I'll never work at the Herbfarm Microbrewery Festival again!

Once upon a time, working as a pourer at the Herbfarm's Microbrewery festival was fun. Sure it was hard work, standing for 7+ hours, pulling beer (often in the rain) for hundreds of thirsty customers. But the benefits were OK. You got a $20 gift certificate, a t-shirt, and an invitation to the party held for the workers on the Saturday night of the festival. This was often the ONLY reason for people to work over their weekends. The rubbing elbows with professional brewers or their representatives, along with the opportunity to finally taste some of the beers that had been served during the festival, is really what made it all worthwhile.

Then the changes came (or were always there, but had been ignored). Instead of all of the beers from the festival being made available to the workers, the selection was limited to the ten kegs or so that the Herbfarm designated as the ones to be served. (It was when some of the members of the Brews Brothers attempted access to some of the off-limits kegs that that group became no longer welcome at the festival. Participation by the Brothers has been limited ever since!) For me, the final straw was when they first charged money for attendance at the party. That year was horrible. Here's the story as to why I'll never work the Herbfarm again...

So for the first time, the party cost money, and the tickets have to be purchased in advance. It was only three bucks, and it didn't seem like much (at the time). I'd called in advance, and arranged for tickets for myself as well as my wife, who was planning on arriving to pick me up that evening. I'd paid by check when I mailed in my preferences for which "workerbee" function I was willing to perform as work for the Herbfarm. Upon arrival, I was informed that, on second thought, my wife was no longer allowed to attend the party, now called a dinner. Of course I protested! After all, they had given me permission to do so over the phone, and I had paid in advance for the ticket. I was able to sway the organizer/owner of the festival.

The work day began as it did every year with the organizational meeting of the pourers, whereupon we are told that, as servers, we are not allowed to drink the beer (or any other beer) that we are dispensing. I don't begrudge them that. It is the policy of the Washington State Liquor Control Board that people serving alcohol cannot be consuming alcohol at the time. It's the law, and the Herbfarm must follow the law. However, this rule is unpopular with the servers...

This meeting is also the opportunity where the pourers are told of the proper fill levels for the glasses to be provided to the tasting public. The glasses hold six ounces, but a proper fill is considered three ounces. The conflict in all of this is that the Herbfarm has purchased the beer from the breweries, and is in the actual business supplying the public with this mind altering substance for the day. The pourers, as "volunteer workers", are actually being employed by the Herbfarm in a capacity similar to a bar tender or any other server in a tavern or bar. The representatives of the breweries are there to drum up support and "good feelings" amongst the public for their product. The representative of the brewery that I poured for instructed me to pour more for the people coming to my booth than the Herbfarm wanted, in order to facilitate the good public relations that my brewery wanted to engender. However, by counting the tickets supplied by the customer, and multiplying by three ounces, the Herbfarm intended to determine how much beer had been "paid" for, vs. what had actually been served to the public. This conflict between the people that you work for (the Herbfarm, who are "paying" you to be there) and the people that you work for (the breweries that you represent by serving their product) and the people that you work for (the drinking public, who feel that the proper three ounce pour is a rip-off) means that majority rules, and pours are often over the mandated three ounces...

The day continued. I imagine that there are also state laws concerning the frequency of breaks for workers during the day, and I know that there is a law concerning lunch periods. I don't remember anybody coming by to spell me for a break, although I did get relieved for a lunch period. This is complicated by the fact that the representatives of the breweries are not allowed to pour beer, touch the taps, or anything even closely related to serving the public. They are not allowed to spell the pourers, no matter how full the server's bladders! I'm not saying that it's not done, just that it's not supposed to...

Let me tell you, this is very hard work. There are many thousands of people attending the festival, with perhaps two or three hundred of them, maybe more, coming to your booth for a sample of beer. There is no time to sit down, so you are on your feet all day long. If the taps aren't working properly, the service to the ultimate customer is slow. (One year, we had to fill pitchers with the beer, because the taps never did flow right all day long.) Lunch is greeted, not only as a chance to refuel the body, but also as a chance to just sit down for a while. I also found myself growing hoarse from talking and interacting with each and every person who wanted a sample. It's good customer relations, right? I can't just pour beer and ignore the customers! By the end of the day, you know that you've earned the pittance that the Herbfarm provides to you. Like I said, it's hard work.

Suffice it to say that I was butt tired. I'd been on my feet from 10:30 until 5:30, and I was ready for some down time. The party/dinner had begun. So go stand in line waiting for your food. Great. My wife was also in line, about 20-30 people in front of me. And we waited. And we waited. And we waited some more. Some people cut in line (may they burn in hell), but I didn't, not even to go stand with my wife. So I waited some more. At 8:30, Cindy came to me and told me that she had nearly fainted from lack of food, and that it was time to go. I agreed that standing in line for two hours was time enough spent, and I agreed to go. But before I did, I cornered Carrie (owner of the Herbfarm and organizer of the festival), and I gave her a piece of my mind. (Not that I really had any to spare, but I did it anyway.) I informed her that the treatment of her "workerbees" was clearly insufficient, and that the dinner, which now cost money for the first time, money that I'd already paid, had indeed fallen short of my expectations. She mentioned something lame, alluding to the fact that she hadn't eaten either. I told her that I didn't much care whether or not she had been well treated by herself during the day, but that I, as a worker/volunteer, had been standing all damned day long, and I was no longer in any sort of mood to continue standing in line, waiting for a dinner which had already been paid for. She offered some more lame excuses, but I was in no mood to hear them. I left that place, and I've only gone back once, and that was to redeem the $20 gift certificate that they gave me.

Apparently, the word has spread. This year, the value of the gift certificate is up to $40. However, rumor has it that to be a pourer at the festival this year requires that you attend a food and alcoholic beverage server's class that must be taken (and paid for) in advance. Ha! No way buddy! Plus the dinner cost is now seven bucks. Sure, it's not gonna break me, but I'm not going anyway, so there! So when I got my packet of information this year, asking if I'd be willing to come pour at the festival this year, I not only said no, but I included the following letter in the envelope. I don't expect that they'll be asking me again next year...

Thanks for inviting me to work for you at this year's Microbrew Festival, but I don't think so. I just can't see working for poor wages, long hours, bad food served late that I have to pay for, poor sanitation conditions, and in general, not having a good time.

I guess a few years ago, the festival was less well attended, and working at it was a bit more rewarding. I worked there twice, in 1994 and 1995, and the last time was the end of it all. Remember? You said that my wife, who was to drive me home, could attend the dinner if we paid? This payment thing was new, but it was only three bucks, so I paid it. The day I showed up, you said that she could no longer attend, even after already paying. You made an exception, but I was still not pleased. Then, after the day's end, the food failed to materialize. At 8:30 I told you that I was leaving, and never coming back. I still haven't changed my mind about that, and nothing I heard about last year's event has changed my mind. Oh yes, the dinner costs more this year...

Lest you think that mine is an isolated opinion, guess again. A forty dollar gift certificate might persuade others to come back, but not me. Jeez, that's only five bucks an hour, and for really, really hard work! Who are you trying to kid here? And there are those who agree with me. I'll not be coming back to work at slave wages to further the Herbfarm's unbridled profit. I'm also encouraging those in my two brew clubs to pass on your kind offer, including the members of the club that I'm the president of.

Workerbees indeed...

Rich Webb, Emperor of the Brews Brothers

I also included the verbiage from the most recent Brews Brothers newsletter, the Brews News, with somebody else's opinion, similar to my own. Maybe they'll get the message. I don't much care. If they want to have a festival, let them pay for the work that they get. Don't call it "volunteering". Volunteers do what they do for the pleasure of the effort, and there's precious little pleasure in busting your butt all day long so that greedy capitalists can make money from your blood and sweat.

So what can you do? I sent them a nasty-gram, telling them how much (or how little) I appreciated their invitation to work long hours for low pay and little fun, and they have the gall, the audacity to ever so politely respond with this very nice letter, asking me to tell them how I would make their festival better. Read the letter, and we'll talk again:

May 22, 1997

Dear Mr. Webb,

Sounds like you and I just missed each other at The NW Microbrewery Festivals! My first day was Sunday afternoon in 1995. 1 was hired as the customer service manager and came out Sunday afternoon to help with relief just to get an idea of what this event was all about.

Based on feedback from our workers, we made some changes in 1996, and again this year., that I've outlined below. I'd like to find out more of your thoughts on how to attract good workers, and hopefully change your mind about volunteering at the festival this year - yes, that's right, we want you back. Your experience is essential for a successful event.

This was the most common complaint from the 1995 festival. Our year 'round staff here at The Herbfarm were just as hungry and just as tired as everyone else at day's end, and apparently the food was delayed beyond anyone's imagination. Last year, the food was thankfully served both hot and on time. We're working with a catering company this year to finalize the menu for both the staff lunch and the party Saturday evening. What would you like to see us serve for our staff lunch, and at the party"

Last year I had a chance to talk to many of our pourers and I asked them why they like coming each year. The shirt and gift certificate are an added bonus, but the main reason, I was told, was to have a good time. If you did not enjoy yourself, then I can understand your reluctance to participate again.

What else can we do to ensure your enjoyment? Please call me, I'm usually in between 9 and 5 daily. After hours, dial extension 104, and I'm usually at my desk until 6pm,

After hearing how your experience was, I can't think of a better person to get input from on how to run a successful event. I look forward to hearing from you.

For The Herbfarm,

Cindy Sattler

So how 'bout it campers? If you write to me and tell me how you would make the Herbfarm's microbrewery festival better, I'll collect the inputs and place them here on the page. Eventually I'll inform the Herbfarm as to the location of this information, and the world will be a better place for it! I await your inputs...

And the words poured in! Here is the printable stuff that was sent to me:

From: "Margaret Schultz (Volt Computer)" (a-margs@microsoft.com)

Well, the Herbfarm does have a new event coordinator, so hopefully the complaints of the workerbees will be attended to. However, from the perspective of someone who has always just gone there to partake, I have to say that this is my *favorite* fest.

ok, you get much more selection at OBF, but you don't get the Herbfarm, you don't get the gardens, you don't get the huge old oak trees to sit under, you don't get the "country ambiance". That is the reason I keep going back to this thing, its held in a charming location I love to hang out at for a few hours. So, I have nothing but cheers for it. ;-)

From: "Alan Hord (Hords of Fun)" (v-ahord@microsoft.com)

Well said Margaret :-)
I look forward to contributing my weekend every year to this. I feel like I'm doing a good deed to the beer community; like a cub scout who turns his bear pin right-side-up after doing a good deed.

You can expect to see me pouring or misleading, I mean directing out of state visitors to the finer aspects of the event! The only bad experience I've ever had was the horizontal rain we had a couple of years ago. Of course, it forced many people under tents and clustered around those lonely kegs and taps. It was so pitiful to see those empty glasses and sad faces. Have another?

I've had the golden opportunity to pour for Eagle Brewing in Mukilteo (excellent Milk Stout), Whistler from BC (those crazy Canadians make great beers!), and this year will be for the Leavenworth Brewery on Saturday.

From: Pat Anderson (pata@aa.net)

>ok, you get much more selection at OBF, but you don't get the Herbfarm, >you don't get the gardens, you don't get the huge old oak trees to sit >under, you don't get the "country ambiance". That is the reason I keep >going back to this thing, its held in a charming location I love to hang >out at for a few hours. So, I have nothing but cheers for it. ;-)

I live a mile from the Herbfarm. I went in the early years for the Microbrew Fest. When it got down to about 1 square foot per person, I stopped going. If you want the Country Ambience (tm), come any day EXCEPT during the Microbrew Fest...But the issue was really how Czar Carrie treated the workerbees. I never worked there either, but I know (of) Carrie, and I know a lot of my brethren and sistren's views...the Herbfarm has been quite complacent about the free labor, and has not treated people right. I also know Cindy Sattler (from a lot of things, school, cub scouts, little league, etc.) and know she is an absolutely first class person. I would give her a chance to set things right with all of you.

From: Steve Snyder (zymurgist@CompuServe.COM)


I think you all have been spoiled out here in the wide open spaces of the West. Back east, most of the beer/wine festival that I have attended were much more crowded than I found the Herbfarm beer festival. In fact I made several comments to my wife about the short lines and the ability to actually find a place to sit down and relax.


From: Pat Anderson (pata@aa.net)

Maybe so. When I lived back east (1970 - 1975, Moorestown, NJ, right across the Delaware from Philadelphi), beer meant Rolling Rock if you had any money and Esslinger if you didn't...Esslinger was also great because it came in long neck returnable bottles you could use for homebrew. No "microbrew festivals" in those days...But the Herbfarm is still TOO CROWDED for me to want to be there until my brewery is pouring there...

From: JoAnne Collier (jcollier@accessone.com)

Send 'em to the Wharton School and then to charm school. They need to understand that 1)real businesses learn to generate receipts to cover their labor payroll and 2)paid or unpaid, labor is too crucial a resource to short-change.

From: anonomous

Limited experience, but negative nonetheless.

First off, the date absolutely sucks for many of us. My father-in-law lives in Port Angeles, and my father doesn't drink. So, it's pretty much impossible for me to share a special day with my Dads AND go to this event. However, I recognize that the fest now has appreciable tradition for that date, so .... Whatever.

On the more tangible side, I was privileged to sit on the BOS panel for last year's BrewDebut competition which was held at the Herbfarm the day of the fest. What a freakin' fiasco. Very poor conditions for a beer judging. Wobbly picnic tables, outside, etc. The WORST thing was that I was promised "free admission" to the festival in return for judging (nice perk). What happened was that I got "admitted", but without a glass. Consequently, I was unable to even BUY beer, much less enjoy the fest as promised. The festival people were surly and confused regarding the whole matter, which was probably more a communications problem with the competition than their fault.

Nevertheless, I had a crappy time. And I thought it was crowded and pretentious.

There was another anonomous poster. I don't want to point fingers or name names, because they have to continue doing business with the Herbfarm and their festival on a regular basis. There were complaints regarding poor booth location, leading to a loss of business. Another complaint regarding the prohibition of selling glassware, owing to the monopoly that the festival wished to maintain. I don't want to paraphrase too much here, I only want to bring their issues to light, without putting light into their hiding place!

Well, here's the list of problems (and a bit of discussion about them), without a great deal of solutions. That's not my job. Speaking of jobs, I'm sure that Cindy's job at the Herbfarm is a tough one. She's trying to reconcile many different views, desires, and goals from several audience sources, and I'll just bet that it's damn near impossible. However, if you don't try, you don't suceed, and maybe you drive your audience away. It will take a few years of glowing reviews before I return to pour at the Herbfarm. On the other hand, the Kelley Creek Brewery in Bonney Lake is having a festival of their own on August 16th. They haven't pissed me off yet, so I'm thinking of pouring for them. Give them a whistle at 20123 Old Buckley Hwy, Bonney Lake, WA 98930.

There were only two real comments received after the festival, and here they are:

From: watchdog@tcmnet.com


Well here you go, feedback from a first time worker bee. Both my wife and I decided to try "helping" out for our first time, after the Cascadia alert for help. I quote helping out because I consider it more volunteer work than a job, and considering our other volunteer work, our expectations were more than surpassed. My wife had a great time, and fully plans to volunteer for the Wine Fest, and next year's Brewfest. No question they could do some things better, but considering they are using over 200 people who know nothing, I did not think it was run badly. Almost all of the Herb Farm Regular Staff was very friendly, and pretty helpful.

I certainly tend to agree with some of your points, but my biggest concern would be to have this fold up. This being Washington State's biggest Microbrew Festival, it needs the support of the Microbrew Veterans in the State. We do not have enough Festivals, or a source to help out yet to improve the ones we do have. I fully believe the Herb Farm made many strides to improve yours and others "suggestions". So,(I am not usually this wordy)I would love to see the Vets work together to make improvements.

My home page should within the next few weeks show what Washington MicroBrew Festivals I can find out about. I myself(as a green rookie), want to help improve these festivals, not help to eliminate them. Where would we be without the HerbFarm? Mull this over, and do what you want with our opinions. If you want any more specifics, please let me know.

Steve and Robin McVicker

From: Alan Hord (Hords of Fun)[SMTP:v-ahord@microsoft.com]

Personally, I thought the crowd was better behaved - but then so was I ;o)

I was there paying homage to the industry that I've often wondered if I singularly support, doing my duty to God and my Country working Saturpday as a pourer for Winthrop (awesome beer!). And on the Seventh Day, I rested and played quaffer (though I worked a little bit as Steward for Best of Show for the 2nd Annual Brew Debut). I thought the party on Saturpday night was the best in the four years that I've attended; food was good and so was the beer selection. The weather on both days was almost perfect! It was great running into friends and associates from all over the PNW and enjoying a true American invention and tradition together: Toasting!

My only negative comment would have been those pesky cigar smokers; I can think of no better way to hose my sense of smell. Imagine trying to discover the delicate aroma of a wonderful nostrum that is hand-crafted by a struggling brewery who drove six or eight hundred miles to be at the fest - only to have their effort wasted by an insensitive cigar aficionado. My complain was registered with the management. I would prefer to stuff the stogie smokers in a downwind corner of the fest and be done with it. I'm happy the fest allowed cigar smoking, and I have no issues with the fad. I just want them to understand that cigars are far more powerful than cigarettes in their regional influence - and therefore temperance is in order.

Other than that - I look forward to next year; It was more fun than a barrel of Canadian Brew Monkeys from Whistler B.C. !!!

Cheers, Alan
da Pres of da Cascade Brewers Guild

From: David C. Carroll (tvc15@speakeasy.org)

The weather was the best it's ever been, with the possible exception of the first time I went in 1990. Since Brockington, Crippen and I arrived later than I had hoped (around two?), I was expeciting big ugly crowds, which never really did materialize. The space matched the crowd very well, and we even managed to find ourselves a "home base" to sit down in amongst the shady trees.

There were a few breweries present I'd not heard of or seen before: Cirque Brewery of Prosser had a trio of pleasant lagers. A "bottled beer booth" had a few of these in bottles. Northern Lights Brewing Co. has been producing in tiny batches near Spokane for four years now and is just cracking the Seattle market with a start at the Milton Tavern. I mentioned the Latona as an in-city account they may want to try, as I think their styles and quality would fit right in. Scuttlebutt of Everett and Twin Rivers of Monroe also each had a trio of credible beers.

Most if not all of the other breweries, around 48 in all, were not new to the fest. Some notable absences were Portland Brewing, the Elysian, the Big Time, McMenamins, and Birkebeiner. (Also absent was Bridget. Forgive the inside joke.)

Speaking simply as a consumer, I had a wonderful time this year, my eighth year of attendance. I'm looking forward to next year's fest.

From: JoAnne Collier[SMTP:jcollier@accessone.com]

A couple of people were surprised that I showed up at the thing. But my issue has been with volunteer treatment. As I've thought, customers get accommodated quite well.

The biggest news that you're bound to hear about from several quarters is that this year, the pours increased to pretty much fill the glass. The concession cost each of us an extra $2.50 at the gate. But considering we got 12 to 16 ounces of extra beer spread among the requisite 6 tastes, that was fine. Short pours have always been a pain for volunteers both in the execution and in fielding the grumbles from the crowd. I think everybody gained on that one.

I also understand that the gift certificates were written for $40, rather than the previous 20. I've never redeemed one of those things because I never wanted to make the drive to do it. Personally, the size of the gift certificate doesn't matter much but I imagine this year's gesture made some folks happier.

It was hard to gauge whether the staffing would have held up to the usual Herbfarm crowds. From 2 o'clock till closing, I never saw a line formed anywhere and in particular, at the gate. There just wasn't the volume of people that Herbfarm had had before. All in all, I think Herbfarm could have operated as it has in the past and the old problems wouldn't have arisen just because the crowds weren't so large. It occurred to Jim Hinken and I that we didn't see or hear any pre-event advertising this year. In light of the fire, people may not have known that the festival was being held.

Carl Appeloff noted that since the brewers could pour this year, volunteers had a chance to take breaks. That practice began last year (at least where I poured) but helping out was purely at the descretion of the brewer. Mine wanted to roam and socialize so the bladder/blood sugar problems remained the same.

A nice addition was a vendor who offered 2 kinds of mussels, one in a curry and the other in a basil/tomato broth. I had the latter and they was really good. 8 mussels cost $4. They were good enough to be worth it.

Copyright 1997 by Rich Webb, aka The Outsider.

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This document was last updated on June 27, 1997, and has been viewed countless times.