My latest paper, led by Portland State University PhD candidate (and Washington State alum) Lynn Finley, is now out in Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Adding to the limited literature on employment on organic vs. conventional farms, we find additional evidence in Washington and California that organic farms do employ more labor (2–12% more workers per hectare). Also, we address the less-commonly asked question, which is how employment length might vary between organic and conventional agriculture. Here, we found a higher proportion of jobs on organic farms were “full-time” (150 days or more) as opposed to season (proportion of full-time laborers is 13–43% greater on organic farms).

Although these numbers do not address a number of important issues like the actual lived quality of work and quality of life for laborers on different farm types, our piece adds further empirical data to the “conventional wisdom” that organic agriculture offers greater employment opportunities. Of course, without addressing labor conditions, including wages–and thus addressing the price farmers receive for their production–converting to organic agriculture will only do so much for local economies and labor. But our piece adds one more bit of evidence for the potential of organic agriculture (or even better, agroecology) to positively contribute to livelihoods in the food system.

50 free e-prints are available here (while virtual “supplies” last).

L. Finley, M. J. Chappell, J. R. Moore, and P. Thiers. (2017) “Does organic farming present greater opportunities for employment and community development than conventional farming? A survey-based investigation in California and Washington.” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. DOI: 10.1080/21683565.2017.1394416


Organic farming may present opportunities for job creation over and above those provided by conventional agriculture; this study is one of a small number to have empirically examined this proposition. We compared countywide averages of hired farm labor from the USDA’s 2007 Agricultural Census with data collected through a mirrored survey of organic farmers in the same counties in Washington and California. Based on mixed-effects linear models to estimate differences (if any) in employment between organic farms and countywide farm averages, our analysis indicated that organic farms employed more workers per acre (95% CI: 2–12% more). Further, a greater proportion (95% CI: 13–43% more) of hired labor on organic farms worked 150 days or more compared to the average farm, suggesting increased labor requirements—and potentially more secure employment—on organic farms. We conclude the present study by considering possible policy implications of our findings with regard to organic agriculture as part of regional economic development strategies.


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