Friday, February 20, 2009

Labor on the Micro-farm Revisited

This is not quite as much fun as Brideshead Revisited. It is mostly about work. What you can do, and the price of hiring others to do the rest.

This has been a nightly conversation at our house as we try to figure out how to get done all the things done that are on the list. It most recently came to light when I went out to the shed to get a load of wood. Our fire wood has held out nicely and we are doing very well on heating with our stove instead of the furnace, but... We hired someone to cut the wood for us. When we split it we found a small percentage of punky wood. Not a problem. What we have found is that our woodcutter cut about 25% of the pieces about 2 or 3 inches too long for our stove. I'm sure it wasn't intentional. Cutting wood in the field is a very inexact thing. However, now that we are nearing the end of the heating season most of the wood that is left is the stuff that didn't quite fit in the stove. Now I need to find the time to cut those pieces down so we can finish out the winter. Extra time and expense.

That has been my experiance with hiring things done. Mostly everything falls a bit short. You wait for someone to get around to doing the job, and then you have to schedule time to fix all the bits they didn't do right. I'm sure that isn't the case everywhere, but that's my world.

I'd love to have someone as an aprentice and spend the years imparting what I know in context, but finding the person and ploting a way to support them while they are learning is a project I'm not quite ready to take on. Beyond that I haven't much hope for good micro-farm labor. Guess I'll have to make it work with just me and the kids.


Daphne said...

You probably could get that type of labor if you used agricultural students over the summer (especially if you had a summer house on the premises). Heck if you had a nice summer house, you could probably sell "on the farm" vacations - or maybe not, it could be just me that loves the idea. I know I'd never get my husband on a vacation like that. I've also heard of farms getting help from their CSA shareholders, but then you have to be doing the whole CSA thing.

henbogle said...

I hear your pain... we are currently interviewing contractors to do some work on the house, replacing siding on hard for me to reach dormers, and replacing a few windows. One bid came in saying "not responsible for inside trim work." We sheesh! That removes all obligation to be careful when removing the trim, too. grrr, If you don't want the job just say so.

Maybe you need to add a yurt, a composting toilet and an outdoor showering facility for apprentices. Or as Daphne suggested, let people opt for a work share if you use the CSA model. If I were closer I'd sign on! I'm sure I could learn a whole lot about growing my own, and you have such a super attitude....

Supervising does take time, though, and LOTS of patience, not my most abundant resource.

From the Farm said...

That nicely summarizes my experience as well. Even with people who care more than the average and constant supervision - a lot of times if it was done by hired help you will have to fix it at some point or it could've been done better.

As for an apprentice or CSA helpers - may be I'm wrong but I think you have to buy workman's comp insurance for them, no? Because what happens if they get hurt on the work?

So, after much thinking about it, the only option I see is to have a bunch of kids of different ages. Not really an option for me anymore :) as my son will go off to college this year already but those of you still young should really think about it while it's still an option :)

inadvertent farmer said...

I have run into that in my clothing business. I could hire out to a seamstress while I just do the designing but I couldn't control quality like a do now, but I could sell so much more. Then I would have to pay someone so there would go my profits. So I just do each dress from design to finish and wonder if there is a more efficiant way to do it.

As for as work on the farm, I'm not sure I could hire it out, I love it all too much.

Well maybe I could bring myself to pay to have someone scoop camel poo for me!

homebrewlibrarian said...

In the medieval period, families who worked in various trades would often send their children to family members to learn that trade. It was still apprenticing and the family members weren't treated a whole lot differently than other apprentices. It was a way for boys to learn a trade and at the same time build strong ties between the families involved.

You have any family with kids who might have an aptitude for farming? In this day and age, if you have very close friends with kids, that could work just as well. Note that the families don't have to live nearby because the apprentice joined the household of the trade family.

Might just become the next newfashioned thing!

Kerri in AK


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