Minto Island Growers Seek Balance As Their Farm Expands, Part 2

| 8/14/2015 10:19:00 AM

The following profile has been excerpted from Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement. Read Part 1 of the Minto Island profile.

Our Minto Island Growers duo admit they already have cut back on some of the native plant and timber-oriented operations they originally inherited. But because those endeavors always were the least labor intensive, their load hasn’t lightened all that much. And they are realizing that labor – the cost of it – will be one of the primary factors that shapes the way their farm evolves.

What many people outside the farming industry fail to understand is how much CSAs depend on low-cost labor. For farmers just starting out with a few acres, a little training, and a dream, labor cost is not a priority because they’re happy to simply recoup the cost of their seeds and inputs, put food on the table, and make their lease payment. They’re doing the work themselves and most realize going in that they’re not going to be able to pay themselves a salary during their early years. Growth changes the equation. Labor and the true cost of doing business have an ever increasing influence on how a farm operation evolves.

“In order to keep all these things afloat and have it make sense – and I do think it can make sense – we need to find the right combination of factors that will keep key employees committed to the farm long-term… people who can help manage each component of our operation,” said Chris. “We’ve had great help from family, certainly. And several key employees have been here awhile now and helped manage things, but they’re moving on, and when they do, it will be difficult to start that cycle over again. We just don’t have enough time to do everything.”

“We can’t do it all and do it well,” added Elizabeth. “We’re not managing things as well as we could, so we’re losing money and losing time. We make it work. Honestly, I think we do an amazing job for how much we have going on. But we’re feeling a tinge of burnout, I think.”

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