We have been in a tight spot folks. It has always been hard to find employees for the farm, but it is especially difficult right now. I’m sure you’ve all seen/heard/experienced issues of places being short-staffed.
When we first started this farm in 2009, it was just Jeremy – and it remained just Jeremy for years and years. He had brief stints with interns or volunteers here and there, starting maybe in 2012 and we had our first very temporary employees then as well. When we moved to our own farm in 2016, we were at a point where it couldn’t all be done by Jeremy alone. We had to have at least one employee, but it was still pretty seasonal. It’s hard to keep employees when the work only lasts 6-9 months of the year. And it’s hard to pay employees to stick around and do random jobs (just to hold onto them) when we were only making income about 6 months of the year!
But we’ve continued to grow and expand in many ways. Drying and powdering mushrooms and making our line of pates and butters meant we could sell mushroom products year-round. Getting into indoor cultivation meant we could actually sell fresh mushrooms year-round. All that expansion meant the need for more employees. As of last year, we officially need two full time people year-round! And we need at least one other, maybe two, during the intense growing season in the summer.
But you know, farming is hard work. Long hours, repetitive work, physically exhausting work, being outside in all kinds of weather – heat, humidity, rain. For mushroom farms, add: cold, snow, wind. A lot of people romanticize farming and just don’t know what it really takes to grow all that food.
I can get on quite a soapbox about this subject. As a society we are obsessed with paying as little as possible for food (and most other things too). Even as a farmer I find myself doing this. Ugh! I cringe when I hear people talking about the great deal or sale and how cheap they got this food for. Do they realize how many people are in the middle between them and the farmer, taking their cut? Distributers, drivers, the store, more in some cases. The farmer makes next to nothing. Some stores only want to work through distributers, not directly with the producer. Some stores will work directly with farmers/producers, but only if you have “enough” products to sell. I guess it’s hard on their accounting staff to have a lot of different vendors to pay.
We need to sell our products for as much as we can, but really as cheaply as we can afford, “what the market will bear,” so that people will be willing to buy them. But will this be enough money to pay for all of the time and energy? For all of our expenses and for paying employees enough money to live on?
It is a difficult thing that every farmer wrestles with. I believe farmers really love what they do (even though we complain a little from time to time!) You have to love this work to do it and stick with it. But sometimes you just want to give up. Some days it feels impossible and too hard.
In our particular case, we have grown to a size that we MUST have employees. We cannot do it otherwise. If we can’t find employees, one option is to try to downsize drastically to the point where Jeremy alone can run the farm. I don’t even know what that would look like or what we’d be giving up.
For a little while there, several weeks ago, we even spoke of the possibility of giving up altogether. Giving up… feels like death. How do I explain? I mean this in the sense that when faced with death, some people have an amazing will to survive kick in. When we talk about giving up, there is something deep in me that shouts, “NO! We can make this work!” That doesn’t mean we actually can make it work – or that people in those situations survive – the will is there at least. Maybe it’s just because I’m a raging optimist.
This comes at an odd time. We are literally going to start building a new building any day now for expanded indoor growing! We pulled the trigger on this months ago and can’t really go back on it now. The building is ready to be dropped off once we figure out some issues with plumbing/septic/Village politics. We got a grant from Lakewinds to help build this building! Outdoor mushroom season is going to start any moment now. It’s spring! A season of hope and renewal! And indeed we were feeling very hopeful and optimistic in the many months leading up to February and March. But then our employees gave notice. We’ve been without a picker/packer for almost two months. We’ve been without our Production Lead/Farm Manager for over a month. We have one part-time employee who can fill in here and there and has really been saving us – but he hit a deer a week or two ago and now doesn’t have reliable transportation to get here!
The good news is that we have finally found a couple new people and they’ll be starting within the next week. We’re still looking for a third person. We have a bunch of interns and WWOOFers lined up. While that is exciting, we’re going to be hitting folks with a ton of work. We have a building to work on, a TON of inoculations to finish, logs to move, shade structure to put up, mushrooms to pick, orders to pack, butter and pate to make, and on, and on! We really want to be at a place where we have enough folks on board that the work isn’t overwhelming for anyone, and we can have some fun. It’s hard to get there when we can’t find enough people to stick with us. We just keep… keeping on and keep making adjustments and changes to try to deal with problems like this that will most likely happen again.
Please – shop at your local farmers market and co-ops. Think of the farmers when you’re buying groceries and what they make when you can buy something for 99 cents. When you're reading labels, look for where products were made and support local producers. Get a CSA for yourself or purchase one as a gift for someone else. Please support your local farmers!
FARM TOUR! July 16, 2022
Mark your calendars everyone! We will be part of the 2022 Eat Local Co-Op Farm Tour this coming July! Details about all the farms involved and a map are on the Co-op Farm Tour website.
This has been an annual event for many years organized by many of the co-ops in the Twin Cities. There are farms all over the region that will be on the tour. It's a great chance for folks to get out and see where your food is grown! The tour is from 10am to 4pm. Mark your calendars and we hope to see you then!
Spore snuggles are the best snuggles!