Farm families know how to keep it together. They work hard, play hard and have fun in the process. Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to keep kids on the family farm because of increased regulatory requirements, input costs and competition from foreign markets. Combined with the attitude many children pick up from their peers in school, it can make it really difficult to get and keep everybody involved in farm operations for this generation and for years to come. Here’s my view from the pasture on how to make it work.
Getting around pop culture by making it fun.
Our daughter Lisette loves two things above all else: playing games online and playing with baby animals. In her heart, the animals always win. We try to play to those strengths by having her help with lambing, brooding chicks and training our livestock guardian puppy. When we bought a new horse, the gentleman we were buying from had another mare with joint issues in a fetlock that made her a great kid’s horse. He offered her for a very low price with the other horse, so Lisette gained the opportunity for a new friend, learned to ride and learned valuable veterinary skills at the same time.
Let everyone give input on how to go about daily work.
If you’re process-minded, remember that getting the job done without increasing overhead is the important part. Though I’d like my daughter to just get the water from the hose into the watering trough, I don’t get all bent out of shape anymore if she gets herself soaked head to toe in the process, provided we’re not in a drought or going somewhere. If one of your family members tries something different that gives you the same result, even if it takes them a little longer, let them do it. They’ll either figure out that your way is better or that they’ve found a great new way to save time, money or effort.
Include the business side in your discussions and let everyone participate.
Because we feature a lot of primitive arts and crafts, we also attend art shows. Lisette started asking if she could bring a few things for a corner of a table that she could sell. Though we put some restrictions on it, such as having practiced what she was doing to produce a nice art piece, we decided she could try it out. I wish I’d thought of it years ago! The complaints about getting up early, hauling stuff and the length of the event were gone with the wind. Because she had something coming out of it, she was a lot more interested in participating.
Make it profitable with new marketing, sales and management practices.
When we started the family farm, we didn’t have any space in the farmhouse for seed trays. Though we knew we’d eventually break even when we bought plants at the local nursery, we knew we wouldn’t be as profitable. We decided to pick up some pieces that could be adapted into a greenhouse. We quickly saw a big difference in profits. It was a small investment that made a big difference in transplant cost and quality. Stop to review what works and what doesn’t, because improved profitability makes it easier to keep your family on the farm.
Above all else, keep a balance.
It’s easy to get caught up in the long to-do list every farm has, but life has to be about more than farming or your family will get burned out. Make sure your family is able to participate in groups outside of the farm. In our family, Lisette plays basketball and swims at the local Y, I go to a glassworker’s retreat at the Lake of the Ozarks every year and my husband, Eric, commands a local volunteers-in-police-service group that we all participate in.
To achieve some of these goals on the family farm you may want to look at new technology that helps keep things running smoothly. Whether it’s a new , to s system or an app that lets you use a shared to-do list and calendar, taking advantage of tools that streamline your farm workflow make a big difference in everyone’s happiness and the farm’s profitability.
About: Cathleen Vought is a freelance content and copywriter living on a small farm in southwest Missouri with her husband and daughter, two dogs, a few dozen Shetland sheep and chickens, too many cats and a Morgan-Arabian mare with serious attitude. A strong believer in social entrepreneurship, she has over two decades of experience as a volunteer disaster and medical responder, living the quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” She spends her free time working with wild edible and medicinal plants, fiber arts, playing with hot glass at her torch and renovating the family’s historic farmhouse.
Photography by Cathleen Vought