Posted by: J Nyman | August 20, 2008

How to Start a Farm #5: Farmers Need to Be Leaders and Followers

This is Part Five of a series called: How to Start a Farm: 6 Things All Would-Be Farmers Should Know Before Getting Knee Deep in Sheep (or any other farm venture). See Part Four here.

There are people who lead and people who follow.  Someone famous said that, I’m sure.  I don’t know who it was, but I do know that they were right. 

Each roll is appropriate to certain situations.  Leaders initiate action and make changes.  Good leaders make positive changes and improve something about the world around them.  But they don’t do it alone.  In fact, leaders couldn’t change much without followers.

Followers are perfect for getting jobs done and for keeping things going long after the initial action to get them started.  I’m sure we all can figure out which one of these characteristics we embody more, leader or follower.

(Even among these laying hens there are the leaders who jump out every time I open the door initiating the search for the greener grass outside their ‘condo’.)

How does this apply to starting a farm?  Well, the clue is in the word ‘starting’.  Like I said above, it’s the leaders that initiate action.  And you’re trying to initiate some serious action in the shape of changes to every area of your life if you’re trying to start a farm.

I’m sure this applies with all start up small businesses.  If you can’t summon and inflate the leadership qualities that you have, you’re going to struggle during the start-up phase of your farm.

Why?  Because initiating action requires certain leadership characteristics such as:

  • Finding being in charge exhilarating, not stressful
  • Being driven and having the desire to create

Being in Charge:  Exhilarating or Exhausting?

There are those who feel on top of the world when they’re the ones who get to call the shots, motivate the team and carry the lions share of the responsibility.  These people feel more alive when they’re coordinating a project or focusing on a goal.

This is not something that I have that much experience with.  While I don’t mind being in charge and do find it mildly exhilarating, I also find it mildly stressful.  Call me a fence sitter when it comes to being the boss.

There are those, however, who cringe at the thought of having to make decisions and be responsible for the outcome of a project.  These people will have a hard time starting a farm.  Starting a farm is a project and you, along with any partners you have, are completely responsible for making it run.  There are opportunities to be farm employees, but there is no space for someone starting a small farm to have an employee mentality.  Someone has got to be in charge.

Being Creatively Driven

I spent a few years working on setting up a Teen Room in our public library while I worked there.  Everything about the creation of this new space, the fine tuning of the guidelines for it’s use, the rearranging of attitudes around the need for it was exciting to me.

I was inspired and driven to make the new Teen Room a success.  And it was.  The only problem was, when the room was established and things were running on autopilot, I started to get board.  The challenge to create was gone.  The creation phase was over and someone more suited to maintenance needed to step in.

Granted, there are projects that inspire me enough to keep me interested even in the maintenance phase but this wasn’t one of them.

Farming needs to be one of these dual inspiration projects if you’re going to make it successful.  You need to be the leader in order to get the ball rolling and, even while you’re doing that, you need to be of a follower or maintenance mindset.

Both at once, you ask?  Yes.  Farming has to be done every day.  You need to maintain your animals even while you’re driving the marketing aspect of the business from your office.

A couple of quality follower or maintenance characteristics that will help in your farm business are:

  • Enjoying routines
  • Thriving on seeing physical results of your labour

Routines-R-Us

This one is mandatory:  In order to not go crazy farming, you need to be able to stomach the same routine seven days a week for months at a time.  I’m not meaning that you’ll do the exact same things from sun up until sundown.  But you will have certain tasks – chores – that remain pretty much unchanged everyday for a whole season sometimes.  And they might take you a few hours a day.

If you’re interested in a dairy farm, you’re looking at many hours a day, no changes but the normal farming surprises that come with animals and weather, 365 days a year.

If you don’t have a routine bone in your body, you don’t have a farming bone in your body.

A Result You Can See

For me, this is what makes chores do-able repeatedly.  While I don’t do our daily chores these days, I have been an everyday chore-er in the past and know that this is what makes it rewarding for me.  Standing back and seeing the turkey curtains on the barn all cleaned out, looking back at the row of cows that are milked and seeing that it is longer than the row yet to be milked.

Daily chores are much easier and more rewarding if you can take joy in the small details and if you feel accomplished when you see the results of your labour.

These are only a couple examples of how the leader and follower in us all need to be tapped into when starting – and running – a farm.  Now I’m turning the challenge over to you:

Post a comment below with your thoughts on what characteristics you have that will help you towards your farming goal.  And, by all means, share your thoughts on the things you have to work on.

Maybe we can help each other get a balance that will start a farm!

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