Expectations for Farm Crews

Eastern Mass CRAFT Farmers

Inspired by a recent Q&A e-discussion between farmers on the EMass CRAFT email list, we explore responses to common questions about managing a farm crew.



Topics covered include:

Q: What time do you start and end your day?

- At my farm jobs we generally started around 7 am. In early spring and late fall, 7:30 am or 8:00 am whenever the sun made work tolerable. We had a morning meeting every day at 7 am sharp, which seemed to help us transition into the work day well. End times were a consistent nine hours from start time, with some exceptions for projects like straw baling. I think the consistency was very important for crew morale. For instance, at my landscaping job, we end when we're done, sometime between 4:30 pm and 6:00 pm, which took a long time to get used to.

- Generally my crew works 7 am - 4 pm.

- My full time employee is the primary production person. I do a weekly walk through on Sunday and on Monday we meet to go over the list/priorities, what she'll do, what volunteers will do, what I'll do. She works very independently. She sets her own hours. My part-time gal also sets her own hours, but I have timely tasks for her, such as helping with our farmstand. Last week my full time gal worked 6 am- 12 pm or 1 pm and then again in the evening and left early on Thurs & Fri afternoons. Because we're so small, I can be quite flexible.

- As a crew member I worked 7 am-5 pm, four days a week on a 7-acre farm.

- My livestock crew member starts at 6 am and ends at about 5 pm; my field crew starts at 7 am and ends at about 5 pm, sometimes 6 pm.

- We start at 7 am and end at 4 pm, usually with a short 5-15 minute break in the morning for a drink or a quick snack, and then an hour lunch. Saturdays most of the crew works 7 am-12 pm.

Q: Do you work split shifts when it is oppressively hot?

- I only did it once, on a farm in Israel with a friend. It worked since we had a cabin to nap in during the hot part of the day. I wouldn't like it otherwise because I'd rather spend my free time relaxing at home than wandering sitting and waiting for work to continue in my dungarees. We spent all last week landscaping in the sun, just doing low-key projects and we took the hottest day off.

- In the heat, we've been starting at 5 am, taking a half-hour breakfast break at 7 am, another half hour for lunch at around 11 am, and then finishing by 2 pm.

- When its oppressively hot, we take a break mid-afternoon to avoid the worst of it (at around 2 pm).

- This has been considered but not acted upon. I think this would be desirable for the interns (three of them) who live at the farm, but not for the part-time workers (three of them, who work three days a week each, 24 hours each) and for myself and the other field crew manager, who commute about 20 minutes a piece.

- Not yet this year (I think I'm getting used to the heat), but I have in the past by working 5 am-1 pm, usually not doing the afternoon shift.

Q: Are people compensated differently if they work more than 10 hours in a day?

- We never got overtime at the farms, which wasn't too bad, but we never worked more than 10 hours either. My current job pays time and a half over 40 hours in a week, which is one of the things that keeps me from going crazy working 50-60 hour weeks.

- I was paid 10/hr no matter the weather and was expected to show up on time.

- No.

- There are state laws about overtime pay requirements - it’s good to know what they are in your state (check Department of Labor website).

- They pay us by the hour, which requires them to have us stop working after 40-45 hours, which is FAR nicer than being paid monthly and having little control over how much time you put in.

Q: Do you have crew members and managers keep track of how they are spending their time (for time sheet purposes or for record keeping)?

- Interns' hours are not kept. They are paid monthly and in room/board. Managers' and part-timers's hours are kept with a Google spreadsheet. Includes what times were worked, how many total hours, and a summary of what work was done.

- After much push back, I'm now getting bi-weekly time reports of tasks done. I don't do payroll until I get this. I got 6 weeks behind in payroll, waiting for this documentation. Now I get it more timely. My paid staff and volunteers all report back what they did and how much time they spent doing it. I don't do anything with the data now, but I'm planning to crunch numbers during the off season.

- I've done that in the past just as a way to understand where time goes/is a crop worth the effort/am I seeing my business for what it is. I recommend you do this with one person on your crew as an experiment, but don't bother everyone with it.

- I've only done this at one farm. It was pretty inaccurate because we had to remember our schedule all at the end of the day. My current boss uses a better system wherein we record essentially the number of man hours for each project at each house, for billing purposes. Managers keep track of everyone's time, and record time of day, break times, what project was done, and how many people were on it.

Q: Are people paid on 1099s or W-2s? What is the pay scale? Is is based on experience or role?

- W-2. Pay scale is 600/month for interns plus individual cabins and a clubhouse with kitchen, dining and shower separate from the house, lots of veggies, milk, a good amount of other food and a beautiful, happy place to spend the growing season. $8/hr for part-time workers plus veggies/milk, and $10/hr for managers plus veggies/milk. (The milk is supposed to be a bonus for those who do the milking but Peaches has been putting out so much that we're practically giving it away.) Pay is based on roles, which are based on experience.

- I do payroll with W-2s. So far I've paid $10 - $12/hour, but am looking ahead to expanding to 5 - 10 acres and may hire a someone at $40k/year at that scale.

- Legally, crew would have to paid with a W-2. 1099’s are for independent contractors, and I doubt that any field crew would be considered this by the IRS. I don’t have apprentices/interns, in part because the wage issues are murky, so I don’t know much about that scenario. Don’t forget to have I-9’s on file for all employees as well.

- W-2s. Pay starts anywhere from $8/hour to as much as $20/hr depending on the operation. I think for a small CSA (5 acres or less, 200 members), $8-10/hour is the going rate. A larger farm with more specialization will require higher trained, higher skilled, more experienced farmers. They get expensive, but are also far more productive and profitable for you.

Q: How do you estimate how many crew members you will need for the season (acres, number of markets, CSA members)?

- I don't know how they estimate it but our two owners work full-time+, two managers work full-time (the role of manager is new to the farm this year, by the way, and I think that it has been a worthwhile change for them), three interns work full-time+ (chores, etc. in addition to regular work hours), and three part-timers plus about 20 work-share members for our 160-member CSA. We are on 8-acres, certified organic mixed vegetable and cut-flower operation that also hosts daily summer camps, weddings almost every weekend, has pigs, cows, layers and broilers, 4 greenhouses and two tunnels. We also sell to some area restaurants, at our farmstand, and have a store-within-a-specialty-foods-store in nearby Portland. I think the labor hours has matched well to our needs this season. The owners do a lot more hours than the rest of us but I think this is typical and also by design. One other thought: there are plans to add probably another acre of production next year but my guess is that, if I and the other manager stay on for next year, the benefit of that experience should mean that more labor should not be necessary, or at most, one more part-timer.

- We have 3 acres. Some of that is big stuff like pumpkins & sweet corn that don't take a lot of labor. For intensive things I roughly figure 1 acre/person.

- I've got a matrix that I've been working on for a few years. Assuming we are talking about a ridiculously diversified farm like most of our CSAs, with tons of inefficiencies. What I find is that I need (my experience...I make lots of mistakes, another farmer would probably do a better job) one field crew member per acre until I hit 4 acres. Once I'm over 4 acres, some real efficiencies kick in. I can farm 5 acres with the same number of crew members. At 6 acres, I need another half crew member. This continues along until I get to the 10-15 acre mark, and then I start running into more specialization within the farm crew...dedicated greenhouse manager, harvest manager, wash-up crew, distribution/farm stand staff, etc.

Q: How do you keep track of what is brought in at market and what do you do if the till is short?

- Our harvest/packing list included specific numbers for market, CSA, and wholesale orders, so it was checked by multiple people before loading up and trucking out. As far as till goes, what with rotten veggies, weight fudging, and loose pricing to make calculations easier, I don't think the till will ever be right on. I wouldn't consider it a problem unless your output is far too high for what you sell or you're losing significant amounts of money at market. If that's the case, you might streamline your weighing and pricing system before your tracking system.

- We kept track of what went to market by only harvesting what we brought. 80 bunches of herbs, 50 pints of snap peas, for example.

- I assume you mean that the till is short because of honest mistakes...not someone stealing. If that's the case, make sure that you have a system to make transactions simple.

Q: Do you have lunch together?

- I love when farms do this. Although it's good for team building, it's not necessary to feed everyone and sacrifice a crew member to cooking if you can't spare them. I don't think owners or even managers have to eat with the crew, but I think everyone should break at the same times to foster a culture in which everyone understands taking care of your physical needs takes precedence over the work.

- I started making lunch for everyone on Thursdays, the day we have the most staff & crew present and we're harvesting for our Thursday afternoon farmstand. Plus, I needed to have a good meal on my long days. Otherwise, it varies. We don't often sit down together, but then my full time gal is usually the only one around.

- We also eat lunch together, with 10-minute breaks at around 10 am and 3 pm to snack, hydrate and recharge.

- The crew eats together but the owners use their lunch break to spend some time with their young child and to do a little advance planning, except on Fridays when we make lunch together or one person is delegated to make lunch for everyone.

- Normally everyday and I make it mandatory. I even pay crew members during their lunch time so there is no confusion/assumption that this is their time off. It's not time off. We are taking a moment to refuel, rehydrate. Great opportunity to talk about things. Very important for crew moral.

Q: Are cell phones necessary? Can they be a distraction?

Most of my outdoor jobs have relied on cell phones for employee communication. It definitely made room for people to abuse it. Most people will use their phones for non-work things, but as long as the culture demands hard work and holds people accountable, I don't think it can become a huge problem. An alternative is to have a walkie-talkie system that has very rigid rules around their care and maintenance.

- No cell phones were used or really needed unless to communicate with the manager.

- We use them to communicate all the time with each other. Other phone use is a minor problem at times but nothing that has been necessary to talk about.