Applications open for farm internship program

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COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD – CHERYL SCHWEIZER

 

OLYMPIA — Applications are being accepted for an internship program that introduces potential farmers to the hands-on work of running a farm.

The Farm Internship Project is administered by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries and is open to prospective farmers in 20 Washington counties, including Grant and Chelan counties. The project has been renewed through the end of 2019.

The goal is to allow people who are interested in learning about farming to learn the business close-up, according to information from L&I, “ensuring that vital knowledge is being passed to a new generation of farmers.” Qualifying farms can enroll up to three interns per year.

Certifications are good for one year.

To qualify, a farm operation must have less than $250,000 in gross sales per year, and all owners and partners must “provide regular labor” on the farm. In addition, all owners and partners must participate in farm management.

Interns are exempt from the state’s minimum wage law and may work without wages or other compensation. Farmers can pay or offer wages, or other compensation, if they choose. Interns are signed up for worker’s compensation.

But interns cannot “displace an experienced worker,” according to the L&I website. The program can’t “create unfair competition due to lowered labor costs or affect working standards established for experienced workers.”

Farmers must create a curriculum to help interns learn the business. The materials must be based on “approved curriculum of an educational or vocational institution.” It must emphasize farming skills and vocational knowledge about farming. Farmers must provide a sample curriculum.

The application must include a copy of the proposed curriculum and documents that show the farm’s gross sales, the L&I website said.

Farmers interested in the program must be in compliance with minimum wage laws and worker’s comp laws.

The certificate can be revoked if the farmer doesn’t meet the requirements.

“We are losing the knowledge of elder farmers as they retire, and fewer folks are entering farming,” said Julie Gullett, a farmer from Centralia who advocated expanding the program. “It’s important for more farms to reap the benefits of this project.”

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.