by Cody Holmes, featured presenter at KBFC Day 2014
One-thousand acres in southern Missouri, 300 beef cows, 400 sheep, 200 goats, a Jersey cow dairy, a goat dairy and cheese plant, 350 laying hens, 1,000 broilers, 120 hogs, a green house, a hoop house, five low tunnels and seven acres of produce make up the Rockin H Ranch. We attend two farmers’ markets per week, make home farm fresh food deliveries three times per week, service several grocery stores, school cafeterias, and an on-farm store. How can one man, his wife, and their 18-year-old daughter accomplish this and still maintain a reasonable quality of life as listed in their holistic goals? The real truth is — they can’t. So this short story is to tell how an obvious shortage of labor on the farm or over-abundance of work on the farm, depending upon your point of view, is handled on our working ranch/farm.

The story must digress backward at least about a dozen years or more. This ranch had been a traditional cow/calf ranch for about 30 years until I began dabbling in holistic grazing management. Once the benefits of planned grazing began to prove its worth, multi-species grazing began with one group of animals and soon another. Then the family milk cow grew into several cows for several neighbors, and before we knew it we were direct marketing everything from tomatoes to lamb chops instead of selling commodities. The leisure life of a cow man ended and the need for more help on the ranch exploded. For a farm to sustain a modern family as full-time employment it will surely require a certain scaling up. This scaling up in number and size of production will require additional labor coming from somewhere outside of the family, particularly if the family is kin of small like ours. So as we continued to grow in size we began searching for labor on the farm.

The author Cody Holmes and wife Dawnnell on the Rockin H Ranch in Missouri.We tried for several years to simply hire workers, like any other business appears to be successful at, but we failed. After many years of trying this but failing we thought hard and long before making the big change. Our big change has to do with how we began to solve our labor issues by utilizing what we call “farm sharing” with other farm families. This came about through my observations of many good folks across the country who have great desires to farm, but for some reason or another have not been able to make the transition from city life to farming full-time for a living. This is where the experienced land owner, who needs good labor, meets the new farm family who needs a farm. So putting these two needs together creates what I call farm sharing. This is how it works.

A larger diversified farm, like ours has grown into, is divided up into many different enterprises. The goat dairy is one enterprise, the hogs are a single enterprise, the produce gardens are another enterprise and so on and so forth. Since my three family members cannot possibly handle all the workload within all these enterprises, and direct market as well, we began offering opportunities to other families like I described above. We interview families for specific management level enterprises on our farm. Once these families are matched with an enterprise that they have interest in making a career from, and an agreement is formed, each family moves onto the ranch.

Since all enterprises are unique, just like each family is unique, each agreement will be somewhat different but adheres to the same general concepts. The ranch provides ranch housing, an enterprise suitable to the farm families’ abilities, and the profits from the designated enterprise they are managing is shared in an agreeable manner. This provides incentive for good management from the farm family, and incentive for the ranch to do all that is proper to make this deal work.

The ranch has a food marketing company called Real Farm Foods. The marketing company direct markets all the products raised on the farm, and all the products come from the farm and the farm families living there. The family gets to fulfill their desire to become real farmers, and our ranch solves our labor issues. Rather than just design an employer/employee relationship, we encourage each farm family to begin a personal wealth growth program at the same time. The ranch is pleased to create an environment where each farm family can not only work with our animals but begin a plan that will grow their own animals in number as well. If our farm families succeed we will succeed also. We can see some of the farm families desiring to stay on our ranch forever. Some farm families might just stay for a while to increase their own herd numbers before moving on. Either way, it’s a plan that allows everyone to benefit and prosper.

As the price of farmland and inputs escalates it becomes harder and harder for new start-up farmers to get off the ground. And as some of us antique farmers age we can share the benefits while at the same time helping others reach their personal goals. Farming in America can never go back to what it was in the beginning of this great country. Very few modern people are going to be satisfied with 40 acres and a mule. But the quality of our food can be improved over our industrial, chemically laden, commodity-driven mess we have allowed our farms to recede into. And with the complexities of new food safety rules and other regulatory requirements it is a great benefit for many of us to combine our energies and talents.

The end consumer is realizing in larger numbers each year the value of quality, nutrient-dense, pesticide- and herbicide- free, pasture-raised foods. Some have referred to it as very cheap medical insurance. Not only does farm sharing with farm families provide some of these benefits, it also is a means to put more people to work in a healthy environment, stimulates the economy in the rural areas where much help is needed and is a great increase in benefit to many ecological issues. We intend on growing with more farm families each year for many years to come. We also offer specific apprenticeship programs and internships as well. Our family has been blessed by knowing these new farm families, and we strive for a strong farm community supporting an informed urban area.

Reprinted from ACRES U.S.A. July 2013 Vol. 43, No. 7

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