Summit Farmers Market Letter to Summit Downtown Inc, Fellow Vendors and our Awesome Customers
November 14, 2016
Mike Rassweiler – North Slope Farm
Summit Farmers Market Letter to Summit Downtown Inc, Fellow Vendors and our Awesome Customers
November 14, 2016
Mike Rassweiler – North Slope Farm
December 2, 2015
Michael Rassweiler, North Slope Farm
When I began to formalize my concept of a Training Program, in 2006, the question of how much to pay a Trainee, and what costs are associated with providing Training were the hardest to resolve.
I began by utilizing the NJ State Minimum Wage as the Entry level rate, for an untrained worker. Then established a slightly higher rate, from $8.25 (Min rate in 2015) to $8.75 if a Trainee had some relevant work experience.
There were small increases; $1.25 per hour for Trainees as they moved from the First year to the Second year and an additional $.50 per hour for Third Year Trainees. With a final $1 bump to $11/hour for any Graduates of the Training.
Providing Mentoring and Training for Farm Workers can be associated with a Wage Rate that is lower than the rate paid to a Trained or Experienced Laborer. The Trainee can expect that precious FARM Time will be dedicated to allow them Time to:
Three Primary Factors have weighed heavily on me over the years;
A Reasonable Minimum Wage: I believe that a worker should not expect to work at the minimum wage for long – it is a wage rate set to ensure that no one is taken advantage of (Youths, Seniors, Immigrants, Developmentally Challenged or otherwise new to workforce) . The minimum wage should allow someone who is working full time to; rent housing, maintain health insurance, maintain a heathy diet and some Quality of Life – for a year. A worker needs to invest themselves in their Employment such that they contribute to the success of the Business – at which time they should be able to request and receive wage increases that reflect true “Cost of Living” and “Contributed Productivity.”
So a reasonable State Minimum wage must reflect the estimated annual cost of Housing, Health Insurance and Food. This is a difficult number to establish, and it changes, sometimes dramatically. Local Counties should be regularly preparing estimated “Cost of Living Assessments” and publishing the information to assist Government in Planning, Businesses in tracking worker needs and Citizens to assess if they are paying too much for services compared to their earning potential.
There has been many broad Political Statements about “$15 minimum wages” from restricted application’s (for instance: “Government Contractors”), to regional actions, for instance, Cities requiring a higher than average Minimum wage to account for Urban, High Costs of Living.
The topic that Small Scale Farmers need to be vocal about, is that Wages take up a large portion of our budgets, cutting into “at risk” profitability. Establishing an arbitrary and high minimum wage makes it very difficult to bring untrained workers into the Industry, to say the least. Discussions of Minimum wages should lead to research into minimum “Cost of Living” – which leads into discussions of the Cost of Local Housing, effective Public Transportation and cost of / Access to Health Care and Food.
Don’t Mess around with Minimum Wages too much – Highlight and Invest in, Sustainable Communities, that foster environments for viable Businesses and Workers.
Most Important – What is a reasonable Wage for an Experienced Farm Worker? In questioning Farmers and Managers that I consider to be running Viable, established businesses, the rates paid to workers vary according to the Workers. Some Workers are very productive, are ready to work early and keep working late, without complaining, losing or degrading equipment. These workers tend to be offered “high” rates of pay ($13-18/hr), sometimes with benefits like housing and overtime (which is not a requirement for Agricultural labor, though it is for most other workers). These workers tend to be long term employees, coming back year after year, often associated with Government Programs to allow Farmers to bring in Seasonal workers from other countries. The highest wages tend to be with businesses estimating a Million Dollars Gross Sales, and Small Farms, like North Slope Farm, struggle to compete for workers.
Some workers are productive sometimes and not so productive other times. They are quite often distracted and even disgruntled. This requires careful monitoring and intercessions by their managers, often leading to creative solutions, but just as often leading to the termination of employment. Small Farms experience high levels of turn over, often benefiting from productive workers for only a portion of a season.
I am very aware that if I hope to retain a good worker from Year to Year, I will need to provide enough opportunity to earn, that they will be able to find a nice place to live, and cover the costs associated with a simple lifestyle. The Wage will need to be competitive to other opportunities, but it also needs to be realistic from the prospective of what the Worker will Produce or Contribute to. This is the challenge of attracting good Labor to Perennially Struggling Small Scale Operations.
My top wage needs to be relevant to my Business Earnings and Viability. Since 2006 North Slope Farm has published Seasonal Summaries, including Profit and Loss and Worker Hours. In that data, there is a relationship that can be associated between the number of hours we worked and our actual productivity, in the form of earnings. From that relationship a realistic hourly rate might be teased out, though it will be complicated by the age old – how much should be profit? – and how much should the first year Trainee be paid, compared to the Farm Manager and experienced staff?
In 2015, we achieved our Gross Earning Goal of $150,000. Gross wages paid were about $66,000 including Employer contributed Taxes. So, wages consumed about 44% of our gross income Not including myself, as owner and Farm Manager (my payment comes from any Profit). I have always used 30% as a maximum goal for how much Payroll should consume of the overall Earnings, so we do not quite make it this year. Also, as an employer, I feel I should increase my worker’s pay, to account for a renewed assessment of Cost of Living, and to endeavor to retain workers whom I have invested years into Training.
North Slope Farm will be applying a general Wage increase for 2016, not as a reflection of our Business Viability, but to try to retain good workers, in a competitive labor market. It will force us to increase our Gross Earnings by a minimum of 10% from $150,000 to $165,000+/-, according to a rough estimate of how much we’d have needed to earn this year, if everyone was at the New Rate of Pay..
I expect 2016 to be unprofitable as we grow into higher wages, but I expect that continued focus on productivity and professionalization of Workers, will lead to a stronger business over time. I don’t have a whole lot of optimism though, for new Small Scale Farms, trying to get started with high wages. As a Society – that cares about eating good food, and fostering sustainable communities – We need to be aware of the Bigger Picture – its not just about Wages – Its about Viability. If you can afford to invest in the Community – You Should.
North Slope Farm is committed to investing in its Workers, increasing wages and fostering an environment that is livable. We encourage our workers to keep their eyes and minds open, to learn and contribute. We are investing in Wages beyond our immediate profitability, and Time for our workers to learn and grow, hoping they will be more able to contribute to our community. We will strive to grow our production and sales capacity. In a few years, I hope we will catch up with these increases, at least we will restructure to keep the farm productive, even if production and focus might change.
Winter Solstice 2014-
At North Slope Farm, Winter Solstice is honored as an ancient, human celebration. We get together at ‘the Farmhouse’ to share foods and beverages, music, stories and laughter.
2014 will be honored on Sunday December 21 – 5pm into the evening. If forecast for Sunday is Dire – Party may be pushed earlier to Sat!
Some details; there will be food and drink avail, but please bring something to share. The meal is Pot-luck, there will be a table to set your dish, likewise the party is BYO – tho we will have a big hot water station and our dried herbs to sample as Tea.
Musicians are encouraged to bring their instrument, as group jams often occur. A safe zone for instruments will be established by the Players…. If you think you’d like to offer some song / music and want to confirm details call North Slope Farm at 609-460-4636.
Location – and parking..
Musicians and early arrivals will find space in the “Farmhouse Parking Lot” at 1701 Linvale-Harbourton Rd, 08530. It has limited parking tho and the overflow is around the corner on Rock Road East.
Park at North Slope Farm to be sure to find a spot – 386 Rock Road East, 08530. From Route 579, turn onto Rock Road East, the first driveway is the Farm entrance. Overflow parking will seem like you are following a long and winding road, but don’t worry, you will follow a trail of torches back to the party and it’ll be fun!
Clothing – wear solid shoes, walking from parking, if at all rainy, in recent past, you will encounter Wet Ground. Party will be inside Farmhouse but, weather permitting, there will be a celebration ‘Campfire’ outside as well.
Any questions? call mike at 609-460-4636
Hope we see you there, but wherever you are; ‘Happy Solstice’
North Slope Farm received notification from the New Jersey Department of Health, that Seniors can expect to receive funds from the Federal Government, that are to be invested in local Agriculture, at Farmers Markets!
Seniors.. Do you know how to access these Funds? Call the NJ Health Department 609-292-9560
Friday, June 28, 2013
Summit Downtown Inc., Board of Trustees, voted on Wednesday, June 19th – ‘To maintain the Summit Downtown Farmers Market, at the Lot, located on the corner, of Deforest Ave and Maple Street.’
North Slope Farm represented the basic, stated opinions, of the Five Long Term Produce Farmers, at the Board Meeting, and we thank everyone for their time and attention.
Summit, like any City, is always seeking ways to support and foster it’s “Downtown”, as a place that citizens will come, eat, shop and socialize. The Farmers Market is a big part of supporting the environment.
Thinking about these issues, one item remains clear – To foster a “Farmer Friendly” Farmers Market – Listen to your Farmers!
Good Luck Everyone!
West Amwell Township Master Plan Reexamination Report, 2009 – Public Comment
November 17, 2010
West Amwell Twp Master Plan Reexamination Report 2009 – Public Comment**
West Amwell, NJ 08530
I have been a resident of West Amwell since 1994, Owner and operator of North Slope Farm, located on the South East border of West Amwell Township, Hunterdon County, NJ, USA.
The following comments are directly focused on the text and ramifications of the West Amwell Township Master Plan Reexamination Report of 2009.
Page 2, ‘Findings” section a: “It was decided that public sewers were not appropriate in West Amwell ‘because of the negative impact they can have on the municipalities rural character’”
-This statement about sewers is contrary to the planning knowledge and advice published in both the NJ Department of Agriculture Smart Growth Plan, and the Hunterdon County Strategies for Managing Growth.
-More accurately this sentence could read: “It was decided to seek the removal of West Amwells only Sewer Service line from the State Wastewater Management Plan.”
-Also, if the Planning Board truly honors the input of its citizens, there must be some reference to the huge response by the public, to the 2003 “proposed zoning changes.” – including a footnoted reference to the minutes of that historic public reaction.
– I suggest adding the sentence; The 2003 revision of the Master Plan was noticed to all WAT taxpayers and there was voluminous public testimony. Provide Reference to the minutes from the meeting.
Page 4, Objectives: The planning Board would have us believe that a sole reliance on individual, on site wells and individual septic systems will: “protect natural resources, preserve open space for agriculture and maintain community character.”
This philosophy, or agenda, has been discredited regionally, nationally and internationally as insufficient and misdirected. Please reference both the NJ Agricultural Smart Growth Plan and the Hunterdon County Strategies for Managing Growth.
Individual septic systems rely on positively establishing that household, commercial and industrial wastewater will enter the groundwater. We should not seek to dilute pollution – waste water should be cleaned, and waste nutrients and energy should be captured. This will be accomplished through managed wastewater systems.
Nor should we accept that land use planning, dictated by soil suitability to septic systems will protect agriculture or open space – Quite the contrary,
For example, the Planning Board, using soil suitability for septic systems has designated the highest allowable residential densities, RR-4, on our soils best suited for agriculture.
Page 7, Policies #3: “The Township will consider and evaluate innovative design proposals that would enhance and protect environmental features, minimize energy usage and encourage development densities compatible with existing patterns of development.”
This policy basically describes “Clustering.” In fact, to quote from the NJ Agricultural Smart Growth Plan, “Clustering is a development design technique that concentrates buildings on a portion of land to allow for the remainder to be preserved for agriculture, recreation and environmental purposes.”
The Hunterdon County Strategies for Managing Growth also highlights the importance of incorporating Clustering as a development policy crucial to curtailing the increasing rate of fragmented open spaces and poor control of development patterns.
What the West Amwell Plan hides or does not sufficiently explain, is that the policies stated are rendered impotent by the overriding criteria that all our land use planning and approvals are dictated by soil suitability to the least environmentally sound method of waste water management – the individual septic system.
Page 8, Residential Districts: The statement that consideration of Transfer of Development Rights is irrelevant in West Amwell. By removing the potential for consideration of Transfer of Development Rights, the Planning Board has given landowners, who are interested in pursuing development options, no ability to protect their equity except through taxpayer funded easement purchases (of dubious longevity) or standard large lot subdivisions.
This action stands in direct contradiction to the NJ Agricultural Smart Growth Plan which states “that the achievement , protection and maintenance of equity be a major objective of public policy decisions, including the purchase or transfer of development rights.”
Furthermore, the Board is sidestepping its real job – identifying areas where planned growth might provide affordable housing options and mixed use economic zones as well as options for public transportation and non-car dependant living.
To Come Clean and Step Back Into the Light:
**(I missed the public hearing by a year! but submit these comments to the public sphere because I feel strongly that the Master Plan has been abused by personal adgendas and a misguided belief in the power of limited options)**