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

KAKerby at aol.com KAKerby at aol.com
Wed Dec 26 13:03:40 EST 2012

Thanks, John.  We went through a little of this with the sporadic  
job-specific hiring we've done in the past, and I can see a lot of truth in what  
you've written.  Also, for the sake of our conversation, I'll say now that  my 
friend may have used the word "partner" in her proposal, but I'm relatively 
 certain she didn't want to come on board as a formal partner as Richard 
very  helpfully defined.  Even if she liked that idea, I doubt she'd want to 
take  on 50% of the financial, logistical, and legal burdens.  So we'll 
restrict  this to "hiring employees" for now.
Keep the comments coming; they're already very helpful.......
Kathryn Kerby
Snohomish, WA
In a message dated 12/26/2012 9:42:26 A.M. Pacific Standard Time,  
stonecirclefarm at tds.net writes:

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_ 
(mailto: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_ (http://frogchorusfarm.com/) 
Snohomish,  WA

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