The New England Farmers Union (NEFU) held its fourth annual convention “Celebrating our Agricultural Diversity: People, Practices and Products” in Newport, RI. Nearly 100 members attended the convention.
Ken Ayars, Rhode Island Division of Agriculture chief, thanked NEFU for its efforts on behalf of New England agriculture and warmly welcomed NEFU members to Rhode Island with its thriving agricultural sector.
NEFU President and New Hampshire organic farmer Roger Noonan opened the convention with an overview of 2013 accomplishments organized by NEFU’s founding principles of legislation, cooperation and education. In 2013, NEFU members and leaders worked to help the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) understand the potential impacts that the proposed food safety regulations could have on family farmers. Lobbying efforts continued on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) efforts and the Farm Bill.
Partnerships were forged and continued with food co-ops, co-op service providers, community wind developer OwnEnergy and other regional agricultural organizations. Education was aimed at farmers, legislators and FDA officials. A long list of donors and foundations help fund these education and legislative lobbying efforts. The donor list is available in NEFU’s Annual Report at http://bit.ly/NEFUAnnualReport2013
Policy & Advocacy
The cornerstone of the NEFU Annual Convention is the grassroots policy work. Noonan thanked the Policy Committee (Beth Hodge, Chair; Tim O’Connell; Nathan L’Etoile; Penny Jordan and Steve Normanton) for their diligent reviewing the organization’s policy book. Convention attendees reviewed proposed changes to the policy book section-by-section, sometimes word by word. The 2013 book (available at newenglandfarmersunion.org/policy-book ) will be used as a guide for critical lobbying efforts. Other policies are listed, which NEFU publicly supports. New topics include agricultural labor issues, stronger support for fisheries and education of agriculture teachers and new references to “urban” and “peri-urban” communities to reflect New England’s market and agricultural diversity.
NEFU members raised concerns about dwindling opportunities to educate agricultural teachers in New England. Today, only the University of Connecticut offers an Agricultural Educator program.
Agricultural Labor Laws
Allison Condra, lawyer and Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Food and Policy Clinic, led a lively presentation on agricultural labor law. The federal government regulates agricultural labor in a number of ways, including under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA), which addresses minimum wage and overtime pay. In addition to federal laws, states have their own labor laws and regulations. Under the FLSA, most farms are required to pay minimum wage to their employees, unless they fall into one of six narrow exemptions (for example, very small farms do not have to pay minimum wage). Further, farms are exempt from paying overtime as long as their employees are “employed in agriculture.”
Farmers should be aware of when their employees perform agricultural and non-agricultural tasks; when an employee performs a non-agricultural task, the employer is required to pay overtime for any hours the employee works over 40 hours that week. For example, if someone answers a customer call in the office, works on a newsletter or pays bills, they are not performing agricultural work.
Penalties for non-compliance may include back pay to eligible employees, fines and even jail time. Read more about agricultural law at the National Agricultural Law Center (http://nationalaglawcenter.org ).
NEFU’s members approved several new members to the NEFU Board of Directors. They are Nathan L’Etoile of Four Star Farms (a diversified farm featuring small grains in Northfield, MA); Beth Hodge of Echo Farm (a Certified Humane dairy in Hinsdale, NH); and Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm (a vegetable farm and farm stand in Cape Elizabeth, Maine). Longtime Board Member Tim O’Connell of Butternut Farm in Milford, NH, was appointed treasurer. Members also elected delegates to NFU’s convention in Santa Fe, NM, this March. They are Ned Porter, Allison Condra, and alternate, Cris Coffin.
Learn more about the New England Farmers Union at newenglandfarmersunion.org or on Facebook.