As a new land owner and farmer in my area, we don’t have a network with other farmers, or alliances of work sharing to cover when we need to go for a holiday. We have had occasional luck with some friends that farm sit for us once in a while, but I am wondering if others face the challenge finding farm sitters and if we should organize some sort of mechanism to recruit farm sitters, post needs for farm sitters etc?
That is an excellent question and something I have been keeping on the backburner for a while. We are having our annual Board retreat for the EFAO Board of Directors next week and I’m tempted to bring this up along with some other things I’ve been pondering. I’d very much enjoy having an open discussion on the subject here however, including:
- What are some of the hurdles that farmers face in finding temporary caretakers
- What are some of the things that keep farmers from considering this in the first place
- How much trust (or lack of) plays a part in this type of interaction/transaction
Here are some first thoughts to kick off the conversation along the lines Denis suggested.
First, I think we need to distinguish between farm-sitting (someone living on the farm) versus someone dropping by for an hour or so each day (let’s call this “keeping an eye on the farm”).
- Trained farm-sitters: There are not a lot of farmers left and a lot are too specialized to care for a diversified farm. At the other end of the continuum people entering farming rarely have the management experience to care for a farm, e.g. they can quickly learn how to irrigate your farm but they don’t know how to tell when to irrigate.
- Local availability: Anyone keeping an eye on the farm needs to be a reasonable driving distance (e.g. within 20 minutes). Local networks seem like the best way to find such people: it is hard to advertise or get the word out. You could post on bulletin boards at the local feed mill, auction, etc. but I don’t have high hopes of quality responses.
- Your farm systems: things need to be established enough and documented enough that it is easy for a knowledgeable person to know how to spot a problem and what to do. This is really hard when your farm is evolving (and whose isn’t?). It takes a lot of time and thought to write down all the things that have become habit, let alone the things that could go wrong (e.g. the stock tank is empty; what do I do now?). I could write a book on all the weird things that needed to be fixed right away on my farm, and I’ve only been here five years.
As Denis suggested, trust is definitely the biggest issue in my mind. We pour our lives and our finances into our farm so no one cares about it as much as we do. Also a couple bad decisions can eliminate the annual profits for an enterprise. I don’t think I could leave my farm to someone I hardly know. I think I would have to train them and then let them run the farm for a day or two while I shadow them to see how they think about things (and be there to answer questions).
No answers – just trying to get my arms around the questions.
Our farm sitters tend to be people who have volunteered to help on the farm in the summer. Local people who we then get to know and we feel have a good grasp of what is going on here. We always try to get the word out to the local area that we welcome volunteers (usually through our sales outlets like our Farmgate and farmer’s market) and social media.