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?

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