enough messages and boundaries. It would have helped me streamline the process if I had feedback from them, and resulted in less annoyance and resentment of them, which probably came through as a result of my frustration. They might similarly not be aware of things they're doing wrong, and it would be good to figure out if they don't know and care, or know and don't care.

That being said, I had the most trouble (closely followed by excessive substance use) with getting any of the interns to actually complete the 15 hours, so by comparison, your possibly 50 hours (guessing) per week sounds like a lot if you're not really getting a heck of a lot out of it. If you're one of (by my perception) the few people willing to put in massive hours of work as an intern I'm certain you can find a better arrangement elsewhere. But it sounds like either you need more of a contract up front backed up by the willingness to say no to things that aren't on that contract if someone asks. Easier said than done at first, but it gets easier
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Posts: 10
Location: southern Ontario
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I've done a decent bit of wwoofing (a dozen hosts in Canada, USA, and NZ various times over the past 10 years), and 50+hrs/wk is more than l was ever asked for...

Except at one farm, where we had clear communication about roles and expectations at the beginning of the season, and where I developed a close friendship with one of the family members / farm owners where we were good about talking about emotional things.

To me it sounds like you need to provoke a conversation with your host, to be honest about all your "roses and thorns" about them and the internships. Hopefully it goes well. Worst case, it's awkward and sour and you need to move on afterwards.

I think it's fair to think about hours and compensation in a monetary way, because that's the system we live in.
Especially if, at the end of the day, you eventually want enough $ to buy your own chunk of land.
Posts: 1201
Location: northern northern california
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i think you are getting a really bad deal, and you should be thinking about your next possibility.

having been through way too many bad work trade situations, i think the subtle stuff you are already seeing is a hint that it probably wont get better. maybe this is all extremely cynical, i am hypersensitive to the ways people get exploitative in these situations, and have just had way too many bad situations and drama, so yeah i am a bit cynical. most of the things you mentioned are big red flags to me. i know a lot of people who do work trade and different kinds of caretaking work, and its frustrating how many weird scenes are repeated over and over in these kinds of situations, almost like its the norm...

maybe i am wrong here and it would be helpful to try to talk to them and "clear the air"...but i have come to the conclusion that its sort of useless to try to explain this sort of thing to people.

if they were going to get it, THEY ALREADY WOULD, before you have to mention it. if you start to hope you can explain it to them and have them understand, change their minds or get them to see from your perspective, it seems very unlikely. you would be better off trying to find someone who already gets it, without having to spell it out.

if the people you are dealing with were living with better integrity, they would not be expecting you to work as a full time job without any compensation other than room and board. throw on top of that being made to feel like you are a burden when you are literally slaving for them without pay, is another sign they are not likely looking at things from your perspective at all, they probably dont even think they need to , given the imbalanced dynamics.

though spelling it all out, directly setting boundaries and saying no, saying things that are awkward but important, this is all neccessary. when you find people who get it, and who are sensitive to other people and considerate, they will not fault you for saying what you need to say and making sure you are getting a fair deal.

if you dont feel like you can say these things to the people you are currently involved with, thats a big red flag too...its a sign of the off balance dynamics that can even prevent you from saying what you need to say and standing up for your self.

all that said there are good situations out there to be found, but i know it takes a lot of time and a bit of luck to find the right people to work with. i've been in the not very comfortable boat youre in many times, and moving on from a non paid work situation is hard because you have been working for "free" and dont have a lot of resources.

having been through too many bad work trade situations, i am currently in a situation where i feel really good about the people i am working with who are really appreciative of me and my skills, who do not make excessive demands on me and my free time, and who vocalize their gratitude and respect for me, as i do them. they go way out of their way to be supportive of me and my ideas, theres a mutual exchange of support for each other. sometimes just a passing mention of something i would like to do, and within weeks all the supplies and materials needed to do it manifest =) these are nice big green flags, and make me feel appreciated and supported.

you sound like someone who would be an asset to any farm, and i hope you are not feeling disempowered by the way you are being treated. its hard, but hold on to knowing you are worth more than you are getting.

i dislike even vocalizing it, because i really wish it wasnt the trend, but it does seem to be the thing where exploitive people draw to them the good ones, on both sides - worker and person seeking workers. seems like the bad workers end up with the nice owners, and vice versa in some kind of weird magnetism or something? i really wish this wasnt the case, and when it isnt -its awesome. when both sides of this are going out of their way to give more and more to each other, in a true mutually beneficial relationship, its a beautiful thing.

i think people need to start calling out stuff more, and/or moving on and not holding onto bad situations too long...and that people are essentially enabling the bad exploitive behaivoir in others...like it is somehow justified due to being "free" or whatever else.
Posts: 665
Location: Porter, Indiana
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Michael Farrelly wrote:Sooooo First of all let me ask the question. Is working for well over 8 hours a day for 5 days straight, being asked to do all sorts of tasks on your days off, assisting in the care of a 92 year old elder, and then to top it off being treated like you are in the way and a burden to the owners life, a fair trade for room and board?

My first thought would be that if all you believe you are getting out of this internship is room and board, you should quit ASAP. Of course, I'm sure the farm you are working at would see things differently. For example, at wheaton labs, room and board accounts for less than half the monthly cost of an intern.
Posts: 66
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I think you should go for another job.
One reason is because maybe of their age. Remember, in their day and time they worked all day for less than a few bucks. Some have the tendency to think Times have not changed. But they have.
Also, because of this persons age, they may not be around much longer. If that happens, what would happen to you?
I think you have worked too hard for little appreciation.
Time to look at some of those links. Or perhaps in a area you might like to live in.
They also have a intentional community site on the Web. They have different states too. http://www.ic.org/directory/
Good luck, I do hope you find what you are needing!
Forget Steve. Look at this tiny ad:
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