How To Hire and Keep Good Employees
NOFA-NJ Winter Conference 2016
Mike Rassweiler – NorthSlopeFarm.com
(Below are the Slides from the Presentation, offered for reference and as sample of the presentation…)
Links and References
NorthSlopeFarm.com ; Mission Statement, Training Program, Workers Wages
IRS ; Employers Tax Guide ; Circular E, Publication 15
IRS ; Agricultural Employers Tax Guide; Circular A ; Publication 225
USDA Economic Research Service / Farm Economy
Salatin, Joel. Fields of Farmers. Virginia: Polyface Inc.
The Employee, defined by the IRS
- Someone who does work for you (the employer).
- Someone who follows your directions and instructions.
- Someone who uses your tools, machines and facilities.
Experienced Worker vs Untrained Worker
Describe the Worker you Seek
Draft the expected Wages and Benefits you will Provide
Wage Rate commitment at North Slope Farm for 2016
- First Years: $9 / hr
- Second Years: $11 / hr
- Third Years : $12 / hr
- Experienced and Committed Workers : $13 / Hr
Our schedule assumes a 40 hour work week,
Over a season from March through November ( 41 weeks )
Maximum expected wages for 2016: $90,700 + employer taxes (+/- $8,500)
- 2 First Years: $29,500
- 1 Second Year: $18,000
- 1 Third Year (24 weeks): $11,500
- 1 Worker (full time): $21,200
- 1 Worker (part time): $10,500
If everyone works full time, to achieve a 40% payroll ratio,
Our Gross Income Goal will need to be $300,000 +/-
Venture Viability Calculations
Calculating Required Gross Income to meet Wage Demands assuming goal of 40% of Income in Wages
( Expected Wages X 1.5 ) + Expected Wages = Gross Income Goal
So , for example, assume; a worker at $9 / hr X 40 hrs X 32 weeks (April-Nov) = $11,520
Then assume you’ll need; 2 workers = $23,040
($23,040 X 1.5) + $23,040 = $57,600 estimated Gross Income for a Venture that will hire two Seasonal Workers,
So, $57,600 (Gross) – $23,040 (wages) = $34,560 will be the remainder for operations and profit…
Assuming Production over 6 months (+/- 24 weeks) = $2,400 sales per week, required…
Other factors to consider: Potential Yield per acre & Number of Workers required (per acre)
NOFA-NJ Winter Conference Notes 2016
Mike Rassweiler, NorthSlopeFarm.com
February 2016: Insights gained from workshops attended
Soil Fertility Management for Organic Farms
Joseph Heckman, Ph.D, Rutgers University
Production problems are almost always traced back to nutrient imbalance in the soil. Starting the conference with the practiced wisdom of Dr. Heckman was good for me, as the following workshops built on the assumption of a fertile and balanced soil. Of course, the process starts with a soil sample – the tested results of which will highlight the pH of the soil and significant deficiencies and high concentrations. Dr. Heckman strongly urges Organic Farmers to seek to build and maintain Nitrogen fertility thru the establishment and maintenance of cover cropping and establishing rotations that allow the establishment of “perennial” pasture, including legumes.
The perennial pasture could be simply increasing the cover cropped period, of a field, from one season to two. Dr. Heckman emphasized the significant improvement in Nitrogen fixation compared to a single season.
Some other items of note for our planning included a Calcium Silicate material – Wollastonite (mined in NY state), that has shown profound suppression of powdery mildew, probably due to the Silica. The material can be used to raise the pH, similar to lime, and would serve to bolster Calcium levels at the same time. Calcium was highlighted as being important to improve “tillith” or the crumb structure of the soil. Dr. Heckman also discussed using 1-2 tons per acre of Gypsum, combined with compost or manure to bolster Calcium levels, if needed. Sulfur was discussed as being important for vegetable taste and Amino Acid (protein) benefits. A rate of 20-14 lbs per acre was mentioned.
Micro Nutrients were discussed as being important to maintain in suitable concentrations, with notable deficiencies often related to Boron and Manganese. Typically North Slope tests high for manganese but the need for added Boron, to improve root crop development, has been a factor in the past. Jim Kinsel taught us the refrain, long ago, “Beets love Boron!”
Finally, Dr. Heckman stressed the valuable step of utilizing Plant Tissue Analysis, especially in perennial Fruit crops, to monitor Fertility balance or imbalance. He recommended a Plant Analysis Handbook, and recommends sampling Plant Tissue in late July – early August. His work and contact info can be accessed at the NJ Agricultural Research Station website.
Principles of Biological Systems – Intro
Dan Kitteredge, Bionutrient Food Association.
What struck me in Dan’s presentation was the assessment of production systems being given a failing grade when struggling with disease and low yields. That the focus should not be on, how to deal with problems, but to avoid them all together through sound care of our soils. Dan discussed the core principles of Air, Water and Temperature, as relates to soil and maintaining active life in the soil. The soil microorganisms are in tight bonds with plant life, cycling energy, nutrients and gasses that yield healthy production. The organisms need to be able to breathe, and due to very short life expectancies are very susceptible to the common agriculture devastation of tillage and bare soil cultivation.
My take away from Dan’s presentation was that the improvements we’ve seen at North Slope Farm, with our Favorable Furrows and Permanent Raised beds, are just the beginning of our journey towards Ecological Agriculture, and that the journey will be life altering. Treating the soil better, avoiding the traps of modern agriculture with its reliance of large production areas, big machinery and expensive off farm imputs, will result in more reliable long term production, reduced costs, and probably significantly increased actuall yields of nutrient rich food and crops!
No-Till Intensive Vegetable Growing
Bryan O’Hara, Tobacco Road Farm, Lebanon CT.
Bryan’s talk was the perfect complement to the previous fellows, as he showed the effect of the previous speakers points. He stated the importance of working with fertile and balanced soils, then went on to describe a production system that was music to the small farmers ears. “No-Till” used to make me think of massive tractors and heavy implements, not any more. Bryan mows cover crops and crop residue, with a small scale mower, then covers the area with clear plastic for one to two days. In that time, the vegetation is “solarized” or killed by the suns insolation, and he replants with minimal effort and negligible weed problems.
Bryan uses compost to lightly dress the area to be seeded and chopped mulch to lightly cover any bare soil. By necessity, the area he treats is “small” (square feet as opposed to acres), due to the intensity of hand labor and process, from covering with tightly anchored sheets of plastic, compost application by hand, scattering vegetable seed by hand and light, but careful mulching with finely chopped material.
I missed his description of working with Indigenous Microorganisms (IMO), but integral to his practices, is the fostering of a MicroBiologically active soil. His testimony strongly advocates the management of adding and fostering MicroBiology to the no till system. His microbe rich soil discourages the use of large, disruptive equipment, and yields crops with annual reductions in irrigation and weed control needs. Bryan referred to Korean agricultural practices and Hawaiian resources for the development of a “grow your own” Indigenous Microorganism System, and on the strength of his example, we will be pursuing this topic at North Slope Farm, to share with every new farmer we train, as well as, to build the resilience and vitality of our soils and production systems!
The Challenges and Opps for On Farm Slaughter
Jon McConaughy, Double Brook Farm, Hopewell, NJ
The need for on Farm processing facilities is a function of taking the investment we make in production, all the way through processing to the final product. Too often, hard work, gently raising livestock, is lost when the only way to process them is to drive hours away, based on an arbitrary schedule, and hand them over to a system designed for efficiency rather than Humane treatment and preservation of product purity. In the interest of human safety, regulations requiring standardized protocol, process and design can limit the ability of a farm to handle their product independently. Jon described his operation’s investment in controlling the whole process – which serves their goal of humane treatment of animals for food, keeping the animals close to their familiar surroundings and caretakers. The operation at Double Brook Farm sets a high bar for a new operation to invest in independence and their experience will impact our region for years to come!
Value Added Food Production – Food Safety 101
Donald Schaffner, Ph.D, Rutger University, NJ
“Its Complicated, and It Depends..” I felt like I gained a basic understanding of food safety – Criteria to Consider, and I was glad to have taken the workshop. pH, Water Activity and Temperature are the defining issues in food safety, and each product can be assessed by these criteria. Each product will have a distinct pH, or level of acidity. pH of 2 is our stomach acid and lime juice, 5-6 are meats, 5 for carrots, 4-5 for tomatoes.. Below pH 4.5 is the magic point at which many illness causing spores will not flourish (to over simplify).
Water Activity is measured on a scale of 0 – 1, and describes relative humidity of foods, packed in a container. The lower the Water Activity, like a dried herb, the less the food safety concern, the higher, like a container of soup, the greater the concern. Adding sugar or salt can reduce water activity (probably why there is so much in processed foods).
Temperature is important as it relates to limiting illness causing organisms from growing, in refrigeration, and eradicating bad bugs through high temperatures which kill them. Dr. Schaffner encouraged us to read the NJ Department of Health State Code Chapter 24 to gain a starting point when considering how to handle a product. We were also encouraged to reach out to the State and County Health Departments for guidance. Other suggested resources included; National Center for Home Preservation, Rutgers Innovation Center, NE Center for Food Entrepreneurs (Cornell), Cottage Food Law, Association of Food and Drug Officials, USDA Small Business Innovation and Research, ATTRA and Food Safety Certification (on-line course). More imposing but core to understanding regulations; FDA CFR 21 and USDA CFR 9.
TOMATO FIGHT !!
Sunday September 6th – 5pm to Gather and share Pot Luck – 7 pm to pummel each other with mushy Tomatoes!
Then Plunge in the pool to get the seeds outta your hair, Change into your clean, dry clothes and hang out with us, honoring the hard work so far, and the coming of Autumn!!
ALSO, North Slope Farm is Commemorating its 20 Years serving the Community with Fresh Organic Food!
In 1994, Mike Rassweiler, with the help, investment and support of his family and friends, embarked on the Adventure that has become known as North Slope Farm. There have been many forms and varied outlooks at North Slope, but throughout that time the focus has been of investing in a positive environment, regeneratively producing valuable products. In 1995 we began serving the community with Fresh, Organically Grown Vegetables, Herbs and Flowers. One goal was to be “operationally” profitable in five years. In 1999, we achieved that goal, but assessments of related costs and limitations caused me question the viability of the business plan. Not least of which is the high cost of living in the area, and because of that, the difficulty finding skilled and available labor. I also had a steep learning curve, costing thousands of dollars in low yields, over the years. The experience has been profound though, and it was clear to me that the Experience was valuable, and making it accessible to others who seek it, would be a great service! I utilized my experience gained over the years, to foster an intensive, experiential learning environment, for committed individuals. Many folks went through the three year process, learning valuable lessons and contributing to the environment for those to follow! It has been a rich and dramatic 20 years, and I am grateful for the chance to have shared so much with so many – Thank You For Your Interest and Support!!
A Sampling of the NOFA-NJ Winter Conference
January 26 and 27, 2013
Brookdale College, Lincroft, NJ
By Mike Rassweiler, www.NorthSlopeFarm.com
Jan 30, 2013
NOFA-NJ did us all a favor by bringing Eliot Coleman, Author of The New Organic Grower, to speak as our Keynote. His focus on “Anything is Possible” was inspirational and photos of his operation profound in their simplicity and beauty. Eliot grounds the organic community in the power of principle, that building healthy soil, and minimizing stress to our crops, will yield bounteous crops over the long haul, without expensive off farm inputs or environmental degradation. According to Eliot’s example, small land holdings not only can feed our communities, but they should be our Societies Primary (food) Focus.
I was honored to be a presenter at this Conference, speaking both Sat and Sunday. I was joined in the discussion of Mentoring Apprentices by Judy VonHandorf of Genesis Farm, Eve Minson of NOFA-NJ and Christy Asbee of Law for Food, LLC. Legal issues were laid out for future discussion and review, and North Slope Farm’s and Genesis’s Training programs were presented in detail.
In order of their scheduling, I also attended the following workshops:
Growing Healthy Fruit – Michael Phillips
I was struck by the awareness of how much Michael was prepared to share of his experience and wisdom, and that the hour was not enough to get but a taste. My take home impression was the importance of building a ‘fungal soil’. Organic farmers as a rule are invested in building the organic matter in the soil, which in turn feeds and sustains the Fungal Life, which in turn serves the health of crops. He recommended liberal, annual applications of small piles of (hardwood) wood chips to the orchard, piles that add fungal vigor to the soil. Likewise the management of diverse species of grass and broadleaf plants below the trees to promote a nutrient replenished soil within the top 10” (monocrop grass leads to nutrient poor surface soil). He recommends scything the undergrowth down, when farms are cutting their first hay, leaving the organic matter on the soil surface as mulch. Michael also recommended cutting prunings into small pieces under the tree to be broken down naturally. Apparently the small branch tips have the most benefit for sustaining fungal properties of the soil due to their high percentage of juicy buds to woody core, and don’t need to be removed unless severely diseased.
Management and Utilization of Arbuscular Mycorrrhizal Fungi – David Douds USDA
David educated me about how the whole Fungi being good for plant growth works. He described the process by which sustaining a healthy, vigorous, fungal soil actually works with plants. The Fungi develop “microscopic tree like structures in the plant root cells (arbuscules)” that grow out into the soil farther than root hairs. These fungal branches (hyphae), into the soil, can hugely increase the potential of plants to take up nutrients and water, especially in adverse conditions. The good news is that standard Organic Management practices are perfect for protecting the Fungal vigor of soils. The one exception is tillage, and repeated tillage, especially “stale seed bed techniques” can kill off the fungi in our cropping areas. To address problem areas (lack of fungal population), David is focused on a simple process any grower can manage – though of course there are details to consider. Once you know what type of AM Fungi is native to your soils, and establish that they are beneficial for the crops you plan to grow, we can foster their growth in controlled settings (grow bags planted with an annual grass), then mix the resulting fungal rich media into our potting soil for transplants. The AM Fungi will quickly reestablish its beneficial effects in the field, growing out from the transplants. These interactions between Fungi and soil foster the development of “glomalins” (glycoproteins), the magic of decomposed organic matter, that holds our soil texture together.
Designing Regional Foodsheds and Farms – Ecological Models for Development – Andrew Faust
Andrew is clearly a man driven by his awareness of the world around him. Knowledgeable about the harm that humans have done, he is an inspirational speaker about examples and potentials for humankind to do a whole lot better. He had a lot of information to share and ended the talk with some great examples of his main point – We need to design our Development, and redevelopment, to capture the real value of living systems. Biological filtration of waste and ecologically sound utilization of nutrients and energy. The power of compost to regionally manage what otherwise is treated as Waste. The potential for Urban settings to capture and utilize rainwater and waste to sustainable foster human settlement. The take home message – don’t wait for someone else to come up with the solution, put common sense practices to work in your home and communities. Capture rainwater, grow food, compost, use plants to filter air/water, reduce heat and cooling extremes and then separate grey and black water and handle them as resources not waste!
Advanced Growers Seminar – facilitated by Jess Niederer
This was a testament to the growing commitment of Government Resources to address the topics that Organic Farmers have been talking about for generations. My thanks and appreciation to the following folks who contributed their time and expertise to the Panel; Karen Kritz – NJDA, Erich Bremer- NJDA, Matthew Pavone-FSA, Jack Rabin-NJAES, Justine Cook-NJDA and Gail Bartok-NRCS. Jack Rabin pointed out that he is frustrated by Organic Farmers not taking advantage of the wealth of accumulated knowledge of conventional agriculture. Two resources he touted were The Rutgers Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations, and an On-Farm Composting web resource on the Rutgers- NJ Agricultural Experiment Station website. In general, these agencies will respond to the expressed needs of regional Agriculture, breaking down the barriers between serving Conventional Agriculture and Ecological Agriculture will only lead us to a better place. Karen has been working for years, trying to make the recycling of waste agricultural plastic a reality in NJ. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been a leader in adopting the principles of Organic Management and offers programs designed to incentivize Transition to Organic Practices, Nutrient Management and Cover Cropping. As always, Erich of the NJ Organic Certification Program offered real time understanding of the challenges facing Organic Farmers and serves as our advocate in the NJDA (poor guy, it’s lonely in there). The NJDA has yet to include the Organic Certification Logo on their website home page, embarrassed I guess, to be associated with a bunch of counterculture hippies.
Pruning and Training Fruit Trees – Pete Tischler and Mark Canright
North Slope has invested a lot, recently, in fruit trees, and getting advice about their pruning and management is greatly appreciated. It is always nice to have an expert bring the task to life. These guys brought multiple samples of branch and trunk development on which to demonstrate pruning techniques. It was the end of the weekend yet they still were able to get me excited about going out and getting started on the Pruning!
Another excellent Winter Conference, attended by a great crowd, with many more workshops than I was able to attend.
Thank You NOFA-NJ for the commitment and time it takes to make this come together!
NOFA-NJ Winter Conference; January 2013
Growing the Next Crop of Farmers – Hosting and Mentoring Apprentices
North Slope Farm –
Training Program; sponsored by; The Stewardship Guild
Farm Manager and Primary Trainer
Training Curriculum and Text Book: www.NorthSlopeFarm.com
North Slope Farm’s training program officially began in 2006, when the basic framework of Training assumptions were put to the test. Our business is operated as a completely open book, ideally introducing trainees to all the steps of business management. There is so much detail to Introduce trainees to that we break the operation down into Elements. (The Elements are listed as sub categories, under Training, on the right hand side of our Web Site). The first step in Training is to introduce the Elements, and start the process of prodding the Trainee to see the Operation as the sum of its parts. The Program will succeed only as a three year process, by the Third year the farm has the potential of benefiting from experienced workers who will help inspire and maybe challenge First and Second Year’s. Best case scenario, Third Years will be taking on their own Special Projects; that might provide other Trainees with additional avenues of exploration and inspiration. The Academic Piece of the Process, is the requirement, that all Trainees contribute to regular Monthly Summaries, Date Collection and Annual Summaries that are utilized to assess the farm’s production, strengths and weaknesses and potential viability.
• First Year- Trainees are introduced to as much as possible, and gain proficiency in Planting, Crop Care, Harvesting and Washing of hardy crops.
• Second Year- Mechanical equipment training is the focus in the second year, and Trainees must choose an Element as their “Element Focus”. This focus is the basis on which the Trainer can push the Trainee to express deeper understanding and responsibility for specific topics. Trainees must publish as Introduction and Summary of their Element Focus.
• Third Year- Trainees are expected to model good behavior, and set a standard of productivity and responsibility. They are also encouraged to branch out into Special Projects of their own, or better yet, to improve on existing systems so the Farm Operation will benefit. There is the Manager’s assumption that Third Years will be crew bosses for the morning shift (as needed) but given the freedom of self directed work in the afternoons (if possible). They are also responsible for an Element Focus, even to the point of describing the full function of an Element, assessing its value and striving to manage that reality. They must also publish their Introduction and Summary of their Focus and any Special Projects they undertake.
Teaching Philosophy: I look back to my exploration of Farming, and I always remember when my Mentor asked me, as we looked out over the fields, “what do you think we should do today?” It made me realize, in that moment, that I hadn’t really thought about it. My philosophy, in Training, is to put individuals in the position of Having to think about “What To Do”, ie. Provide them a safe space to take responsibility for achieving a farm goal. This creates a real problem for farm viability and growth. Farms survive and thrive by capitalizing on the Farmer’s strengths, providing space for workers to stumble directly negates the Farm’s efficency, but is the best way for workers to personalize the need to ‘Have a Plan” and “Develop the Skills.”
Training Process or “Formal Introduction and Practical Experience(s):
• Discussion and Presentation; often including related issues and options.
• Demonstration; practical information for “how to do it”.
• Practical Application with oversight
• Independent pursuit of activity to finalize the Trainee’s Understanding
Purpose of the Program and Societal Relevance: We need more farmers, farming more small farms, and that will not change. Those farmers need skilled and responsible workers and our Operations need to be professional, viable and sustainable. By fostering sound Training Opportunities, we will build the Trade back to the significance it held for generations, when local farms fed local populations.
Important Link and Mentoring Handbooks:
New England Small Farm Institute (NESFI)
Cultivating a New Crop of Farmers- is on-farm mentoring right for you and your farm?; Kate Hayes, Belchertown, Mass, NESFI
The On-Farm Mentor’s Guide – practical approaches to teaching on the farm; Miranda Smith, Belchertown, Mass, NESFI
NOFA’s Twilight meeting about Farming with Interns was hosted at North Slope Farm on Monday, July 22nd. It was a friendly, laid back gathering of experienced farmers, new intern/farm workers and those who have recently discovered their love and interest in sustainable farming. With participants sharing in a tasty potluck the evening was filled with stories of farming experiences, woes and successes. The discussion focused on the need and draw backs of hiring inexperienced interns on the farm as well as fair compensation, including financial, living and learning rewards. The evening was wrapped up with a tour of North Slope at dusk.
An open invitation to women interested in food…farmers, chiefs, friends and anyone who is curious is welcome to join us on February 4th at 6pm for a potluck dinner. This casual gathering is a chance to meet and reunite with other women in the general area. Since it is a potluck, bring your favorite dish, drink, something to share so we can all feast at the end of the week. Network, relax, have fun. Hope you can make it.
Girl’s Night Pot Luck
Location: North Slope Farm Farmhouse
1701 Linvale-Harbourton Road
Lambertville, NJ 08530
Date: February 4th (Friday), 2010
Questions? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with Girl’s Night in the subject line.
New Agricultural Ventures
NOFA – NJ Twilight Meeting
At North Slope Farm
Audio Files and Index
October 26, 2010
- Chickadee Creek Farm, Jess Nierderer
- First full season: 2010, Pennington
- Human Nature Farms, Brian Hulme and John Applegate
- First season: 2008, Rutgers Eco Complex,
- Jahs Creation Organic Farm, Matthew Bruckler III
- First season (full time): 2009, Egg Harbor Township
- Piping Goat Creamery, Natalie Hamill
- First season: 2009 (first cheese in 2011), Lawrenceville
- Z Food Farm, David Zaback
- First season: 2010, Lawrenceville
Our intention in this presentation is to focus attention on New Agricultural Ventures – partly to honor them, in particular for their investment and commitment to agriculture in NJ, and partly to be sure their voices are part of the discussion about what does agriculture need to get reinvigorated and thrive in NJ.?
The panelists were asked to respond to the following questions –
You can hear their responses by clicking on the Audio Sections below:
Audio section 1: 14:44 minutes
A brief description of their operations.
Brief descriptions of the practical elements of their operations – main crops, scale of operation, and market outlets.
Before preparing the ground, planting area and livestock management areas for production, the panelists describe their vision – how did they picture their operation, or themselves engaged with their venture – what was the original vision?
Audio section 2: 57:06 minutes
The panelists were asked to share a story or their thoughts about challenges they have faced so far.
Additionally, what resources did they identify that have helped, or could help.
Audio section 3: 23:08 minutes
Panelists were asked;
What advice would they offer to someone who might follow in their footsteps,
If their vision had changed, what was the new vision, and
What thoughts about their experience would they share with their community, so the community might seek to invest in and support their efforts, and the new operations to follow?
Audio section 4: 5:01 minutes
Panel discussion beginning introductions, including the audience, and end of the panel announcements – including NOFA-NJ will sponsor any new farmers (ten years or less) who will attend the upcoming NOFA-NJ Winter Conference!!
Mike Rassweiler, of North Slope Farm, facilitated the discussion and shares his perspective below:
My thanks to the many folks who made the evening possible; from the crew at NorthSlope who prepared a unique and pleasing environment in our greenhouse, Steve Tomlinson who provided our audio recording, NOFA-NJ for another season of informative Twilight Meetings, our audience and our panelists for taking the time and risk of speaking publicly about their ventures!!
The time went by quickly, without the opportunity to ask for more detail from the panelists, which is why we will use this post to provide an index for the discussion; names and links for mentors the panelists mentioned, definition for terms and any other details that might help.
As New Jersey remembers how to grow its own food and necessities right here in the Garden State, we will need to pay attention to the words of our farmers – new and old. We need to support farmers by buying their products, supporting their efforts and asking for their perspectives!!
Please share what you learn in the Audio Recording above and email us if you have questions – we will update the index in an effort to illuminate!
(Draft) INDEX, Glossary and Links
Farmer Mentors and Farms mentioned:
- Pam Flory, when at Spring Hill Farm in Hopewell.
- Matthew Conver, Cherry Grove Organic Farm, Lawrenceville.
- Kelly Harding, Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville.
- Herdsman at Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville.
- Jim Kinsel, Honeybrook Organic Farm, Pennington.
- Rutgers Eco-Complex, Business Incubator.
Glossary of Terms:
- CSA – community supported agriculture. A term to describe the sale of shares of an operations anticipated yield.