Opinion: Is it an internship or slave labour?

Internships. That’s another word for slave labour.

It is happening all around us and has only really come to my attention while helping my eldest daughter search for a job now that she has finished uni.

Now, work experience, that’s a different matter altogether. Working for a proper company when you are 14 or 15 for free gives young people a chance to decide if they like a certain profession or just to give them an idea of what working is really like.

Getting to work by 9am is a struggle (and shock!) to some. My youngest – who has said that she will “never, ever, ever” get involved with the running of our farm shop – has been working in the playbarn kitchen, churning out hundreds of buckets of chips, ciabattas and children’s meals and – shock, horror – getting paid.

I can see that a trial period of two weeks or so may be a reliable way of an employer ensuring that the potential employee is a good fit, but any longer than that becomes both exploitative and socially divisive.

My daughter’s ex-flatmate (who is an incredibly talented textile designer) had to turn down an internship with a big London company because she just could not afford to rent somewhere, eat and travel on zero income. Graduates who live in London will be able to do these internships if well-off parents back them. What makes me sad is that these companies are missing out on a wealth of talent by concentrating on profits for all the wrong reasons.

One internship we looked at was for a jewellery company that had nothing to teach my daughter but who wanted free photography of their product. If they had offered to pay her train fare (over £100) and a little amount extra, she could have worked for them for super-low rates and added some lovely photos to her CV and blog.

Farmers (and farm shop owners) don’t tend to do this. We either put a child on an apprenticeship or pay. Work experience should be for two weeks maximum, then the minimum wage should come into force and it is about time internships are declared illegal.

The advent of the school holidays, meanwhile, has meant that our new playbarn has been frighteningly full. It is our first summer season and I keep texting my mum with a progress report on the car park capacity – my record so far is that the overflow, overflow car park has only two spaces left. You really have to love children though and it helps if you’re slightly deaf. I can see my husband giving over the garden to squeeze a few more in.

Talking of Andrew, he is combining as we speak. Why do farmers all grumble so much about long hours and dusty conditions and then, when the apprentice offers to take over, decline? He sits with the radio on, his bottle of squash (ideally sized to fit into the foot well) and sandwiches, kindly made by the deli, to munch on all day. He really is in heaven.

We managed a day off last Sunday (it had rained) and we decided to go to the seaside. We had a fine day in Bridlington, eating ice cream, walking on the beach and losing money in the ‘slots’ – only £5 worth of 2ps between six of us – farmers are so tight!

On the way back we popped into a pub for a very late lunch. The pub was dated, the food was traditional and the welcome was friendly, however the slogan on the polo shirts of the waiting staff read ‘unspoilt by progress’. None of us could believe that any business would be proud of standing still. Farm shops and farmers markets are constantly having to innovate and reinvent themselves as older customers shuffle off this mortal coil (sad but true) and we have to continue to evolve to appeal to the next generation. Tradition should be celebrated, but not to the detriment of evolution.

Awards are all about innovation and, after judging for Farmers Weekly, I’ve been asked to judge the World Bread Awards in London in September. I love bread, in every guise, this judging will be an absolute pleasure.

The Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association (Farma) has just launched its awards too, covering best restaurant, best small and large farm shop, best PYO and best butchery – all essential for local communities and producers. If you use a great farm shop/restaurant, please encourage them to enter. Entry is free and the benefits of even being shortlisted are huge.

Customers love awards as it justifies their spending. When you read this, our fantastic ‘baconologist’ Matthew will either be jumping for joy after his ‘Paddington Bacon’ (cured using locally made Oxford marmalade) wins some stars, or pouring salt in his wounds, as the results of the Guild of Fine Food ‘Great Taste’ awards are made known.

Our bacon sandwiches are selling like hot cakes in the playbarn café, although one of my team questioned whether, in packing some for the chiller (bacon, brie and mango chutney, delicious!), we should in fact be putting an ‘Oink Café’ sticker on them. Surely, in her eyes, this was making too close a connection between animal and food. I quickly put her right – this is what we are all about.

Sally and husband Andrew farm 364ha just outside Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire. They have a farm shop, The Pink Pig Farm (a former winner in the diversification category of the Farmers Weekly Awards), with a 90-seater café and farm trail. Sally is chairman of the Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association (Farma).

Read more: Sally Jackson on the changing role of women in farming

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