New lease on life for small farm internship program

Synergy Farm
Synergy Farm's Susan Corning demonstrates the finer points of planting peas for interns Josh Kraetsch, left, and Sadie Beaauregard.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen

Originally created with just San Juan and Skagit counties in mind, Washington state's small-farm internship pilot program is poised to expand.

The state Senate last week approved extending the pilot program through 2017 and adding 11 more counties to the list of those of where the program would apply.

Initiated in 2010, under legislation sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, the program allows small farm owners, those with up to $250,000 in annual sales, to employ interns at less than minimum wage and have them covered by state-approved workers insurance, in exchange for providing interns with an accepted curriculum that's tailored to the type of work they perform, and keeping track of their progress.

“With the average age of farmers approaching 60, it’s important that we introduce young people to our agricultural economies,” Ranker said in a prepared statement. “This bill gives young people an opportunity to learn from the farmers and will help them explore what a career in agriculture may look like.”

In addition to San Juan and Skagit, SB 6392 extends the program to Chelan, Grant, Jefferson, Kitsap, Kittitas, Lincoln, Pierce, Spokane, Thurston, Yakima and Whatcom counties. Farms enrolled in the pilot program can employ up to three interns. Six small farms, including three on San Juan Island, took part in the pilot program during its first two-year trial.

The bill passed without opposition in the Senate Feb. 11, and moves to the House for further consideration.

— Scott Rasmussen


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