Friday, February 03, 2023

Farm internship bill moves forward in WA Senate

Staff Writer | January 18, 2023 4:01 PM

OLYMPIA — A substitute bill expanding the farm internship program passed through the Senate Committee on Labor and Commerce Tuesday.

“One of the most important challenges we face is the preservation of farming in Washington and making sure that the next generation is ready to step up with knowledge of modern farming techniques, sustainability strategies and knowledge of how to run a successful farming business,” said Sen. Nikki Torres (R-Pasco), a primary sponsor of the bill.

SB 5156 would expand the farm internship program, a pilot program that allows students to experience farming practices and get hands-on experience with farming activities, to all counties of the state and removes any expiration date to the program ending. The purpose is to encourage participation in agriculture and continue to grow the state’s agricultural sector, a release by Torres’ office states, which will in turn decrease food insecurity and hunger in Washington state.

“Certainly anytime a student is able to compare real life work experience with education and training from the classroom, that's a benefit to them,” said Bryce Humpherys, vice president of learning and student success at Big Bend Community College. “They have the opportunity to apply what they're learning in school into the workplace, and see those connections in the workplace to understand why they're learning whatever it is they're learning at school. So that's always a positive thing when you can connect the classroom learning with real world experience and job training.”

Humpherys said many, if not all, of the programs at BBCC have required or optional work-based learning or internships as a component of the program. He said this bill encourages and supports what they are already doing.

The release also details some of the history behind the program. In 2010, the Legislature directed the state Department of Labor and Industries to establish a farm internship pilot project. The program has been in operation since 2014 and has expired and been extended or re-established several times since.

The substitute bill would also require L&I to certify that the participating farms would allow interns to participate in career and technical education or other educational content with courses in agriculture, and define a small farm as one with annual sales of less than $265,000, rather than less than $250,000, as it is currently.

SB 5156, which has bipartisan support, was pre-filed for introduction on Jan. 5 and was referred to the Labor and Commerce Committee on Jan. 9. A public hearing was held Jan. 16 in the committee and the substitute bill was passed unanimously the next day. Wednesday it was passed to the Rules Committee for second reading. If approved by the Rules Committee, it will be up for consideration by the full Senate. If passed, it would take effect immediately.

Other sponsors of the bill include Senators Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle), Sam Hunt (D-Olympia), Ron Muzzall (R-Whidbey Island), T'wina Nobles (D-Fircrest), Emily Randall (D-Bremerton), Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville), Sharon Shewmake (D- Bellingham), Keith Wagoner (R-Sedro-Woolley), Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake), Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island) and Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver).

“Simply put, we depend on Washington farmers for food,” Aaron Czyzewski, director of Advocacy and Public Policy for Food Lifeline, told the committee at the public hearing on Monday. “We have a strong, and growing, and important partnership between hunger-relief programs, government, and Washington growers and producers of all sizes. Together we sourced 70 million pounds of Washington-grown produce that was donated to us last year.

I am here to voice support for growing the state’s agricultural workforce.”

Rebecca Pettingill may be reached at

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