Washington L&I Trying Small Farm Internship Program

"Small farms need help, and would-be farmers need a place to learn," the agency says about its one-year pilot program in two counties. Small farms can train up to three interns on farming practices and are able to get comp insurance for them, which is required.

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries is trying out an innovative program to help small farms and those interesting in becoming farmers. The agency also has a big new task on its hands, because Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire on March 14 signed Senate Bill 5801, which directors L&I to create a statewide provider network for injured workers and expand access to the state's four Centers of Occupational Health Education, which treat injured workers.

The farm intern program will end Dec. 31, 2011. L&I includes the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), which administers the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA).

"Small farms need help, and would-be farmers need a place to learn," the agency says in the announcement of its one-year pilot program in Skagit and San Juan counties. Small farms -- those with annual sales below $250,000 -- can train up to three interns on farming practices and are able to get comp insurance for them, which is required. Comp coverage is not available for other types of interns, according to the agency. The farm interns would be exempt from minimum wage laws and could negotiate conditions such as room and board and compensation; the farms must follow all safety and health rules and child labor laws, according to L&I.

The state legislature authorized the project "after hearing concerns that farms weren't following applicable labor laws for interns and that there were few opportunities for inexperienced people to learn hands-on farming practices," the announcement states.

For information, contact Kate Dean, Small-Farm Pilot Project Coordinator, at 360-902-5091 or e-mail to Katherine.Dean@Lni.wa.gov.

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