Back in late winter 2018 the Value Chain Cluster Initiative joined forces with farmers in the Greenbrier Valley Cluster to tackle a complex yet commonly heard need in the farming community – the challenge of hiring seasonal, reliable, and well-trained labor.
To attempt to address this issue, we hired Downstream Strategies to develop a Shared Labor Pool program model that could be customized. The model was designed in consultation with VC2 and Sprouting Farms LLC – the Sponsoring Organization for the model program – along with farmers in the region.
Through the process of working on the project we were able to identify a set of flexible criteria for how a Sponsoring Agency might go about coordinating a Shared Labor Pool Program with farmers in their county or region. Criteria that were considered include Management/Human Resources, Pricing & Payroll, Finding & Assessing Skilled Labor, Service Agreements, Labor Planning & Scheduling, the True Cost of Hiring Farm Labor (and why it behooves us to coordinate around this need in our farming communities), and more!
One of the principal challenges facing small to medium size farms in West Virginia is the difficulty of identifying, utilizing, and retaining laborers. Human resources tasks such as hiring, insurance requirements, and tax management are often barriers to small farms hiring employees. The Shared Labor Pool Program Guidance document and associated resources describe a model framework for a shared labor pool program; adaptable by any Sponsoring Agency with the capacity to manage such a project, for the benefit of farmers within their service area.
This can be a big help to small farmers. The aim of the Shared Labor Pool program is simple: provide farmers with temporary labor in a way that reduces the management burden on those farmers while still filling their labor needs.
This model also stands to benefit farm employees! Working with a Sponsoring Agency or collaborative project such as the Shared Labor Pool Program can help the laborer find more consistent, full-time, and potentially even year-round work. This can help keep people employed on farms who might otherwise have to pick up other part-time or seasonal jobs.
Achieving these goals in a sustainable manner, however, will require careful planning and give and take on the part of both the managing entity and customer farmers, as well as clear and consistent communication between all parties.
We would like to extend a special thank you to Downstream Strategies and Sprouting Farms LLC for their work to help bring these resources to fruition. Additional resources are indexed at the end of the Shared Labor Pool Program Guidance document for those interested in developing this model.
Here are the toolkit documents for your use and customization to fit your own program!