Author Archives: miker
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.
Consideration of Farm Worker Wages –
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:
- Be exposed to Explanations of Activities and Plans
- Be Introduced to New Concepts and Equipment
- Research their Questions and Concepts, and pursue Special Projects
- Develop a Focus that will assist in their Professional Development
- Participate in Policy and Strategy Discussions to expand their Conceptual Horizons
- Participate in Administrative Tasks to improve their Understanding of Business Mngt.
Three Primary Factors have weighed heavily on me over the years;
- What is a Reasonable Minimum Wage?
- What is a Reasonable Wage for an Experienced Farm Worker?
- How can a Small Farm be Profitable with High Labor costs?
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.
Wage Rate Commitment for 2016
at North Slope Farm
Posted in Consideration of Increasing Wage Rates for 2016
First Years: $9/hr
Second Years: $11/hr
Third Years: $12/hr
Experienced and Committed Workers: $13/hr
This assumes a minimum 40 hour work week, over a season from March 1 – November 30. (41 weeks)
Maximum Expected Wages Estimated 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 30% payroll, our Gross Goal will need to be: $300,000 +/-. More production, more sales, more efficiently, because the same work from last year needs to be done quicker for us to do more. Likewise production can change completely – but for the foreseeable future, North Slope Farm remains dedicated to producing a mix of nutritious food, serving our community with sustainable production of valuable products. We appreciate your support! Keep investing in Regional Producers!
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!!