I am curious as to others experiences running a farm business with a family/with small children. Was the farm already up and running or did the farm business start after children were on the scene? How did you manage the division of labor? Any single parents out there trying to farm and raise a family? Trying to assess how feasible it is to farm with a young child (1-3 yrs old) starting from scratch.
We started our farm business before having children, but have separated recently so I was obliged to run the farm and have a 2 year old around half the time. It works great, my son loves almost all aspects of the farm and is more than happy to be around “helping” with whatever job it is I’m doing. It really does help to have a set routine though so the jobs that are least child friendly can be done while they sleep/nap. I do chores very early in the morning while my son sleeps and come in and prepare food while he’s waking up. Sometimes he wakes sooner so a baby monitor with a good range and a Tula carrier are essential. Likewise in the afternoon I do some of the chores while he naps and the rest after he wakes up to spare him having to be strapped to my back for so long or for having to be dragged all over the farm on the hot sun. The temperament of the child is a big one too. My son keeps a fairly even keel up until he absolutely can’t stand it. He can tolerate not eating until late, spending an entire day at the market, or being strapped in a carseat all day doing deliveries or running errands. On the other hand I only have him here half of the week so he can recharge at his moms and I can also take advantage of that, using those days for the seriously labour or focus intensive jobs. I think I’ve been able to make it work so far because I had the business before hand and so can fairly easily anticipate the week ahead and figure when is best for what task, the fact I solely raise livestock, so I don’t have to spend hours in the sun weeding, harvesting, washing, or driving a tractor for extended periods. I think if the circumstances are right its absolutely possible. Its more challenging, but honestly not by much.
We bought our farm while my partner was about 5 months into her first pregnancy, and moved in when the baby was about 5 weeks old. We started actively farming it when she was about 1.5yo and my partner’s mat leave ended and she went back to work. We were ambitious and I don’t know how I could have run a one man operation with a 1.5yo with me all day long and still be productive/efficient. We had a 30-member CSA + one farmers’ market the first year, then ramped up to 60-members + farmers’ market in our third year.
I’ll be honest, we regretted some of the choices me made, namely moving to Ontario from Quebec, finding new jobs, having our first baby, buying and operating a farm all within one year. It was a bit much to say the least. If we could go back in time we would have planned better and paced ourselves, maybe move in but not farm for the first two years. I was working 7 days a week and my partner had a full time management job where she also worked some nights and weekend days. So partly we ran out of steam by year 3, and partly we also wanted another child. Considering the (massive) cost of daycare and the financial pressure of starting a farm business from scratch, we made the decision to sell the farm last year as it seemed like it was holding us back from other things we wanted in life. It was sad to have to do that, but maybe we could have avoided it if we hadn’t been bent on moving so quickly in the beginning, we never did achieve a good work/life balance, and that was a fatal flaw in our plan to run a farm. To be fair we also happened to have some really harsh weather (drought, hail, etc.) during those first years, which made the work that much harder and the pressure that much stronger.
However, I can’t overstate how amazing it is to see your kid grow up on a farm. The benefits to that are endless. They are very much connected to nature, they are the least fussy eaters, they love to help out, they are fascinated by all things living. It’s an amazing experience and certainly that may be what I miss the most.
Anyway, it’s a very personal story, but I thought I would share it to give you some food for thought, and hopefully some foresight. Good luck!
I appreciate the feedback! It is a very personal experience for sure, and thank you for sharing it. Do you think it’s more feasible starting out smaller, and going about it more slowly? It’s hard to say what your child’s personality will be like and what they will tolerate.
Hi all, I hope nobody minds that I’m chiming in even though I don’t have children. I can speak to starting up a farm and intentionally starting small and pacing things.
I’m in my third season running 1/2 acre market garden by myself. Weekly CSA & a weekly market. I spent a good few years working for others on their farms before starting my own business, and based on what I experienced and observed, I purposely started small. A good work-life balance has always been a priority from the get go, because I want to still love farming in ten or 20 years as much as i do now, and not sacrifice the other things that keep me happy and healthy. i also work at the EFAO as you know, year-round, 3 days/week so there’s that to balance too.
The beauty of this approach is there hasn’t been too intense pressure to “succeed” financially right away on the farm. I’ve been able to take time to get to know the land I’m on, get to know my markets a bit better, try out some new things and get into the swing of running the show without feeling panicked about how the farm is doing money-wise. In my first year I broke even, and since then have been covering my costs early each season and making a small profit each year. My CSA has also grown a bit each year (aiming for 15-20 members this season; currently have 10 signed up. In year 1 I had 5 members). The more I can focus on building relationships and bringing high-quality food to my customers, the more good exposure I get in the community. It’s early to say for sure, but I feel this will really help me succeed as the farm grows. I should also mention that this season is the first one out of the 3 that things feel comfortable and on schedule, so (barring any big surprises) it seems like season 3 is the point at which I’m hitting my stride.
Again, none of this is in the context of parenting, but I can see how this approach would allow for a more balanced entry into this line of work with kids, and also allow space to figure out what setup works best for your family. I do see folks with kids charging full speed into farming (some also working full-time off the farm AND doing farm work!) and it’s an impressive amount of motivation and passion, but to me it seems like a recipe for burnout (for myself it would be, anyway).
I suppose the point would be that you don’t need to be, or even try to be, an overnight sensation in order to make a successful go at it. Figure out what works and do things the way you need to to have a good life (not forgetting making a living). After all, that’s why so many of us come to this profession in the first place! Best of luck.