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Alpine assistance Wanted: volunteer mountain farmhands

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Heigh ho, heigh ho: volunteers help out on a mountain farm

(Caritas Schweiz)

More than 70 farming families in the Swiss mountains urgently need volunteers to help out with a range of tasks in the coming months, from haymaking and beekeeping to harvesting saffron. 

Caritas Mountain Work, part of the church charity Caritas, puts volunteers in touch with farming families who are overloaded with work as a result of accident, illness or poor weather. 

The spring and summer months are a tough time for mountain farmers, it said on Tuesday: the preparation of the fields is followed by haymaking and harvesting. 

Forty people had been placed by the end of April and 220 have already been placed for the summer, but another 800 are urgently needed, it said, to carry out the equivalent of 1,215 weeks of work. 

This ranges from haymaking, looking after animals and general farm work to housekeeping, looking after children and gardening. Specific farming tasks could include making cheese, beekeeping and harvesting saffron. 

Volunteers can offer to help for one week or more, but they need to be “over 18, motivated and healthy”, the charity said. No special knowledge is required. The farming families cover the costs of food and lodging, but volunteers have to pay their own travel expenses. 

Information on applying, as well as the farms which need help, can be found hereexternal link (in German and French). 

Four farms close a day 

Life on Swiss farms is increasingly tough. In 2013, 159,000 people worked in agriculture, less than half as many as in 1975, according to a report by the Swiss Statistical Officeexternal link. Four out of five people working in agriculture are family members and just over half work part-time. 

The number of farms declined from 79,500 in 1996 to 55,200 in 2013. More than half of these were managed by people aged over 50. 

Compared with the previous year, around 1,400 farms closed down – four a day. The opposite trend was seen among organic farms, the number of which increased by more than 150 between 2012 and 2013. 

The average agricultural income per farm amounted to CHF61,000 ($65,500) in 2013. The average farming household earned an additional CHF30,000 from non-agricultural activities. The total hasn’t changed much since 1990, when adjusted for current prices, although the proportion of non-farm income has roughly doubled. 

For farm work, a third of family members received no salary. Two-thirds of the 30,000 wives or partners were not paid, but had a share in the income from self-employment.

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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