Employee retention strategies for small scale organic vegetable farms.

While we sometimes wish we didn’t have to deal with managing people, the fact of the matter is that employees are the heart and soul of any business… including our small scale vegetable farms. Indeed, the most successful leaders have always been those who know how to surround themselves with great people and bring out the best in each of them.

The challenge (which you are most likely familiar with) is how to cultivate farm employee retention given that physical labor is definitely out of fashion, wages are low, farms are generally located in low population rural areas, and that most of the best employees actually want to start their own farm in the near future. The answer then is to focus on the three key needs of every employee: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

5 employee retention strategies for farmers

  1. Be an inspirational leader!
  2. Have a clear written employment agreement including an appendix with a list of expectations.
    • The first part is the contract: Wage, hours, start and end dates, etc.
    • The second part is where you get to state clear expectations: Smoking, weather appropriate clothing, water bottle, punctuality, communications, etc..   
  3. Regularly scheduled, structured team meetings. See previous blog post on this subject.
    • Seize any opportunity to help your employees understand the big picture. Even mundane repetitive tasks become more enjoyable when you know that you are part of something bigger!
  4. Create meaningful opportunities for professional development by delegating roles and responsibilities, not just tasks. See previous blog post on this subject.
    • Clearly communicate that employees can take on management roles and access profit sharing bonuses.
  5. Offer a full range of non-monetary benefits. The idea here is that while employees need to earn enough to not experience financial stress, the primary factors of motivation and of satisfaction are primarily internal. Here are a couple of aspects to consider.
    • Positive feedback and acknowledgment: This is HUGE!!!!
    • Agency: A certain ability to choose work hours, primary tasks, or teammates.
    • Vacation time.
    • Training.
    • Participating in farm tours.
    • Pay particular attention to people’s needs. Is it hot? Why not surprise your farm crew with a box of popsicles!
    • Reasonable work hours (50 hrs/wk max!) and safe work conditions.

Your turn:

  1. What would it look like to nurture autonomy, mastery, and purpose for your employees this summer?
  2. Where are you willing to let go of control and create meaningful opportunities for employees to take on management roles?
  3. What would become possible for you if you had a core team of returning staff?

Overcoming internet addiction for small scale organic vegetable farmers


Folks… there’s a serious subject we need talk about.. both as farmers, and as a society in general.

I’m talking about the compulsive use of the internet which has reached epic proportions! The wildest part is that many of these apps are designed specifically to be addictive. Whether it’s social media addiction, compulsive email checking, or obsessive news consumption (my personal favorite is the BBC website), we each have our own personal flavor of internet addiction.

Not only do we waste our time on these sites, but there is also the less obvious cost of getting distracted. Each time we switch tasks, there is a real energetic cost for the brain. Even if we’re “just” taking a couple of minutes to check something on our “smart” phone (or rather, Quick-phone as Seth Godin has pointed out), the impact of this distraction is huge and significantly takes away from the mental energy available for what actually is important to us.

Now, I want to make it clear that I am not anti-internet or anti-technology. These are amazing tools for us to use in our pursuit of happiness, prosperity, and in the building of a better world. But this is exactly what they are– they are TOOLS! We need to keep it as such rather than allowing them to take over and take control of our lives.

1) Be intentional about scheduling specific times for internet use:  Will power is awesome… AND, there are certain ways to use will power in a leveraged manner, thus freeing you up to focus your willpower on more important things than trying to resist the temptation to watch another damn kitten video! You will be amazed by the peace of mind that comes from installing an app likeFreedom to schedule what apps and websites you want to block during your workday (or in the evening, or on the weekend.) I highly recommend this app. It has made an amazing difference in my life (I had developed an annoying habit of mindlessly watching YouTube till midnight on a regular basis!) Freedom works great on Android devices, PC’s, Mac computers; but not on iPads or iPhones. So far, the best alternative I have found is to use the built-in “screen time” app, though it’s capacity is far less than Freedom. Someone mentioned that Disney actually has a good parental control app that works on iDevices, though I haven’t checked it out yet.

2) Turn off notifications on your phone: Seriously, you don’t need that phone ringing and dinging at you. You’ll be amazed at the silence once you turn it off… a bit like a noisy fridge that suddenly stops and you only realize that you hadn’t even been aware of how loud the fridge noise was.

3) Train those around you not to expect immediate responses to communications. This will actually have the happy side effect of encouraging people to think twice before sending you a message for every single little thing that crosses their mind. Oh… and ideally, don’t check email, etc. until after you’ve gotten your day off to a good start using an intentional morning routine.

I know this may sound crazy, but let me assure you that the reward on the other side is so worth it! There is another way to live that can even be hard to imagine until you’ve experienced it.

Your turn:

  • What would you be free to focus on if your attention wasn’t distracted by the phone/internet?
  • How would you LOVE to use the tool known as the internet/smartphone to achieve your goals and dreams?
  • By what date are you willing to install the tools and systems to help free you from this addiction?

PS: Just to be clear, I have no affiliation or financial incentive regarding the app ‘Freedom’. It’s just made such a difference for me that I wanted to pass it on to you! 30$ per year in exchange for freedom from youtube… what a bargain!

Using weekly farm team meeting for maximum effect on your small scale vegetable farm.

Communication is key… we all know it. And yet it can be so easy to blow off weekly meetings as a waste of time once the farm gets too busy.

Here are 3 reasons to have a weekly meeting:

  • Gets everyone on the same page in terms of what needs to get done. This is particularly useful for helping employees see how each little task they are doing actually fits into the big picture.
  • Brings tensions out into the open. Nothing’s worse than frustrations or conflicts that fester just below the surface and poisons the whole team atmosphere. Communicate early and often… it’s the key!
  • Benefit from the observational skills and creativity of your whole team. Don’t forget, one of your roles as a leader is to bring out the best in your team! Quite often, the crew actually spends more time with the crops than you do!

The point is… that do not subconciously write off your meeting time a as idle time. It is not.  Rather, the time you spend in this meetings is a key tool to leverage the rest of your week for maximum impact.

How to run effective and efficient farm crew meetings:

  1. Make it a habit. Hold the meeting at the same time each week and have a clear time duration for the meeting (keep it short, 30-50 minutes depending on the size of your team);
  2. Write it down! Take notes, ideally on a big white board that everyone can see. Also;
  3. Track it. Use a meeting template to keep everyone on track. This can be a great place to note down who is taking responsability for certain actions..

Here is a sample weekly meeting template you can use or adapt to suit your needs.

Questions for you:

  • What would become possible if the entire farm team was on the same page?
  • What tools, materials, or systems would
  • When in the week would be the best time for your team meeting?

Three changes that will transform your 2019 growing season.

Spring is almost here!! (or very much so if you aren’t in the great white north like myself.

Here are three high leverage shifts to put in place that will have huge impacts, both on your farm outcomes and your personal life!

1) Clearly defining work hours!

It really doesn’t matter what hours you choose, just pick something and stick with it. Having clear hours allow us to play full out/pedal to the metal knowing that when X o’clock rolls around you can shift to something else. It really is amazing how much more efficient we can be when we set clear hours.

Obviously, there are limits to this; you can’t say that you’ll complete a full days work in 10 minutes… but the difference between ‘I’ll work till I’m done’ and ‘I have until 5 pm to get this all done’ is HUGE!!! Take note of that time of the day when you are most productive and you are in your top performing shape and schedule the most challenging tasks needing attention and focus during these times.

2) Taking at least one day off per week and start the week fresh.

OMG!!! What would it be like for you to start off your week feeling fresh and rested after day of rest? What would become possible if you still had 90% of your brain function even in the height of summer?  🙂

Yes; certain things still need to get done on Sundays, but the key is to limit this to the bare minimum. The rest can either be delegated, automated, or eliminated. Can you have a rotating employee schedule non-negotiable tasks such as watering seedlings? Can you automate greenhouse climate control? Do you really need to harvest cucumbers and zucchinis? (Seriously, just harvest them extra small on friday and a little bigger on monday.

What small sweet actions recharge and regenerate you?

3) Ending each day by planning the next day.

Set an alarm and reserve 20 minutes at the end of each day to answer the 3 following questions:

  • What are three things that went well today? What am I grateful for?
  • What is everything I’d like to get done tomorrow? Get clear on which employee will be doing what tomorrow and prep your lists for them (if that’s your style).
  • What are tomorrow’s MIA’s (Most Important Actions)? These are 3 actions that if they were the only things you got done, you’d be happy with the day.

Then, relax and enjoy the evening! The great thing about this practice is that you are able to empty your mind of all the to-dos for tomorrow and be FULLY PRESENT for your family and yourself in the evening!

I know some of these might seem like a huge leap for you, but if you’re reading this blog, I know you can do it!

The key is to implement these practices today so that they become a solid habit by the time summer arrives, and you have a full crew at the farm.

Rock On!