Learning to Share the Farm
By Lauren Rudersdorf | Photos By Lauren Rudersdorf 0
When my husband and I set out to begin a farm of our own five years ago, headstrong and idealistic, we knew one thing for certain: whatever we built would be beautiful and filled with love because we built it together. Our early years were, in many ways, a reality check. They were a lesson in learning a very different kind of beauty and a very different kind of love. We worked hard, had more than a few breakdowns, mostly on my end, and spent hours discussing our long-term goals both in life and on the farm.
We learned things about each other that it can take decades to discover about your partner. Our strengths and weaknesses were revealed, and after many times handling things poorly, we learned how to help each other without stepping on toes. We learned how to communicate with kindness and when to give one another space. We discovered the importance of romance and that we couldn’t give too much of ourselves to the farm so that there was nothing left for each other.
By our third year of farming together, the fields of our growing vegetable operation had become an intimate place. It looked different than I had ever imagined, but it had, in fact, become the beautiful space filled with love that I’d always dreamed it could be. It was a space we had built together and it was perfect.
When Kyle told me over a rare brunch date that we needed more help on the farm and that he couldn’t keep up if we wanted to keep expanding (which we definitely did), I was angry. I can recall the conversation clear as day. I responded terribly, not listening to a word he said and reacting aggressively to the change I wasn’t ready for.
Deep down, of course, I knew he was right. For our own sanity and the success of the farm, we really shouldn’t be doing everything ourselves anymore. There were some farm tasks that were much better suited to an employee, but it felt uncomfortable to allow someone into this place we had built together. We loved sharing our farm with guests at events and dinners, but it was terrifying to think about allowing someone into our day-to-day routine. They would see the inner workings that had become sacred, that were ours.
Despite my trepidation, over the winter months we continued to move forward with hiring our first employee. I attended an employee management workshop hosted by FairShare CSA Coalition and chatted with other farmers. I listened to countless podcasts. I drafted an employee position description and posted it to our website. I made a flyer and took it to the MOSES Organic Farming Conference. We listed the position on numerous job boards that were likely to catch the eye of aspiring farmers looking for experience.
Before long we had several applicants and were scheduling interviews for the spring of 2016. We had together decided that this was for the best, but I was still nervous. Not only to share my farm with someone but also with what adding an employee meant for our business. What if we hired someone who wasn’t a good fit? What if we were terrible managers? What if we hired the wrong person and it just wound up being a giant waste of money? What if they left in the middle of the season, after we’d come to rely on them?
We moved through the on-farm interviews and worries continued to race through my head. We wound up hiring a woman right out of college named Eryn who had no farming experience but a strong interest in the environment and a passion to learn more about our farming way of life. Alongside her, we hired our first team of worker shares: four people with varying backgrounds and skill levels who would work on the farm in exchange for their CSA share.
We went from managing ourselves to managing five people throughout the work week. It didn’t come easily at first. Kyle and I had to have conversations before the crew arrived or after they left about what needed to be done and the most efficient way to do it with a group of people. We had to set things up well in advance and create systems everyone could understand. We had to continue to work quickly and efficiently ourselves while also teaching people how to complete farm tasks. All of a sudden Kyle and I were more of a team than ever before but rarely beside one another. We had to learn to lead separately, and communicate quickly so as to not slow down the folks we were paying by the hour. Slowly we found our way. Our team was patient and kind with us, finding true joy in our farm.
Now, comfortably situated in the spring of 2017 with two employees who have been working with us for about a month and six worker shares coming on board shortly, my perspective has shifted entirely. I’ve realized what it means to share my farm and the possibility that can open up to us as we allow people into our sacred space. The people we bring onto our farm bring us so much more than just labor.
This year we have Natalie, who is an artist. She wants to help us create a colorful farm sign to place at the end of the new driveway we hope to put in this year and also design tote bags for our members. Nate, a dear friend and former chef, has a sense of humor that always keeps us laughing during a day of hard work. New worker share Faydra’s love of design will likely lead to a beautiful mural on our cooler this season. Jessica, an incredible mother of two, reminds us how hard it can be for a family to just get food on the table and inspires my newsletter with simple, straightforward recipes.
Just like our early farm was defined by the beauty and love Kyle and I shared with each other, our farm today is defined by the beauty and love of a broader group of people who come together on a piece of land to learn from one another. It’s no different. It’s just a bigger family. And there’s only more to love.