Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces

Greetings, fellow growers. On the way to the Growers’ Intensive in Athens, Georgia, I must have been feeling a tad frisky about being down south among green things and cut flower geeks. Deviating from the usual Quarterly check-in, I veered off into Storyville…

Once upon a time, our ancestors were munching their way through field and forest, picking up all sorts of things, sniffing, looking closely, tasting, and learning by habit what it meant to “do lunch”. 

On one such outing, the gang couldn’t help but notice one of their pals spending more than the allotted amount of time hanging out in a patch of something-or-other, and they became concerned over the efficacy of such dilly-dallying. They called the wayward one back into the fold, and gathered ‘round to see what had been procured by their dreamy companion.

Maybe at first glance they didn’t get it: why carry this brightly-colored, lovely-smelling thing around if it couldn’t be eaten? But by then their bellies were full, so they lingered over this eye-catching thing, passed it around, and carried it home as a memento of their new discovery. Or conversely, had they been eating these brightly-colored, lovely-smelling things all along, and one day noticed that some of them had a longer shelf life than others? That they didn’t have to go out in the rain to get more?

Pleasing to the eye were these brightly-colored things that looked good for days and could be passed around for the amusement of the gang. Some gang members took it to the next level, blending yellows with blues, or reds with purples, for added effect. What a hit this was! Accessible to all, didn’t add to the clutter or need dusting, it was cutting-edge in thoughtfulness and artistic expression.

It was an evolutionary event when one gang invited its neighbors over to pass around these new-fangled bouquets of flowers. Each one noticed something different in the mix; some inhaled the greenest leaves, some held the flowers up to the sun to see through the layers of petals, others peered into the Spirograph center of the bloom. Someone else coined the phrase “A bit of scent always clings to the hand that gave the flower.”

Just as they were chatting about the next meet-up, the lions came. The party broke up quickly, everyone headed for the treetops. When things had quieted down, they returned to the place to see what was left, what needed to be done next. And because the lions had done a good job of cleaning up, there were only the flowers left to commemorate those who didn’t make it to the treetops.

While everyone felt sad about what had happened, they knew enough to forgive the lions for crashing the party, since this sort of thing was only natural and the lions couldn’t be blamed for being themselves. The flowers were brought back home and this event was the first funeral recorded on the historical rock walls of never-never land. Thousands of years later, Mark Twain visited the rock wall drawings and coined another apt phrase: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the foot that has crushed it.”

On to recent events. I recently attended a three-day workshop sponsored by NOFA-VT called “Human Resource and Labor Management for Farmers”. It was encouraging to see the room filled with other established growers who have figured out how to manage crops and markets, yet who are still learning about “managing people”. The three sessions addressed three “stages” involved in being an agricultural employer:

1. Get your Team: Hire, Train, and Retain a Strong Crew
2. Run your Team: Tools to Manage and Motivate the Crew
3. Adjust your Team: Develop your Leadership Style and
    Increase Workplace Satisfaction.

Years ago, I implemented a gnarly “job application”, designed to weed out dabblers who pictured themselves tip-toeing through the tulips. It worked to the extent that about 50% of inquiries didn’t respond once they read the job requirements, and the other 50% answered the questions in the application and were invited to a “job interview”. I learned that this interview needs to be more of an audition, where the applicant is expected to work alongside our crew for half a day and is never hired on the spot, no matter how great she or he is. In exchange for their time, I feed them lunch with the crew, and give them the opportunity to make a “show & tell” bouquet to take home. If the poor applicants haven’t wilted after all the scrutiny we’ve subjected them to, they can let us know the next day how they see themselves as being a good fit for the farm.

From the workshop, I also learned that here in Vermont, the Department of Labor has an Outreach division, which is separate from the Enforcement division, and that I can request a free Outreach visit to the farm to learn how that department would assess any situations or questions I might have for them. Such as, where is the legal line between agricultural and non-ag worker? To me, we’re all ag workers, whether we’re harvesting, making bouquets, delivering flowers, or posting on Facebook.

Not so, according to current (and ever-changing) definitions, which would have us deal with differentiating between all the various tasks involved in farming and managing separate employment records and insurance coverage for ag vs. non-ag workers. Does anyone actually do this? We folks at the workshop averted our eyes and became suddenly very busy writing things down in our notebooks when the question came up.

According to the Department of Labor, just about everything that happens once you step out of the field is not agriculture (hello IRS, goodbye schedule F?!). Putting flowers together to make bouquets is considered as value-added, manufacturing, or processing. Selling at a farmers’ market is considered as retailing, and updating your website is considered office work. (So if you’re updating your site from your phone while standing in the field do you log that in on your non-ag time-sheet?) On the bright side, the Outreach division “doesn’t share information with the Enforcement division, so farmers shouldn’t be afraid to request a consultation with Outreach for fear of being penalized.” (We didn’t wrangle the state employee who quoted that at the conference sign his name in blood).

I do think the ASCFG should pay attention to this topic so we have a place at the table should it come up for further discussion, as our industry promotes itself and locally-grown flowers in particular.

Diana Doll

StrayCat Flower Farm

Diana Doll StrayCat Flower Farm Contact her at [email protected]