Finding Workers for BC Farms

If you want to expand your farm business beyond a small operation, you’ll need to consider bringing in some helping hands – whether they’re students, seasonal workers, part-time employees or full-time staff. Depending on your needs, there are several sources to consider:

  • Family and friends: In the short term, family and friends can be a great source of farm help. But if they’re assisting as a favour, just don’t expect much more than one season. If you’re thinking of hiring family members as paid employees to work on your farm, consider: would you be comfortable firing them if it didn’t work out?
  • Permanent full-time or part-time staff: To grow your business, you may need to consider year-round help. Web classifieds such as Craigslist and Kijiji communicate job listings to a large audience for free. You could also post your opportunity in the email newsletter of a farming institution or organization (for example, the Certified Organic Associations of BC), or on an employment site that lists farm-worker jobs, such as:
  • Seasonal workers: If your operation needs extra staff on a seasonal basis, the federally sponsored migrant worker and low-skilled-worker programs may be options. Read more on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Western Agriculture Labour Initiative websites.
  • Students: Summer full-time or winter part-time students are a great source of hired help. Many students also take weekend agriculture jobs (six to eight hours per week) during the school year.
  • Interns: Some university and college agriculture programs require students to do internships on working farms – usually in exchange for room, board, and some financial compensation. BC schools with agriculture programs include Kwantlen Polytechnic University, University of the Fraser Valley and the University of British Columbia. You may also qualify for funding assistance through the Canada Summer Jobs program.  Also check out the SOIL apprenticeship program, which connects Canadian organic farms with apprentices.
  • WWOOFers: Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a global organization that links volunteers with organic farmers. WWOOFers exchange farm work for room, board, and the chance to learn about organic agriculture. To become a host, your farm must be “involved in organics in some way, growing or producing organic products.” Visit WWOOF Canada for more. Alternatively, helpx.net offers a similar service for non-organic and organic farms.

Tip: When recruiting on the Internet, limit responses to email (don’t give a phone number). Also be clear that you’ll only accept applicants who provide references.


Retaining Farm Workers

Training can be time-consuming, so you want to hold on to good workers. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Be clear about your expectations.  Create written job descriptions for each position. This may feel over the top for a farm, but even workers whose roles seem simple – like berry pickers – will benefit from clear wording about what they do and whom they report to. Clear job descriptions also make performance evaluations much easier.
  • Keep records.  As soon has you hire a permanent employee, you must register with WorkSafeBC and the Canada Revenue Agency, and keep records according to government regulations.  Create a contract for each employee, including the job description and all other employment terms and conditions.
  • Evaluate performance.  A performance evaluation is more than a pat on the back (although recognizing good work can improve employee satisfaction and retention). You’ll need to set aside time to sit down and discuss how the job is going, including where the employee is meeting expectations, and any areas for improvement.

Learn more about hiring and retaining farm workers in the BC Employer Reference Information Handbook.

 

What’s next? Promote your farm and products