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small labor (hired) on small farms  RSS feed

 
Rufus Laggren
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Location: Chicago/San Francisco
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Reading Paul's thread on community got me thinking about farm labor. I suspect that sometimes a small farm reaches a certain point where another regular hand might make it possible to take the next step (whatever that might be). If affordable. Small farms generally don't have a lot of cash to throw around and can't well afford screw-ups and mistakes by newbies. The fit for such work is important and not trivial.

One source of labor for small (relatively) farm permies might be the Amish. Not able bodies from the Amish farms but their older teenagers who belatedly decide they need OUT. Apparently there is a steady stream of youngsters that jump the fence and find themselves drowning because they haven't ever been slotted in with the rest of the world. Good people (often), good workers (almost always), really mixed up (totally, always) needing a 1/2 way house where they can make their contribution while learning how to navigate the developed world.

A small farm could be fairly ideal for them to get legs while contributing. There are a couple private individuals set up to help these kids but they are pretty overcrowded from what I hear. If this sounds interesting at some point it may be possible to become part of the loop by contacting the existing helpers. If there is interest I could probably find the names and contact info or perhaps others here have it to share already.

Or not. That was the short version, here's some more detailed thought.

There are some costs, even draw backs that I can think of right off. They come with problems as well as potential. From what I have read, they need time (sometimes years) to push through the red tape needed to get social security number, drivers license, bank account and learn the basic do's and don'ts we all pick up in high school - which most Amish never attend, so add a GRE to the must get list. To actually help these people will take time and patience and perseverance. Brought up Amish they have some serious attitude both good and bad about everything (men/women, sex, debt, scholarship, legal authority, technical tools, you-name-it). This means some difficult moments, friction, misunderstandings and maybe real problems.

These are not wimps or push-overs, not after being raised by a people that has maintained it's own completely separate identity for 400 years and where _every_ adult has the right of veto over the rules of their church each and every year; where every adult has the right and _duty_ to tell this week's preacher (they rotate and all are required to take a turn) whether he did right or whether he said something that doesn't pass muster.

Many Amish could justly be labeled "very ambitious". They are strong willed and come from a long tradition of go-getters. In their community an Amishman that doesn't leave his farm or business better than when he got it is considered, at best, to be a disappointment to his community and to his family. If you have trouble with the idea of possibly training your future competitor, Amish help is not for you. And I would think that sometimes it will be hard to convince them of the value of "new" philosophies of farming - they know they know a lot about it already.

However... They live to work and prosper and their community ethic is to do it fast and effectively. Their rules say nothing about ecology but their traditional goal is to leave mo-betta land to their children. Most are strictly honest, most are moral. They are totally practical in their business dealings. They don't try to gouge but they _will_ go for market price once they see what it is. Anybody of Amish origin will require to be paid _something_ and to have an agreement of at least nominal value to themself if they are to be happy medium to long term.

The departing kids are in a severe bind in several ways. Culture shock is a biggee. Then there is simple knowledge of social norms and actions in our world. Then there is their legal documents. Then there is their (lack of) education. So they need clear, solid and acceptable structure to live w/in that promotes their own development, a place where they know the rules and the rules ARE the rules, where they are of value, don't disrupt the flow or become a circus object and can work on getting pieces of their "real world" life in place. They are not angels in any way whatsoever, but most are very good material that needs a particular situation to develop to potential.

For this they can offer immense amounts of skilled hand labor. They can be extremely loyal. They usually have width and in depth knowledge of traditional farming in the area in which they were raised. The are familiar with all the usual farm animals. The women can usually cook well and many can cook to kill for (men are somewhat deficit here...).

So whether you have a situation that may work for them (and they for you) is not a no brainer but it seems like a possibility.
Outlay = Room, board, small cash (the easy parts); and time and help with the legal and social system, lots of persistence and patience.
Benefit = Farm-ready labor: Excellent work ethic, brought up to strive for good business practices, probably totally honest.

Well, there is how it looks to me. Don't know if there are many small farms out there with the fit to use these people, but it seems worth a look.

Rufus
 
Ken Peavey
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Location: FL
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I agree wholeheartedly.

Looking at some figures:
Somewhere around 90% of youths will return to the church after Rumspringa.
The Amish population in the US is around 250k.
Around 2-3% of the population would come of age each year.
The math says 500-800 youths would choose English over the church each year in the US.

A few years ago I spent a few months in a community with a high density of Amish folk. I found it to be refreshing and to this day I appreciate the intervction. The lifestyle, while simple and undependent on technology, is rich and full. The cooking is as good as you imply. Bread that needs to be tied to a rock lest it float away. Pastry that would shame the finest of French chefs. Milk and butter so fresh it goes Moo! I'll not speak of the ice cream other than to say it is lascivious.

These youths who choose not to join the church face some problem with culture shock. These young people have been insulated to some degree from the iPod/satellite TV/digital world. Although just about every kid is quick to adjust to Things, the Ways of society are another story. Our world is a litigious one. Our world generally demands a high school education. Our world requires licenses and taxes, permits and insurance. It's tough enough out there if you are familiar with the system and have a diploma.

Thinking back to when I was let loose, joining a college fraternity helped me immeasurably. Sure, we did our fair share of drinking and promoting South American agriculture, but the social structure kept me in check. usually. One of the hardest things about jumping out of the structure to which one is accustomed into a world full of distraction and free of rules is maintaining self esteem. Where these kids once knew what to do, where to go, how to behave, they are on their own. There is no training, no self help guide, no instructions on how to be a citizen of a developed world. A lot of the time these kids go back to their family because they feel overwhelmed or have their self image stomped on. Before, they did well and may have been looked up to by their peers. Out here they can become a laughing stock.

 
Jon Smith
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Location: Canajoharie, NY
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Something to think about we have a small population of Amish near me (upstate NY North West of Albany). You do bring up a number of good points, and I know some of the family farms near me employ Amish youth and have mostly good to say about them and their work ethic.
 
Rufus Laggren
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Ken

I think their population may be more like 400,000 in the US, but maybe that includes Canada. You're sure right about that "fraternity"; helped me a lot too.

Jon, I think you're lucky to be near Amish. Better neighborhood. They tend to keep to themselves and their habits and rules differ for each community so generalizations are... well really general. <g> But small business is where they interface w/the big world on a mostly equitable and agreeable basis. Many are very willing to lend a hand to a neighbor and people I've talked with find them very ready to barter and trade on a one-to-one basis once they decide you don't hide a tail in your pants. If it works in the scheme of things getting to know their community and some of the people, sorta meet & greet, at a local market might lead to great things. <g>

Rufus
 
Dale Hodgins
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My uncle had a store in an old mill. He gave the Amish ladies a spot to sell their wares and tourists stopped when they saw the horses and buggy parked under a maple tree near the road. It was a good arrangement for all. My chubby uncle lived on free pie and other things that were given to him. He didn't charge rent.
 
Rufus Laggren
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Dale

Guess your family just has a taproot into business sense. <g>


Rufus
 
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