I’ve just read David Specht’s book The Farm Whisperer…secrets to preserving families and perpetuating farms. It’s a great, quick read of inspiring questions for farm families wanting to transition management and ownership to create a successful legacy. Specht and I met on the Internet… I Googled him, then picked up the phone, then we exchanged books. Don’t worry, we are both happily married. We both are passionate about families and farms having a great future.
Specht has created an app called “Inspired Questions for Farmers” and the one question that caught my attention was this one:
Does anyone care about the farm as much as I do?
What is your answer?
Dad, founder with aching back, more wrinkles, and a deep sense of responsibility to make sure all the high-priority tasks are completed on a timely basis. Dad, are you asking great questions to the successor whom you are intentionally grooming? Did you seek out his or her perspective on what their priorities for the day where? What does “lack of caring” actually look like to you? Is it the sloppy job done of cleaning out the bin, the barn, or the shop? Is it leaving early to go home to read bedtime stories to toddlers? Is it choosing to spend time with friends hitting a few targets after your team has already logged a 100-hour work week? Don’t stew about the “lack of care scenarios” in your head Dad. We cannot read you mind. You have to tell us what is frustrating you!
Mom, because you care about the farm you are willing to do night checks during calving, bathe calves in warm water, and bottle feed newborn livestock. You use your nurturing skills for your children and your farm animals. You show care in many ways, but you too are noticing that your energy levels are decreased significantly by 8 p.m. You would really like to delegate some of your jobs to the next generation, but have a hard time asking for what you need. You don’t want to appear weak or needy.
Today, I am giving you permission to say these words:
“I think that we all should talk about what the farm priorities are for the next three months.”
“I need to have some help with my jobs, and share the load, as I am losing energy these days.”
“I sometimes feel that no one else on this farm team cares about the farm as much as I do.”
“I want us to sit down and discuss openly our needs, feelings and wants for the future vision of this amazing farm operation. I also want more time for fun and family.”
Successor, do you care about the farm as much as your parents? Do you communicate to your parents with compassion when they seem to be losing some of their resilience, especially during stressful times? When you suggest changes in roles or behaviour in order to make things easier or to try a new project for growth are you met with collaborative communication and good decision-making? What does really caring for the well-being and success of the farm look like to you in practical terms?
Spouse, you have a voice, too. Are you able to voice your observations as the one with “fresh eyes” from your family-of-origin experiences? Do you feel respected for your role in providing off-farm income to the farm’s cash flow and to your family’s needs? Does caring for the farm for you come in the form of contributing labour to the farm when you can, but ultimately saving your energy and efforts for the off-farm job and child care?
Everyone. Have a meeting with your flip chart and talk about what “caring for the farm means to you, and in practical terms, how is that acted out?
Financial care: accounts are kept up to date, bills are paid, books are entered currently, and the financial analysis is shared with the farm team. Contingency plans are in place, and the team of advisers for tax, investments, and debt servicing are all on board with the farm’s business plan, succession plan, and estate plan.
Operational care: The equipment is well maintained in a decently organized shop. People are keen to clean up their messes and put tools back where they belong. Everyone treats equipment well, and observes safe handling habits. Landlord relations are great, and production plans are in place to help the next generation have some ownership. Buildings are well maintained, and the yard looks well kept.
Emotional care: It is OK to ask for what you need. Conflicts are embraced when there is a difference in perspective for solving problems. Emotions are not hidden, but expressed with respect and patience. People adapt by reading the behaviour and language of others, because they truly care that the farm team has a great culture to work in.
Physical care: Farmers are aging. We all are. Our bodies need good self-care in order to be able to do the long journey of the seasons of farming. Mental health asks for times of renewal and refreshing which can happen in short breaks during the work day, and scheduled holiday time. Is it time to have a visit with your doctor?
Caring for the farm shows up for different folks in different ways. Give everyone permission to describe what their picture of “caring for the farm” looks like. Celebrate the good. Make some changes to transform the “not so good.”
Send me pictures of your farm with your permission to share them in my sessions.