These photos are from the summer, obviously. Dad took them and I'm not quite sure where we were going with the theme but I found them yesterday and thought to share as they contain green and bare hands and necks and the kittens when they weren't yet fat. The following post has little-to-nothing to do with the above photos.
When I first started farming I used to relish in the idea that it wasn't my land, and it wasn't my farm. Working for somebody else allowed me to escape the finality of responsibility. It allowed me to cast grand aspersions on other farmer's mistakes. It allowed me to take off for a weekend or even once for a whole month without any destructive stress for the survival of the farm. It allowed for me to look at an aphid attack on the tomatoes with a philosophical interest and not understand the weighted threat of an entire crop's demise.
There is a very comfortable measure of separation from you as a human being and the farm when the farm is not yours. I hope the above doesn't make me sound like a horrific employee. I was responsible. I was honest. I was dedicated.
I have a theory about farmers and self employment. It goes that farming livestock and vegetables is an all consuming work and because of this the farmer becomes so passionate and involved in her day-to-day that she finds she can work for no one but herself.
In the height of the summer you are working sun up to down. You are working every damn day and there is no such idea of getting July 4th weekend off or Labor Day or even a Sunday. Some nights you are elbow deep in cold damp soil planting potatoes by headlamp. Some mornings you are racing to pack coolers of meat and feed the pigs, chickens, goats, sheep before market opens. Some afternoons you are painstakingly squishing japanese beetles between your fingers because you want to save the edamame. Some sweltering day you find yourself covered in mud behind a laboring sow trying to save her babies from the circling vultures. These situations test your patience, your strength, your endurance and inevitably you begin to want to change things so you aren't waiting until 9 o'clock at night to plant potatoes. You want to change things so sows are farrowing under the protection of a barn. You think market mornings needn't be so hectic. You can't believe its the second year in a row you've been told to plant edamame right here and Of Course! that's why the beetles have come!
When it isn't your farm it is So Simple to find the reason and the person for blame. It becomes second nature. You start sowing seeds of your own dissent and before you realize it you follow accusations of blame with the On my farm we will do it THIS way.... Oh how obnoxious, how insufferably presumptuous and ignorant.
And now I have my wish. The beginnings of a wish. I have my own farm business with Nick. Our own land is yet to come. And, as though reading a child's story with the moral so neatly written on the last page. I start to see how things become rushed, and hectic, and unplanned, and full. This summer, in our first season farming on our own, I had an almost continuous blush of humility on these cheeks. If I were a stronger man I would call upon my former farm bosses and mea culpa myself out of the guilt of knowing they were doing the best they could. And, my best is no better than theirs.
But farmers, including the two looking back at you from this post, are a prideful lot. So, I'll probably keep my lesson learned to myself.
It is helpful to have this overwhelming humility coupled with former worker dissatisfaction in mind as Nick and I work on our pasture and garden management plans for next year's growing season. We are hoping to have a few dear friends farm with us in the coming year. My desires (or perhaps guidelines?) for helping to form these working relationships into healthy ones are what follows.
1. Have constant feedback between our workers and Nick and I. One idea is to have a nightly dinner check-in to hear the good and bad about work.
2. Give our workers the proper tools to do their job.
3. No heavy loading shitty (sometimes literal) jobs on to one person.
When we worked in North Carolina my cousin Elizabeth told me that she never likes to give a job she wouldn't do herself to a worker. The best example of this at that farm was that she brought every animal to slaughter. No exceptions. She never made us do it.
4. Never confuse personal favors with farm jobs. No asking workers to do dishes that they haven't used or feed the usually useless pet pigs.
5. Respect that it isn't their farm and that their motivation for weeding the garden may not extend past sunset, or through a particularly hot afternoon.
6. Trust those working for us. Trust their ability and their decisions. Once workers are given a proper understanding of the task and the proper tools, we must trust not micro-manage. We have been granted that trust at every farm we have worked and I value it more than anything on this list. Trust breeds confidence and a happy, more invested worker.
7. Always remember to express gratitude for the work the worker has done. Compliment them on a job well done.
I'm sure its not a complete list and even with such a list I imagine we will run into feelings of dissatisfaction or frustration. However, I think that being aware of these issues will go a good way to having as open and honest and productive of a farm-space as we could hope for. If you have anything you think I should add to the list please do let me know. I'd love to make this as complete as we are able as we go forth in planning for the farm of 2013.