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Farm internships in Oregon

Introduction

Before starting your own farm business, it is enormously helpful to get hands-on farming experience. One way to gain this experience is through a farm internship. This Web page includes important information for farmers interested in hosting interns as well as prospective farm interns.

Before you host interns on your farm or accept a position as an intern, it's important to become familiar with state and federal laws and good internship practices. Knowing these laws and practices up-front can help ensure a good experience for both the host and the intern, and prevent misunderstandings, disputes, and even lawsuits or civil penalties.

When thinking about your farm or participation in a program, it's important to determine if the position will be an internship, apprenticeship, or volunteer opportunity. 

Photo courtesy of Oregon State University Small Farms Program.
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What is an intern?

The US Department of Labor issued a fact sheet in 2010 to help employers determine when interns
must be paid minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The fact sheet describes six criteria that must be applied when determining whether an internship is exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements.
  • The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.
  • The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
  • The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.
  • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  • The employer and intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) has a FAQ Web site regarding student intern and trainee programs. BOLI also offers seminars and online workbooks about wage and hour laws and regulations.

Can a volunteer be used as an intern?

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, employees may not volunteer services to for-profit private sector employers.

For more information, including guidelines for non-profits and public agencies that wish to use volunteers, consult the US Bureau of Labor Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor on volunteers. One resource for non-profits is the Non-Profit Risk Management Center, which published an article on employees versus volunteers.

Tips for successful internship programs

Existing farm internship programs

Rogue Farm Corps and Zenger Farm both operate farm internship programs in Oregon.

Looking for an internship opportunity? You may also want to consider out-of-state or international internships or apprenticeships. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service maintains a database of farm internship and apprenticeship opportunities. 

Photo courtesy of Oregon State University Small Farms Program.

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What is an apprentice?

Internships and apprenticeships are not the same thing. Apprenticeships are accredited training programs that have specific standards, hours of learning, and other requirements for an apprenticeship degree in a particular trade. There is no official agricultural or farm apprenticeship program in Oregon.
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Laws and regulations

In addition to complying with the US Department of Labor and BOLI wage and hour laws and regulations, internship hosts may need workers' compensation insurance and unemployment insurance.

If a worker is under the direction and control of another person, and is paid to do a job (even if under the premise of learning the job as an intern), the employer must obtain workers' compensation insurance coverage. There are some exceptions, such as that found in the casual labor exemption under Oregon Revised Statute 656.027(3) or when the workers are all members of the same family under a family-owned corporation. When even one worker is subject (family or not) the employer is subject and must have the required workers' compensation insurance.

The Oregon Employment Department (OED) may investigate if the department receives questions regarding whether employment should have been reported or unemployment taxes should have been paid. This typically arises when a worker is seeking unemployment benefits and doesn't see what they expect to see on their wage history for establishing eligibility for unemployment benefits and the weekly benefit amount. It also comes up in the context of whether a relationship should be characterized employer-employee instead of independent contractor.

OED is required by federal complaint process to refer someone to the relevant enforcement agency if they receive a complaint about an alleged employment law violation. For example, an issue would be referred to BOLI/Federal Wage and Hour if a person claimed they should have received wages but didn't, referred to Workers' Compensation if someone alleged they were injured on the job and the employer didn't allow them to file or didn't have workers' compensation insurance, or referred to the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (Oregon-OSHA) if someone alleged health and safety violations at a worksite or employer-provided housing.

OED's job listing service is not available to businesses to solicit applications for internship positions. The employment service part of the agency requires an employer-employee relationship to advertise a listing.

Photo courtesy of Oregon State University Small Farms Program.
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Contact information

Stephanie Page, Special Assistant to the Director
Oregon Department of Agriculture
(503) 986-4558
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