The new Netflix documentary series My Love celebrates the heartwarming stories of six longtime couples across the globe. The first episode focuses on David and Ginger Isham, who have been happily married since 1959. It turns out that their love for each other is just as sweet as the maple syrup cultivated at their family farm in Vermont. While the episode is primarily a love story, it also touches on some of the challenges facing agricultural employers and the long hours required to make such a labor of love thrive.
The Isham Family Farm has been tended since 1871 by five generations of the family. As David mentions in the episode, the farm used to have about 100 cows, but economic pressures forced the family to reevaluate the farm’s business model. Indeed, the farms around them have all since disappeared, having been replaced by modern residential construction. Today, the Isham Family Farm has shifted from dairy to more seasonal offerings, such as maple syrup, blueberries, Christmas trees, and even a “party barn” for special events. These innovations have paid off, and the family farm continues to thrive today.
The Challenges of Agricultural Labor
While David and Ginger are now (mostly) retired, they are very open in the episode about the challenges and long hours involved in keeping a family farm running over the decades. Indeed, the Fair Labor Standards Act expressly exempts certain agricultural employees from its overtime and minimum wage requirements, including:
- Agricultural employees who are immediate family members of their employer,
- Those principally engaged on the range in the production of livestock,
- Certain local hand harvest laborers who commute daily, and
- Certain nonlocal minors (16 years of age or under) who are hand harvesters.
While navigating an ever-changing legal (not to mention literal) landscape, common pitfalls for agricultural employers include recordkeeping issues with temporary agricultural employees, dates of birth of minors, and hours worked by employees paid on a piece-rate basis; failing to pay overtime to employees whose jobs are related to agriculture but do not qualify for an exemption; and joint employment issues created by utilizing the services of farm labor contractors.
David and Ginger’s story is a soothing balm for the soul after such an unprecedented and challenging year as 2020, and the Isham Family Farm’s willingness to pivot and innovate is a great lesson for any employer. While the farm and its offerings may have changed over the years, a few things remain the same. David and Ginger still reside on their beautiful farm, falling asleep together in the same bedroom where David was born over 86 years ago.