Reflect, Refine, and Refresh for a Long Farming Career

I don’t know about you, but, like most of my farmer friends, I’m looking forward to a winter break where production naturally slows or stops and the constant farm workload is reduced. As farmers, we juggle so much. There typically isn’t any time or energy left for thinking about how we could have done better until winter provides us the opportunity. One thing I love about farming is that every year there is an opportunity to make changes and redesign my business. Not many other professions allow for such creativity and challenge.
 
At the end of the season, I reflect on how I feel about farming after nine months of working hard, both mentally and physically. This includes reflecting on whether I’m still passionate about my work as a farmer, as well as looking at my life outside the farm.
 
Reflecting on Workload
 
As a farm owner, I have the privilege of being able to make adjustments to my farm as both my business and I grow and evolve. I’ve noticed over the years that my farming interests and passions change. I’ve also found that as I get older, heavy lifting takes a greater toll on my body. What was sustainable in my twenties may not be as doable in my forties. 
 
Here are some of the questions I ask myself related to workload sustainability.
  • How does my body feel with the current workload? Do I enjoy the farm "work out" or is it too exhausting or causing pain?
  • Do I have enough help? Do I need to hire more people to share the workload? 
  • Are there certain crops that require more heavy lifting? Could I downsize and grow something lighter instead? For example, could I grow fewer potatoes and more microgreens?
 
A couple of years ago, after some hip issues related to regularly lifting 50 pounds or more, I decided to stop going to every market and hired additional competent market workers to take my place. Now, I show up at markets separately when we have new crops that require a reset of the produce display or when extra help is needed. I've removed myself from most of the unload activities and instead spend time setting up the produce and fine-tuning my stand’s marketing. This gives me a chance to show my workers some good display ideas, go over pricing, and connect with customers. 
 
Removing myself from the weekly market circuit does affect the bottom line because more income is generated when the farmer is present at the market. However, the benefits are that staff take more ownership and I can spend weekends with my family.
 
Reflecting on the Boundaries Between Work and Personal Life
 
Creating boundaries between work and personal life is very important if you want to be in this business for the long haul. This can be challenging for farmers because there are always potential improvements and the to-do list keeps growing, especially if you live on the farm. However, without boundaries and time apart from the farm it is easy to get burned out.
 
Here are some questions I ask myself that you can consider asking yourself too.
  • Is there enough separation between your work and personal life? 
  • Are your relationships suffering because farming takes up all of your time?
  • Who are you outside of farming? Do you have time to do the things that bring your heart joy?
  • What steps can you take to have more free time? 
  • What do you love about your work? 
  • Are you able to do enough of what you love, or are you caught up with what you don’t love (like paperwork)? Can you hire office help? 
  • Are there things you don’t love that could be delegated to someone else or removed from the business? 
 
Addressing these questions is key to sustaining yourself as a farmer. To continue enjoying your work and keep the passion alive, it is important to take a closer look and ask yourself these questions on a seasonal basis. Doing so will improve your business and your motivation to continue the hard work of growing a farming business.
 
In my next blog I’ll walk you through a brainstorming process I use to take a bird’s eye view of my farming operation to analyze how I can improve my operation, address workload challenges, and create more balance in my farming life. 
 
Keep following as we spend January fine-tuning for success! 
 
* * *
 
This article was written by Jamie Collins. 
 
Jamie Collins, owner of CCOF-certified Serendipity Farms near Monterey, California, has farmed organically for two decades. She sells produce via farmers’ markets, CSA, and other direct-to-consumer outlets. On the side, she works as an organic inspector and farm and marketing consultant and writes about food and farming for various publications. 
 
Funding Acknowledgement: Funding for this blog post was made possible by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM180100XXXXG055.