Working on a farm requires sacrifices. Early mornings, long hours, and hard physical labor through heat, rain and cold. Many small farms rely heavily on the labor of interns, who frequently work for housing and produce with minimal pay. Often they’re interested in starting farms of their own, hoping to gain experience and knowledge by working with established farmers. A passion for growing food overrides all of these sacrifices and young people continue to flock to farms, finding work that feeds their souls and communities.
But is running the farming industry on intern labor sustainable long-term? Internships usually run from three to six months leading to frequent turnover and retraining of farm workers. Funny Girl Farm, in Durham, North Carolina, has several interns and several salary employees working to grow produce and manage several hundred chickens. Currently, they’re looking at shifting more of their employees towards salary positions but it’s a constant juggling act between profit and payroll.
Early morning light through the doorway of intern housing at Funny Girl Farm. Intern housing is located walking distance up the road from the farm itself.
Nate Lotze is one of the interns at Funny Girl Farm and lives in the creatively named “intern house” located a tenth of a mile up Mt Moriah Road. He’s up at 6:30 am and out the door to the farm 10 minutes later after eating a homemade vegan scone from a batch his mom sent him.
If it’s his turn on the schedule, the first thing Nate does when he gets to the farm is let the chickens out of their mobile coop where they roost overnight. A scarecrow wards off airborne predators while farm dogs Phoebe and Filbert (two huge white Great Pyrenees) patrol on foot. Funny Girl Farm chickens are raised for egg production and the farm has hundreds of them at a time to keep up with demand for fresh eggs.
Brian Ferrell is one of the salary employees at Funny Girl Farm. As Field Supervisor he manages the day to day tasks related to keeping the fields productive. Brian grew up in North Carolina on 10 acres where his parents kept a large garden. When asked how he got into farm work he said: “Farming and gardening continued to present itself in my life. Whenever I’m doing this type of work there’s a deep resonance. This feels right. I’ve never felt so deeply satisfied with a job."
Although there are specific job titles, everyone pitches in to get things done. Fridays are big harvest days and everyone is on deck to get everything from tomatoes to cut flowers out of the fields and up to the barn for processing.
Teamwork and independence are both key to the overall success of the farm. Vegetable Production Manager, Melissa Rosenberg, says part of what attracts her to working on a farm is a love of nose to the ground, solitary, hard work. “I’m a human being, a social creature, but I think a lot of farmers like the solitary quiet that comes along.” She also appreciates the farming community in North Carolina and how supportive and collaborative everyone is. “I have a problem, they have solutions. If somebody comes up with one, why reinvent the wheel?"
“One thing I love about farming is the creativity required to solve problems, basically for free, out of necessity. It’s definitely one of my favorite parts of the job.” - Melissa Rosenberg
Nate worked for an environmental non-profit related to climate change straight out of college but eventually wanted a change of scene. Working on a farm appealed to him because he’d get to work outside all the time doing a variety of tasks.
Funny Girl Farm, in Durham, North Carolina, has interns and salary employees working to grow produce and manage several hundred chickens. Intern Nate Lotze worked for an environmental non-profit related to climate change straight out of college but eventually wanted a change of scene. “Everyone always comments on my shoes.”
Nate enjoys being “directly involved with growing good food and the sustainable moment, and working with good people.” Although he’s enjoyed being a farm intern, he thinks the shift towards longer term, salaried employees would be a good thing for farming. “It’s not efficient to have your workforce change every 3-6 months."