This guide will explain the laws behind interns and volunteers. It also provides insights and strategies to help farmers reduce liability risks related to interns and volunteers. To facilitate the process, the hypothetical stories of farmers Amanda and Ralph are weaved in throughout. The guide will follow their decision-making process as they learn about the legal issues and begin to better understand their options for having interns and volunteers.

Farmer Amanda is a beginning farmer. She has a small CSA and is looking into labor issues, including whether she can rely on some of her CSA members to do some of the farm work and help out with packing and such. She’s ultimately looking to grow and expand her business, and hopefully start selling at farmers’ markets and even restaurants to diversify and better improve profits.

Farmer Ralph is also a beginning farmer. He sells his products mostly at farmers’ markets and to local upscale restaurants. He’s a retired math professor and doesn’t depend at all on the farm’s income for his livelihood. It’s really just a hobby. Ralph’s main priority is to teach new farmers the ropes and pass on his legacy in this way. He loves teaching and really wants to help and train young farmers so they can go out and start their own farm businesses.

This guide covers federal employment law. State employment laws will also come into play, specifically when determining whether the farm must pay the state minimum wage (which can sometimes be higher than the federal minimum wage), get workers’ compensation coverage, and pay state payroll taxes for its interns and volunteers. Like at the federal level, some states provide exemptions to certain employment law obligations for agricultural labor. Unfortunately, state employment laws and exemptions vary immensely and there’s no easy way to summarize it! Farmers will therefore need to take the extra step of looking into their own state’s laws.