Finding safety solutions in cooperative businesses

Everywhere in the news these days the same story keeps emerging: Farmers and farmworkers don’t have adequate protection from COVID-19 and from the hazardous air billowing out from this year’s historic wildfires. All of us (farmers, farm workers, and eaters) are dependent on each other for our health and safety. How do we create safety for everyone?

Imagine for a moment the potential of a worker-owned cooperative to help define the way forward. Workers would own the co-op in which they are employed and hire themselves out to farmers for projects or for the whole season. When farmworkers own the business that is employing them, they have the ability to set standards for their labor. They also have a stake in the farm’s bottom line – if farmers don’t make money, the worker has no clients. As a result, we cultivate the ideal conditions for creative solutions that harmonize safe working conditions and farm profitability.

Farm Commons, along with partners including New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, are researching the legal nuances and practical applicability of these collaborative opportunities. As a preview, working together can sometimes create a larger entity that incurs more legal obligations like overtime pay and additional safety protections. But, it can also create ways to share those costs so no individual farm has to make the choice on their own. Stay tuned for more!