As we roll into the main part of our season, I’m struggling with one of the hardest parts of my job as a flower farmer. Planning? Harvesting? Marketing? Nope. Hiring. It’s not all that hard to find someone who thinks they want to work on a flower farm, but finding someone who actually can is another story.
The first employee we hired came to us as an enthusiastic learner. They reached out, as someone who wanted to start their own flower farm, to gain experience and see what flower farming is all about. What a learning curve, for all involved. Applying for an EIN, trying to figure out payroll, and then trying to think through all the things we do and determining what we needed the most help with.
Over the years, our crew has grown and changed. We’ve had long-term employees, and short-term ones, and a few that couldn’t even make it through their first week before realizing that the job wasn’t really for them. Although I still have lots to learn and am constantly working on myself as a manager, here are a few things that we’ve found helpful.
To get us off on the right foot, I am brutally honest about our work day. We start early. We work hard. We work in rain, sleet, sun, wind, fog, forest fire smoke, all the conditions. Our jobs are physically demanding; there are a lot of repetitive motions—walking, bending, lifting. There are bugs and snakes and bees, and pretty much everyone gets stung once during the season.
We always do a phone interview (or Zoom as it became a thing this last year), and then a working interview. I let the potential employee know that we use this as a way for both parties to evaluate if it’s a good fit. No hard feelings either way. Sometimes we determine it’s not a good fit, sometimes they do; sometimes it’s mutual, like the person who told us that they couldn’t work in the rain because we’d all get sick and then where would we be?
During this interview I usually tour them around the farm, walking at my working pace, and use the time to describe our business model and answer questions. You can learn a lot about what kind of a commitment people want to make by the questions they ask.
Assuming the working interview goes well, we start the training process. The very first ASCFG Conference I attended, in 2014, I went to a session on employees although I had none at the time. One of the most valuable lessons that I took from that session was that when you train, it’s an ongoing process. First you train, and then you train again, and then you continue to train to your expectations until they are consistently met. I’m not saying that I’m consistently good at this, but it’s what I strive for—continually evaluating performance.
Another thing that I find really helpful is to be open and communicative about expectations and performance. And not just for employees. I expect for my employees to be receptive to constructive comments, and fully expect them to let me know if I need to do something better. We talk all the time; we work through things together. Everyone has a voice on our crew, and some of our best improvements, things that have been critical to our growth, have come from our crews’ suggestions.
Our crew is the number one reason why we can do what we do. There is no way that we would be where we are or where we’ve been without the dedication of our crew members. We are a diverse bunch of teenagers, college students, moms, dads, friends, and family. It’s a joy to watch our employees grow beyond our farm, leaving to pursue school, or new careers, or farms of their own. We try to show our gratitude every day and hope that they feel that.
And that brings me to my last point about our crew. Although we wish that individual members stayed forever, we recognize that there is a time for everyone to move on to new adventures and our role is to send them off with love, and maybe a little more knowledge, and for sure a parting gift. That all being said, anyone know someone who wants to work on a flower farm? ‘Cause we’re hiring!