Friends Make Great Volunteer Farm Workers!
As the season is in full swing, I expect we are all thinking the same thing: farming is hard work, long days, and never-ending “to do” lists. We all know flower farming is not what most people picture it to be…playing with flowers and wandering through rows of colorful blooms in a white dress. The life of a farmer is full of challenges, and every day I ask myself “How is everything going to get done?!”
I’ve heard many farmers say that hiring their first employee was a game changer, and asking why hadn’t they done that sooner. While hiring is the best option for regular, reliable, and full-time help for a busy farmer, I have been fortunate to cultivate a unique volunteer staff and wanted to share some of the lessons learned through that process.
As a person of retirement age, I am fortunate to have friends who have recently retired from their careers and professions, and they are a smart and interesting bunch of folks—an attorney, professional organizer, dentist, physician, produce manager, food stylist, nurse, engineer, and physical therapist. These friends are looking for ways to spend time in retirement staying active, learning, and enjoying the beauty of nature. Many are avid home gardeners, which is an advantage, but learning how a commercial flower farm operates is new to all.
Over time it becomes obvious what each person likes to do and what they are good at, so assignments can be made accordingly. My longtime friend who comes 2 days per week, has learned just about every job on the farm and serves as a great mentor to others and de facto farm manager. She has been critical to the success of the farm for the past four seasons.
Some of the pros and cons of this volunteer work force of friends include:
• I get to spend time with my friends.
• No payroll – most work for flowers and cold drinks!
• Friends are less of a risk for liability.
• Flexible schedules.
• Multiple year commitment.
• Great word of mouth marketing team.
• Personal connection to your success.
• Orientation, training, and supervision is needed as with any employee.
• Not always available when needed, vacations, etc.
• Physical limitations of some older workers (hips, knees, etc.),
• Speed and productivity lacking.
• Feedback on quality of work can be tricky.
The most important thing to remember regardless of who helps your farm succeed—volunteer, friend, or paid employee—is to let them know how much you appreciate their contributions. You can never say thank you enough! Keep going, keep growing!