September 1, 2013

Project would link farms, workers

Like a 'speed-dating service,' a database by Starks Farm Hands would match skilled locals with jobs.

By RACHEL OHM Morning Sentinel

(Continued from page 1)

Providing farm help will encourage more farmers, including young people, to start small organic farms, which Livingston said she sees as a key to sustainability and the local food movement.

"The way to support that, according to the farmer, is temporary farm labor, short-term but very reliable and experienced. The idea of organizing a pool of temporary farm workers that would be reliable, experienced and trained and who would work for $10 an hour is pretty daunting but could really help rural Maine survive, thrive and produce food for the state," she said.

CATEGORIZED BY EXPERIENCE

Paula Day, co-owner of Harakiel Farm in Starks, said finding workers can be difficult, and that one of the things she looks forward to with the Farm Hands idea is a system that would categorize people by experience and areas of expertise. She said she now looks both in town and outside of town for workers, including on the Somerset County and state labor listings.

"It hasn't been that easy. Finding labor for agricultural work- local, in-state labor- is very difficult," Day said. Not everyone has experience with physical labor, she said, and seasonal jobs can be hard to fill because many people who probably would take a low-paying, physical job are often receiving state welfare or unemployment compensation that would be disrupted by a seasonal job.

Despite these challenges, Murphy said he thinks the number of people interested in agricultural work is growing because of a slow economic recovery and other factors, including the growth of the local food movement.

Both Livingston and Murphy said they are looking for workers of any age. Livingston, 66, said that once the co-op is more firmly established, she plans to work and use the income to supplement her retirement income.

"There's a lot of farm work that isn't really back-breaking labor. There's sorting and washing and bagging. There's work available for people who have no work, who have less work than they need; and if you can work for 40 hours making $10 an hour, in northern Maine you can live on that," she said.

Murphy said that by creating two lists -- one of farmers and one of workers -- the Farm Hands could help fill needs such as the ones described by Day and other farmers around the state. He said they wouldn't be involved with the specifics of worker contracts.

"It was the thought that we could sort of match them up, like a speed-dating service, and then step back after introducing the people," Murphy said.

Eventually, he said, the group wants to have more information than just people's names and telephone numbers. The list could include work experience, scheduling or transportation needs that would make the match-ups work better.

EDUCATIONAL COMPONENT

There is also an educational component that Murphy said he would like to incorporate, which would include video tutorials, training and transportation to educational opportunities.

Pay for the Farm Hands would be only $7 to $10 per hour, but Murphy said there are other benefits. Last year, Murphy said, he had extra Swiss chard and asparagus and sent them home with his employees.

He said he has developed a sort of father-son relationship with one of his workers.

"I can't say it would be that way for everybody, but at least for me, I think it goes beyond the cash exchange," he said.

Rachel Ohm can be reached at 612-2368 or at:

rohm@mainetoday.com

 

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