12 Considerations for Farming with Your Partner: Making a Living While Building a Life
You’ve fallen in love and you’re daring to the to do the unthinkable. After talking about it, interning or WOOFing on other farms, managing operations, or even jumping in without any previous growing experience at all – you’re going to start a farm. Who better to start it with than the person that you love so much? After about a decade of gambling this way myself with a handsome farmer man of my own (successfully and not so,) I’ve whittled it down to 12 considerations for farming with your partner.
If you’re going to start a farm with the person you love, odds are you’re doing so because both of you feel called to be in nature, support a local community, grow nutritious food, and or become a hermit in some capacity and this shared passion is important. Maybe both of you care about different aspects of this mud laden lifestyle, but coming up with a unified vision that paints the picture of the life you hope to share together is step number one. It will determine the type of operation you start and the great thing is, the vision can and will adapt as you age. The reason behind why you choose this path can be as basic as disappointing your parents who had hoped you would go into brain surgery, but it must be shared and it must represent both of you, equally.
My dad gave me this gem of wisdom and tends to remind me of it every so often when my relationship wobbles and stresses abound. In his opinion, your ideal partner is actually only 50% compatible with you as a human being. That means that they will give a crap about only 50% of the things that you do and the other 50% will be interests that are almost unrelatable to you.
This sort of goes in the face of the idea of a “perfect soulmate” who you connect to deeply and romantically on every level, but the truth is you don’t want to marry yourself and you definitely don’t want to go into business with yourself. You need to partner up with someone who has strengths that complement your own and fill the gaps where your weaknesses wreak havoc. Maybe you can’t get down with dressing up as a Game of Thrones character on the night of the season premiere, but their marketing skills may just save your business when your broccoli skills are exceeding demand.
Who’s In Charge?
This one is a tough one. I’m not going to lie, this single thing has been a huge hurtle from time to time in my own experience and it has taken us years to truly figure this out, (if we even have, yet.) Delegation is such an important part of a functioning business and this element is made especially difficult when it involves a romantic partnership. In farming there are so many ways to do things, so many opportunities for innovation and progress, that we are often spoiled for choice. This doesn’t even count all of the ways we as individual growers attune systems to our own styles and needs and this specialization is what makes your operation work for you. What doesn’t work for you, is battling out every decision, model, system, and purchase with your partner because you haven’t compromised or properly separated out tasks.
It is so important that each of you is heard, validated, and respected when ideas are brought to the table and even more important that the best idea wins. It may feel cutthroat and you won’t always choose the best concept first, but true evolution comes from conceding for the greater good and sometimes literally dividing the farm into individual pieces can save the operation and relationship in the same swing.
Oh, blame. It is so satisfying and easy in the moment and so destructive over the long term. This is especially insidious in situations where tasks have been divided and something goes wrong in the area that was not your responsibility. In farming there are so many variables that can destroy the profitability of the business. This can be weather, disease, pests, Whole Foods, food trends, and numerous other dangers that can creep up on you and ruin months of work in a moment. While it may feel like a relief to push the mistake on your partner and not take any ownership of it yourself, the farm is a team game, not a competition. You aren’t farming to win an award, you are hopefully farming to share in a unique version of life with your loved one.
Choosing to process loss and mistakes and learn from them together as opposed to being separated by them at every turn will not only improve the functionality of your business, it will provide the friction necessary for both of you to evolve and grow as human beings, giving your relationship and lives deeper purpose.
The Off-Farm Job
Most anyone who has been or is an entrepreneur knows how important it is to make money. Sometimes that means taking on additional work while the business gets afloat, sometimes it means keeping a secondary income forever to level out the cost of living. It is the ultimate farm dream for both partners to be able to derive their living entirely from the farm and so many people pull it off every season.
For some families though, this just doesn’t really work. It could be that the farm is located in an area where people aren’t as fired up about local food. It could be that the farm is located where many other farms are competing for the same dollar. It could be that raising kids on the farm salary just isn’t quite secure enough and someone needs to step out of the dream and use their other passions as support.
Whatever the case, there ain’t no shame in that game. There is no rule book that spells out what being a farmer really is and there is no commitment-time-minimum for tending to your fields. If both partners being on the land together is the goal, I know you can achieve it. If flexibility leads to a happier life, I accept your well-roundedness and eat your carrots all the same.
There is one thing that farming land with your partner guarantees, and that is quality time. You’re going to spend so much time with each other, it is going to be so cute. It will be so cute until you are weeding baby beets one day and that thing he said earlier in the day mixed with the mansplaining you are receiving right now explodes into a fiery rage that finds you at the washstation questioning the meaning of everything.
My best advice for all of that quality time? Podcasts. Music. Head-freakin-phones. There is so much good audio out in the world these days that will allow the mind to escape the current scenario and explore things, places, and people your sedentary life would never allow. Put your headphones on, smile, and go weed something by yourself.
All of that quality time does actually pay off when you get a look at how much you’ve accomplished midsummer when you’ve just barely survived Spring and are rearing up for Fall. It may not seem like it to you, especially when you’ve just spent months with your face to the ground, but what you are making with your land is probably beautiful and probably should be shared with others. There are few things more rejuvenating for two people that have been toiling away with crops and livestock than inviting people who don’t farm and other farmers alike to come enjoy the views. They will think it is magical, even if it is weedy. They will see your heart on full display, even when you feel vulnerable sharing it.
One thing I’ve learned about preserving a relationship tied up in a farm is to invite friends, family, and locals over, accept volunteers, and celebrate what you’ve made with people who absolutely appreciate it.
Any of you who actually know me, know that I am a childless vagabond who treats two dogs as if they were my children. My unhealthy relationship and attachment to them serves as enough added stress to the whole growing system and I cannot even imagine for the life of me how difficult and rewarding this farming experience must be while also raising children. This shout out goes to all the moms and dads out there bringing humans into this world through this lens; you are total warriors and I have no advice for you at all. You amaze me, confound me, inspire me, and most of all are accomplishing something that few humans could ever imagine pulling off. I send you all of my love and thanks-the world needs and celebrates you.
You Do You
As a competitive person myself, I can say for a fact that I have sometimes inserted myself in places within our business that I had no place being. Both of us are guilty now and again trying to fill every role on the farm and appearing to each other and the world as all knowing beings. There is a level of maturity that hits you at some point where you realize not only do you excel at certain things on the farm, but there are things that you are bad at and actually hate doing. We all want to be everything to everyone, but the truth is we were all molded on this Earth with certain talents and we will get much farther in life celebrating those over trying to cultivate gifts we were never given in the first place. Finding your own niche in the farm may feel limiting at first, but eventually it serves as the cozy nest where the best of you is able to hatch.
Sometimes as farmers we suffer serious burn out because we’ve done a crappy job planning. Sometimes we suffer burn out because the season was extra special and weeks of rain or drought wreaked havoc on our awesome plans. A lot of times we suffer burn out because we’ve become so focused on selling vegetables or meat that we forget that life is supposed to be joyful. Play is the all important and never prioritized element of life that must be executed frequently on the farm for it to succeed. You must be goofy and blow off steam. You must make delicious meals and talk in weird voices when overworking leads to deliriousness in the fields. You and your partner must enjoy each other’s company even during the thickest work week or the whole thing is serving everyone but yourselves.
Chances are when you start your farming operation you will be a much different person than the one you become after farming for a few years. Farming is a difficult path and it not a career that should be undertaken by anyone who is afraid to look deeply into themselves. Farming with your loved one has the added challenge and benefit of someone standing right beside you, growing and receding, facing heartache and facing their shadows within the funny house that is the natural world.
There will be times when the mirror of the other person is so critical and intense that it will be hard to get through the day. The choice to live this life together, to struggle through the cycles of life, death, and transformation is not the easiest choice out there. In making this choice you are agreeing to be present for each other, at their best and worst, as they discover what truly makes them tick, and deciding to support one another throughout the changing seasons of life.
The most important consideration, in my opinion, is mindfulness. In farming it is so easy to write a list of tasks, get super organized, and then go out and knock em dead, day after day, without ever pausing to experience the moment as it is. You will reach a point in your life when you can scarcely remember what it was to be new in farming, fresh in the soil, or maybe even a few more years down the road when the pitch of activity peaks and the system becomes a tired, old friend.
These seconds, minutes, and hours are the actual unfolding of your life and there is so much benefit in pausing within the stillness of nature and truly internalizing her deep, omnipresent consciousness. The memories you make were once experiences lived out, moment by moment, and you will never get them back. Write down your first chicken egg, celebrate your first victorious tomato crop, and never forget the hard times when the weight of the farm brought you closer to each other. While one goal should be to grow lots of food, another should be to spend as much of your day in the present as you can so that life doesn’t have the opportunity to pass you by.
That’s twelve of my biggest considerations for going into farming with your loved one. To my own partner I want to say, I’m sorry. And you’re welcome.. For everything.
Darby Weaver has spent the last decade growing Biodynamic produce in the Southeast and teaching holistic and ecological methods to learners of all ages and backgrounds through articles, agriculture intensives, workshops, and lectures. She has recently moved to the Northeast with her husband to begin a new venture on 20 acres in Wolcott, Vermont. You can read all of Darby’s Mother Earth News posts here.
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