Many sustainable farms have used online services that connect volunteers to sustainable farmers. These volunteers are often domestic or international travelers who work in exchange for room and board. Farmers may be asking, why can these folks work for free in exchange for room and board? Are these types of work-for-lodging arrangements exempt from employment laws?

The answer is no. Work-for-lodging arrangements are not any different from what was discussed above for interns and volunteers. Folks who do work on a for-profit farm under the direction of the farmer for some sort of compensation—including room and board—are employees in the eyes of the law and therefore employment laws apply. This is not to say that work-for-lodging is illegal. It’s more accurate to say that the law has not caught up to these innovations. Many online sites and services such as shared rides and shared home-stay services are relatively new and on the fringe of the law. It takes time for the law to adapt itself and apply to new systems and structures. This naturally creates a level of uncertainty. With that said, farmers need to be cautious, as having a work- for-lodging volunteer involves uncertainty and therefore a degree of risk. The farmers could face legal and financial liability in the form of injuries, wage claims, and various enforcement actions.

So what should the farmer do? The truth is that volunteering comes in all shapes and sizes. The answer to what a farmer should do to manage and reduce these risks is going to depend on the individual circumstances of each farm, including the farmer’s level of risk adversity, the types of activities the volunteer is engaged in, the duration of the arrangement and so on. The purpose of the guide is to explain what the law is. The risk- managing conclusions are up to you!