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Labor-Ready Trainings Support Farm Management Skills

The first three months of 2019 have been a whirlwind of activity for the Labor Ready Project. In this retrospect, Nicole Waters shares how the project’s recent trainings supported both advanced beginning farmers and farm managers in business and management skills.

The accumulation of months of outreach and preparation came to fruition during March for three separate training opportunities. The first set of trainings were the product of a collaboration between the Cornell Small Farms Program’s Labor Ready Project and the Cornell Agricultural (Ag) Workforce Development Council titled, Effective Management of Farm Employees. The third training was offered to orchard owners and Hispanic orchard managers from the Western New York Lake Ontario Fruit Region.

Throughout January and February, a coordinated outreach effort took place to recruit farm owners and managers for the “Effective Management of Farm Employees” training opportunities.  The two separate, but identical workshops were held one week apart. The first took place at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY on March 5 and 6. The second two-day training was held at the Greece Canal Park in Rochester, NY on March 13 and 14. In collaboration with Rich Stup, of the Cornell Ag Workforce Development Council, the two programs were intended to enhance the management skill set of farm employees working throughout New York State. Building on the premise and understanding that leadership, communication and quality human resource skill sets are critical to effective farm business management, the training program focused on four broad topics.

During day one, managers were fully immersed in discussion and activities intended to boost the management skill set of owners and employees moving from individual high performer positions, to management roles with delegation responsibilities. Participants gained an understanding of specific management skills, along with tools and techniques for developing leadership skills in others. Day two focused heavily on two separate, but equally important management topics — onboarding of new employees, and providing feedback related to performance management of employees. The Cornell Ag Workforce Development introduced the concept of “onboarding,” the process of bringing new employees into a business in a safe, productive and engaged manner. The onboarding process also includes an understanding of employment regulation compliance and aims to formalize a hiring process, while minimizing the potential for error and confusion during the first month of employment. Equally important to the hiring process for new employees, is the concept of providing specific and relevant feedback to all current employees. Participants were led through multiple activities aimed at enhancing their ability to communicate effectively and reliably with their employees. The trainings were rounded out with informational overview sessions on labor laws affecting farm managers, as well as regulatory sexual harassment training information led by Liz Higgins of the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture team.

Group work facilitated during each training session provided participants plenty of opportunity to network and learn from each other throughout the full two day workshop. I worked with Labor Ready project partners Liz Higgins and Ethan Grundberg (Hyde Park session) throughout the program, answering a variety of questions ranging from specific ag labor laws to techniques in improving motivation among employees. One participant suggested that  “This course should be offered at least three times per year,” indicating a strong interest among participants to share knowledge gained, a goal of the training program. The Labor Ready Project is currently working to continue collaboration with Cornell Ag Workforce Development Council to offer another round of trainings during fall 2019, as well as web-based educational materials and videos.

Graduates of the Western New York Master Class for Bilingual Orchard Crew Members toured the Plant Science greenhouse during a day-long event on Cornell’s campus.
Josh Manser / Small Farms Program

On Friday, March 22 the Labor Ready Project hosted a third event on Cornell campus for the graduates of the Western New York Master Class for Bilingual Orchard Crew Members. Focusing heavily on building a network of Hispanic farm managers, while continuing to improve upon the concepts learned during the fall 2018 Master Class, the day was built around identifying specific ways to improve crew management during the upcoming growing season. Supervisors and orchard owners were encouraged to attend the day-long program as well.

Participants were welcomed to campus by Small Farms Program Director, Anu Rangarajan, along with Labor Ready project partners Gabby Pereyra, Mary Jo Dudley, Mario Miranda Sazo and myself. Master Class facilitator Rachael Nemeth, of ESL Works, attended and co-facilitated the event as well. The morning focused on brainstorming sessions around potential obstacles to successful farm crew management in the setting of English as a second language. Many hardworking and skilled bilingual farm managers often find themselves in positions of management without any formal management training. Participants identified lack of time-management, leadership, managerial and English communication skills as potential barriers to success. Participants also noted difficulty finding sufficient labor to adequately meet the manual labor demands during the growing season. This session was continued during the afternoon session, when the potential obstacles were categorized and shared with the group. The growing network of Hispanic farm managers were asked to share their expertise and given the opportunity to put forth ideas and potential solutions to the obstacles. This idea sharing and supportive session was enhanced with educational materials developed by Mary Jo Dudley of the Cornell Farmworker program. The materials included standard operating procedures and safety guides offered with both Spanish and English translations.

Although discussion and information gathering was the overarching goal of the day, the Cornell Plant Science conservatory and greenhouse tours were perhaps the highlight of the day. The tours began directly after a lively networking luncheon, which included Cornell Pomology faculty and students. Greenhouse and conservatory management guided participants through the facilities, stopping to answer questions and discuss the plant life and research at length. The last portion of the greenhouse tour included a thorough and detailed presentation from Labor Ready Project partner Mario Miranda Sazo, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the plant science department. Participants were enormously interested in Mario’s hands-on demonstration of his research focusing on nutrient uptake in apple trees. Many photos were taken during Mario’s passionate presentation and more than one participant was noted filming the discussion as others looked on and examined pieces of apple tree trunks. The session served as a perfect energizing mid-day session before the group resumed labor and management discussions for the afternoon.

The busy and successful month of March for the Labor Ready project has served to solidify the true interest in the successful management of the New York State agricultural workforce. Farm owners, managers and employees alike have spoken for the continued development of the agricultural industry as a positive place of employment where successful careers and opportunity for growth exist.

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