[Market-farming] to hire, or not to hire?

stonecirclefarm tds.net stonecirclefarm at tds.net
Wed Dec 26 12:42:11 EST 2012

When I started my farm, I wanted to avoid hiring people beyond paying my
two boys.  My reasons were pretty simplistic: I did not start a farm to be
an employer and managing hired labor was something I was frankly afraid of
based on my preference to work alone (and some "control freak" issues).
I've done a 180 on this and now feel that hiring labor is virtually
essential if one is to derive any decent amount of financial return from a
small market farm.  I say that in terms of my context which involves a
spouse with no desire to work on the farm...things could be different with
two people at the helm although I know of few examples where two people are
able to earn a complete livelihood without some hired (or volunteer) help.

So, I recommend hiring help.  But one thing that is tricky is that hiring
people too early in your farms development can be very inefficient.  It is
one thing to "pay yourself" to do work on a farm that may still be lacking
adequate tools, infrastructure, and refined systems to get jobs
accomplished.  It is another thing to actually stick an (untrained, less
skilled) person into an inefficient system and than have to pay them.  So,
one bit of advice is to hold off on hiring until you've "got things going
enough" to warrant plugging in a paid employee into a well-functioning
system.  That said, you might not completely recognize where your farm is
inefficient until you start hiring and observing things from a manager's
perspective.  Growing pains are inevitable!  Do not let a fear of growing
pains prevent you from investing in tools, equipment...or employees.

Another general piece of advice I have found useful is to hire part-time
employees in the beginning so that you can ease into being an employer.
This could be a partial day arrangement where you have workers for 4 or 5
hours a day or an arrangement where you have helpers 2 or 3 days a week.


On Wed, Dec 26, 2012 at 11:05 AM, <KAKerby at aol.com> wrote:

> **
> We have been on the fence for awhile now about hiring some help for the
> production year.  Things came to a head this past weekend, when a good
> friend of ours, who has worked with us here sporadically in the past,
> dropped a comment at a Christmas party that she thinks we should work
> together during 2013 as partners, really rev up production, and go back to
> selling at the farmer's market.
> A 15 second comment has proven to give me three days' worth of "should we
> or shouldn't we?"  And every time I think I've answered the question, I
> think of some new "angle".
> We weren't planning to return to the farmers' market this year, for a few
> reasons which I thought were pretty solid.  Solid, that is, until I started
> to think about what I could do with a second pair of hands around here.  We
> also had figured on not hiring anyone "yet", but maybe in a year or two.
> Her suggestion has sped up our deliberations, but I still find myself on
> the fence.  It's a Catch-22.  Looking at "what could be" through the
> optimistic lenses, I see some really nice improvements.  But looking
> through the pessimistic lenses, I see a lot of ways this could go south on
> us.  And I won't know until we commit to one or the other, but by
> committing, we set things in motion (or don't), which will dramatically
> impact what we do during 2013.  I can't put this off for two months and
> deliberate - we'll have missed some planting windows if I do.  But I can
> ramp up now in anticipation, and if things don't pan out then I'll have a
> nightmare schedule to maintain by myself for the rest of the year.
> I know some of you have gotten along very nicely without any hired help.
> Some have hired help, and tweaked things so that life goes on if that hired
> help doesn't pan out.  And some of you depend heavily on your hired help,
> such that you couldn't function without it.  How do you all know "now is
> the time" to hire, and/or when not to hire?  A big question for the last
> week of the year.  Thanks all.
> Kathryn Kerby
> frogchorusfarm.com
> Snohomish, WA
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