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Fair, win-win arrangements for tenant on organic farm - any ideas?  RSS feed

 
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I live on an organic farm. The owners live here too. I pay rent for my small patch of land, on which I have built a small house and have my own kitchen garden.

The original intention was a  proper intentional community, with two other families besides mine (me and my daughter) moving here. That fell apart for a number of reason, one of those families has left and the other might leave soon.  I am still keen to find a way that works for both me and the farm owners for the next few years at least (as opposed to having to move out).



The owners would like help on their farm, growing produce for market. It is far too much work for them without help. They have a citrus orchard, and a roadside cart supplied by garden beds. The garden beds are not very well planned or productive, and could be producing a lot more - with more human effort.

I would like some input on what would be a fair compensation to me for time spent helping them out in commercial gardens, or a way to divide the produce, or a model in which I can make an income from this propety while ALSO benefiting the farm owners.

One suggestion we have been talking about is if I take over a small grow space, and of whatever vegetables are produced there - I own 50%, and the farm owners would own 50% (for sale or to eat themselves - but it would mostly be sold on the roadside stall). In this scenario I would provide all seeds, mulch, compost, fertilisers and labour etc - while the farm owners would provide the space itself plus the existing irriration.

One complication would be that if I wanted to sell any of that produce, the farm owners seem unhappy about the idea of me 'competing' with them in any way. We are still talking about that.

An alternative suggestion would be that I pay a flat rate for that grow space, which is appealing to me in many ways, but it has the issue that if I did manage to produce and sell a lot of produce from that space, I would then need to pay more money to the farm owners - and it still has the customer competition issue.


I have been looking into Joel Salatin's model but am not sure I understand exactly how that works yet.

Any input/ideas welcome...


 
pollinator
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Grow what they aren't growing and there won't be direct competition. The extra variety would help both sides as more people might stop.

 
master steward
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Why don't you just work for them at a set hourly rate like an employee?  Then you work as hard as you want and as hard as they can afford.  They sell all the produce so there's no competition.
 
Lee Wilde
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Mike Jay wrote:Why don't you just work for them at a set hourly rate like an employee?  Then you work as hard as you want and as hard as they can afford.  They sell all the produce so there's no competition.



They don't want to do that. They don't officially pay themselves a wage from the farm business so they would resent paying someone else, I think. The farm is not their main income, does not make a profit and is paid for to some degree by their off-farm work. The farm COULD make a profit - the resources and market are here, and it's all set up, to a degree - but they just don't have the time or motivation to keep the production space in actual production most of the time (it's irrigating weeds the rest of the time).

I could conversely just run my own business from my own rented space, which would give me what I want - but they wouldn't like it as it only benefits me and not them.

I figure if I put the hours in within their commercial space and create the extra income, then it would be fair to give me some of it (and isn't taking money from them that they feel they don't have). Our previous experience of me growing produce and managing their roadside stall didn't work out well though, as although I felt I created that income, it went solely/mostly to them. There must be a workable model/arrangement though. We didn't really have things spelled out clearly to begin with and it ended up in a questionable dynamic.
 
master steward
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Are there living quarters available?  If so maybe some interns would enjoy learning the farm business?
 
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Honestly it sounds like the owners may be difficult individuals so any sort of partnership or close working relationship could create problems and you would be the one that gets screwed over. Are you sure you can trust these people? Or will petty problems lead to you getting kicked off the land and losing the house you built?

Seems to me a fair arrangement would be for you to grow food on their land and share the profits. be sure to cover your basis and brainstorm all the ways things could go wrong, then have ways to remedy that in writing  (i.e. if you grow produce and they sell it at their stand with the profits being split, what happens if they aren't doing their part to see that it sells etc... What happens if you have to find other buyers, how does that effect the percentage etc...)

Do you have a lease agreement? A long term lease agreement (so if they sell the property or try to get you to leave they have to pay a penalty, or the new owners do) may be a good idea. That is one thing that I always wonder about when people offer to let others build/homestead on their land, folks put a lot of time/resources into building homes and starting gardens and they could be kicked out at any time.
 
pioneer
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It seems like you have some good, workable ideas.  It also seems that they have an issue with all of them.  I think you may find that no matter what agreement you come up with, they will find something they resent if you start making some decent money.  If you work on their property, you have the issue of showing how much your work directly benefited them.  It would be extremely hard to show something like the percentage of increase your work caused.  I think Mike and Wayne probably gave you the best suggestions.  I would approach them about paying you hourly, either in cash or taking the money off your rent, or work on your own land growing something that is not in competition with them.  They may still resent you for doing that, because you still aren't helping them in any way.  It may be that they are always going to have some sense of entitlement, because they may be thinking that they are giving you a place, so you owe them.  I have dealt with many people like that, and the best answer for me is just to move on.  The world is a large place, with plenty of room for people to co-exist without being forced to interact with people that are unpleasant.  The fact that the other families left is a bad sign I think.
 
master pollinator
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I think it's too late for contract talks that haven't already happened. That conversation would probably just get you evicted, Lee.

I suggest a different tack. Look at their operation and identify specific things that you would do differently, with different options based on how much labour is available. Offer to increase their farm output without cost to them for a percentage of the crop, along traditional models. You'd basically be a farm manager paid in produce.

If there was expansion or intensification possibility, you could explore the idea of getting interns on site with their own plots, and have them pay rent with a percentage of their crop yields.

I think that it's either that, or price out your labour by the hour, and assign unit value to the crop.

Be aware of blinders in your judgement, though. Getting a shitty deal just so you can stay isn't worth it if there are better deals to be had elsewhere.

Let us know how it goes, and good luck.

-CK
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Trace Oswald wrote: If you work on their property, you have the issue of showing how much your work directly benefited them.  It would be extremely hard to show something like the percentage of increase your work caused.  



Yeah gray areas have to be avoided. If she grows on a piece of land that they aren't using then everything it produced would be from her efforts (no gray area) however I still think there will be problems with these folks.  The fact she pays rent and they don't want her independently selling produce from the land she pays for strikes me as very unfair and hints that these people have a real problem with healthy boundaries.

IMO an ideal solution would be a rent to own agreement (a tight one drafted by a good attorney), get that agreement in place and then grow produce for sale on your leased chunk of land, use the proceeds to pay off the land. No sharing, no gray areas, no wiggle room, no advance notice of your plan.  The owners probably wouldn't agree to it but it can't hurt to ask.
 
Lee Wilde
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wayne fajkus wrote:Grow what they aren't growing and there won't be direct competition. The extra variety would help both sides as more people might stop.



To clarify, you mean rent the space outright for cash and then sell my produce (which would be different to what they were growing) on their roadside stall? The extra variety would attract more customers and benefit both parties, I agree.


That might be a workable option if I can find something they aren't growing, although they tend to grow very small quantities of everything. Perhaps we could arrange before planting what vegetables each of us were going to grow, though.
 
Lee Wilde
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Anne Miller wrote:Are there living quarters available?  If so maybe some interns would enjoy learning the farm business?



Not really, apart from what each family has built for themselves. I also don't think they are very interested in 'teaching' anyone the business, per se, although I have tried to become more involved in that.

I had a conversation with one of the landowners the other day (they are a couple) and mentioned that I had tried to become more involved in understanding the business side of things (because he often laments that he has to do it by himself and no one will help him), and he basically told me that unless I set up my own "imaginary business" and wrote a business plan and studied how businesses work then I haven't proved my interest enough for him to actually let me know how he runs his farm business. Which I thought was a bit unreasonable, personally, but it's his business so... he can do what he likes in that regard.

They do sometimes have WWOOFERs to stay and help out with farm work but that is usually quite temporary (1-2 weeks) and they don't come very often anymore.
 
Lee Wilde
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Lucrecia Anderson wrote:Honestly it sounds like the owners may be difficult individuals so any sort of partnership or close working relationship could create problems and you would be the one that gets screwed over. Are you sure you can trust these people? Or will petty problems lead to you getting kicked off the land and losing the house you built?


Not entirely. We are also friends... which both complicates things immensely and makes it slightly less likely they will just evict me outright. That's basically my only security though, which is why I want to start making more income (and the easiest way for me to do that is from home/the farm) so I can start saving for a property of my own.

Lucrecia Anderson wrote:Seems to me a fair arrangement would be for you to grow food on their land and share the profits. be sure to cover your basis and brainstorm all the ways things could go wrong, then have ways to remedy that in writing  (i.e. if you grow produce and they sell it at their stand with the profits being split, what happens if they aren't doing their part to see that it sells etc... What happens if you have to find other buyers, how does that effect the percentage etc...)




If we can figure out a way to do that, I think it could work. The percentages might be the tricky part though, which is why I wanted outside perspective. If they think it's fair for me to grow produce on their land, sell it for them and keep only 25% of profits, for instance - that might not be worth it to me. 50% might be worth it though, although I personally think if I am providing everything including labour, and they are providing unused unproductive perennial-weed-covered space that they haven't used for 2-3 years anyway... I might feel resentful at having to give them half of everything I grow, plus harvest, package and market it for them to boot. I don't know if it would be reasonable of me to feel resentful of that though, or if that indeed would be a fair arrangement.

Lucrecia Anderson wrote:
Do you have a lease agreement? A long term lease agreement (so if they sell the property or try to get you to leave they have to pay a penalty, or the new owners do) may be a good idea. That is one thing that I always wonder about when people offer to let others build/homestead on their land, folks put a lot of time/resources into building homes and starting gardens and they could be kicked out at any time.



I have a lease agreement but it's only periodic, not long-term, so either one of us can terminate it at any time. I will definitely re-think this option (building on someone else's land and putting in a lot of effort on gardens) in future, but originally we had planned for it to last 10 years+ and be pleasant along the way, so it seemed sensible at the time. I did not foresee how questionable the dynamic would become.

It is an awkard position to be in, for sure. My house isn't finished, and if I'm going to stay, then finishing it would make my life a lot easier and more pleasant. If I will have to leave in the next 12 months, then investing in finishing it right before that would be silly and pointless as I have to dismantle and move it then anyway.
 
pollinator
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In my experience, a 50-50 split of produce would be a terrible deal for the farmer. Market gardening is already a difficult and demanding profession, both physically and mentally, if you want to make a living wage. Having to split it with someone who is not providing any work would make it hard to pencil out. I think the most reasonable thing in your situation would be to arrange a rental, the USDA has county by county breakdowns of average rental rates per acre for irrigated/unirrigated pasture and crop land. That would be a good place to start. From there I think that the suggestions to avoid growing things that they grow seem like a great idea. Perhaps if they see you succeeding they will be more open to working out an additional arrangement for your help on their operation. Another option might be to offer to both rent field space and pay some additional fee/rent for any sales you made through their stand. That way they are compensated for you using the asset of their market or you can market your produce another way and eliminate any threat of competition.

Be wary though, there are people out there who do not like to see people succeed to greater degree than they have at the same game. I would highly recommend making any commercial arrangements beyond your current situation subject to a carefully thought out lease that protects you from their whims.

 
master pollinator
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Mike Jay wrote:Why don't you just work for them at a set hourly rate like an employee?  Then you work as hard as you want and as hard as they can afford.  They sell all the produce so there's no competition.



The employee/employer relationship brings people into an area fraught with red tape peril.  Employers have to abide by certain rules and pay taxes a certain way.  My advice is to avoid this kind of relationship.  If one is to be paid for work, I think it needs to be on an independent contractor basis.
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Mike Jay wrote:Why don't you just work for them at a set hourly rate like an employee?  Then you work as hard as you want and as hard as they can afford.  They sell all the produce so there's no competition.



The employee/employer relationship brings people into an area fraught with red tape peril.  Employers have to abide by certain rules and pay taxes a certain way.  My advice is to avoid this kind of relationship.  If one is to be paid for work, I think it needs to be on an independent contractor basis.



With the other two tenants leaving due to strained relationships with the owners, and the op not being sure if she will stay another 12 months, I think any type pf business relationship with these "friends" will likely cause things to deteriorate even faster.

The op wanted an outside perspective -- this situation has big warning signs flashing all around it. Plus what if she did work for them? If/when the relationship sours not only could they take the house she built but her job/income too! The owners comment about her "having to write up a business plan" before he would discuss his business is ridiculous. He runs a roadside vegetable stand! It isn't exactly rocket science!  Heck she could probably set up her OWN roadside stand in a better location.
 
Lee Wilde
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Trace Oswald wrote:It seems like you have some good, workable ideas.  It also seems that they have an issue with all of them.  I think you may find that no matter what agreement you come up with, they will find something they resent if you start making some decent money.  



From my experience so far, this does seem quite possible. :/

Trace Oswald wrote: If you work on their property, you have the issue of showing how much your work directly benefited them.  It would be extremely hard to show something like the percentage of increase your work caused.  



This is definitely true for a lot of the work here - mulching, pruning, slashing, feeding animals etc has no measurable positive effect. The exception would be where I was running the roadside stall (and growing most of the produce for it) because then there was a clear measurable difference between what it used to make, and what it made under my management, and what exactly was sold and who grew it (or even just picked it, in the case of existing fruit trees/berries). There was constant verbal recognition of what a big difference my efforts on the stall and gardens made - but it just didn't translate to any actual benefit to me - which I found pretty frustrating and confusing.

Trace Oswald wrote: It may be that they are always going to have some sense of entitlement, because they may be thinking that they are giving you a place, so you owe them.  



This is very much part of the problematic dynamic. There is very much the idea that we are all lucky to be here and ought to be grateful, and no amount of work will ever really even out the balance, because we ought to be grateful also for the opportunity to do the (unpaid) work. The owner refers to this as how he "thinks people should just WANT to give back to the space where they live" when referring not only to general farm work on the property, but to growing produce for sale as well.

It's definitely not something that would be healthy/possible to do long term, but if I can figure out a way to get by here for the next few years, make some extra income and save my pennies... I'd much rather move onto my own place from here and take my semi-transportable dwelling with me than have to lose it all and move into some random rental townhouse for higher rent.

I might have to give up on the idea of making a decent income from this property, and settle for helping them out a bit (say 5 hours a week) to mitigate the "you're not helping us" tension, in exchange for me benefiting in non-financial ways (like being able to pick berries/bamboo canes/fruit tree cuttings to grow/weeds for my poultry/fruit etc from the farm for my personal use, to cut food costs, which will help me save while not costing them anything at all) and then just quietly start to build an off-farm gardening business of my own whereupon I help other people install carbon-friendly food gardens, and keep it all separate and non-competitive.

I was really hoping there'd be a decent middle-ground though, where we could ALL make more-than-current-income from the farm. I know it's possible - purely with my own effort I could do this - but I need to have the motivation to do it, and I cannot force myself to find that motivation in working really hard to make money that I do not get to keep any of. I'd rather spend the time and effort building soil carbon and volunteering at community projects and stuff like that, that actually makes me feel good even if it doesn't make me money. Something that doesn't make me money and ALSO doesn't feel good is really hard to force myself to do :/
 
Lee Wilde
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stephen lowe wrote:In my experience, a 50-50 split of produce would be a terrible deal for the farmer. Market gardening is already a difficult and demanding profession, both physically and mentally, if you want to make a living wage. Having to split it with someone who is not providing any work would make it hard to pencil out. I think the most reasonable thing in your situation would be to arrange a rental, the USDA has county by county breakdowns of average rental rates per acre for irrigated/unirrigated pasture and crop land. That would be a good place to start. From there I think that the suggestions to avoid growing things that they grow seem like a great idea. Perhaps if they see you succeeding they will be more open to working out an additional arrangement for your help on their operation. Another option might be to offer to both rent field space and pay some additional fee/rent for any sales you made through their stand. That way they are compensated for you using the asset of their market or you can market your produce another way and eliminate any threat of competition.

Be wary though, there are people out there who do not like to see people succeed to greater degree than they have at the same game. I would highly recommend making any commercial arrangements beyond your current situation subject to a carefully thought out lease that protects you from their whims.



Yeah, that is kind of my personal estimation on the 50/50 market garden deal too but I don't think they'll agree to taking a lower percentage. The owner said he's done a lot of research on the figures and the 50/50 figure is based on that and therefore very reasonable.) It might be worth it to me to keep the peace and turn over even a little extra income without leaving the property (I have anxiety and other issues that would making working off the property massively more difficult for me) - plus looking at it as a practise run for when I get my own farm and run my own business, factoring in the self-educational opportunity... it comes out looking a little better for me (I don't know if that is just me trying to convince myself of it though).

I would much prefer, myself, to sell my portion as my own product through different advertising channels separate to his business altogether, but he was very against that idea as it "would create competition" (the very idea of competition in this situation is a bit confusing to me... the local demand for organic produce is easily ten times what this farm would ever produce - there's no shortage of customers with decent marketing/connection)


Having a well-written agreement/lease is a very good idea...
 
Lee Wilde
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Also, hey everyone - thank you so much for all of your replies and input. They are extremely valuable to me and very much appreciated. I often struggle to gain perspective and to understand what is appropriate and reasonable as my instinct is to please people and do what they say to keep the peace - so being able to get some alternative viewpoints and ideas is really important to me and I am thankful to everyone who has taken the time to offer that.
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Lee glad to hear your house is mobile. If/when you decide to move be very careful with what you tell the owners especially since you probably don't have anything in writing STATING that the house belongs to you and you have the right to move it to another property.

One off the wall idea...  Are there lots of farms in this area? In some areas there are often older people that own large properties and their health is frail and their kids have moved away. Becoming a part time helper for an older person to assist with keeping up a small garden, and be there in an emergency in exchange for a few acres on the outskirts of their land can be a great arrangement for everyone. I assume you are a woman, and a mom raising a daughter makes you a safe and appealing candidate for elders. Just spell everything out in writing.

Ideally that sort of agreement would give you free rent on a small parcel in exchange for your labor, and after a year or three you get title as co-owner on the small parcel that you inhabit (so when they die it becomes yours automatically with no probate or wills involved). That is a good deal for elders that may be on a limited income since no cash is involved.  You could advertise for a partnership at the local Grange (or other farm club/org) and maybe even at the local feed store etc...
 
Lee Wilde
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Lucrecia Anderson wrote:Lee glad to hear your house is mobile. If/when you decide to move be very careful with what you tell the owners especially since you probably don't have anything in writing STATING that the house belongs to you and you have the right to move it to another property.



Errr… you are correct, I do not. I never even thought of that. I don't *think* this would be an issue... well, at our current relationship-status it wouldn't be - I guess maybe that is one reason I want to work something out so that they feel I'm helping out and "making good", because it will keep that relationship amiable and productive.


Lucrecia Anderson wrote:
One off the wall idea...  Are there lots of farms in this area? In some areas there are often older people that own large properties and their health is frail and their kids have moved away. Becoming a part time helper for an older person to assist with keeping up a small garden, and be there in an emergency in exchange for a few acres on the outskirts of their land can be a great arrangement for everyone. I assume you are a woman, and a mom raising a daughter makes you a safe and appealing candidate for elders. Just spell everything out in writing.

Ideally that sort of agreement would give you free rent on a small parcel in exchange for your labor, and after a year or three you get title as co-owner on the small parcel that you inhabit (so when they die it becomes yours automatically with no probate or wills involved). That is a good deal for elders that may be on a limited income since no cash is involved.  You could advertise for a partnership at the local Grange (or other farm club/org) and maybe even at the local feed store etc...



That's an interesting idea I hadn't thought of - I'll keep it in mind! Yes, I am a woman and you're right, the mother-and-young daughter duo would perhaps work in my favour there.

 
Lee Wilde
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I had a brainwave yesterday - I should skip the idea of selling/profiting from vegetables entirely, and focus on a plant nursery in my own rented yard for personal benefit. There are lots of places I'd love to give them away or trade (in several of my local networks) which would be fun and also gain me value in trade items and social capital - and then I could sell them myself separately via Gumtree (like craigslist) for actual cash, which is handy to have.

Then I can tell owner, hey, the vegie market is all yours - no competition - how about I'll help you out x-amount in exchange for me having access to farm resources that cost you nothing (and would be wasted in a lot of cases) - like propagation material, surplus fruit, bamboo canes for garden stakes etc.

It doesn't give me the same kind of motivation to improve their production or sales the way something commission-based would. but it might be enough for them to feel 'helped out' and for me to feel adequately compensated for my time and energy, especially if I can turn all those surplus fig and mulberry 'prunings' (cuttings) into trees and sell them to start saving...

They don't sell many plants at all (the occasional random one will go out on the stall when they have surplus, but they don't deliberately grow plants for sale) so it shouldn't impact them at all.


I have previously had this idea, sort of - for me to manage the stall and the produce income to go to the owners,  but for my 'payment' to be space on the stall to put my own plants, for which I keep all the money. I don't remember if I ever actually brought it up before. I will try to bring up my latest version of this idea this weekend when we have our fortnightly errand-run together (the travel time doubles as a meeting/conversation space, sometimes)
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Lee Wilde wrote:
Errr… you are correct, I do not. I never even thought of that. I don't *think* this would be an issue... well, at our current relationship-status it wouldn't be - I guess maybe that is one reason I want to work something out so that they feel I'm helping out and "making good", because it will keep that relationship amiable and productive.



Prepare for the worst, when you initially moved on to the property you surely didn't expect ANY of this drama to occur.  Ultimately you could probably prove the house is yours but it is a battle you really really don't want to fight.  Course if it isn't up to code they would be stupid to claim they provided the structure as a rental.

Lee Wilde wrote:
That's an interesting idea I hadn't thought of - I'll keep it in mind! Yes, I am a woman and you're right, the mother-and-young daughter duo would perhaps work in my favour there.



Couldn't hurt to post a few fliers up advertising for work as a farm assistant for a senior just to see if something comes out of it. If you decide to go that route I would be happy to help you write the ad if I am around (I have a sales background so I know how to spin things to make them sound good).


 
pollinator
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Lee - you seem interested in not burning bridges. I think that is the best path. I have seen more than one friendship ruined because the parties have lost sight of this. The plant nursery sounds like a good idea. I suggest above all else, being honest with your friends.
 
Lee Wilde
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Stacy Witscher wrote:Lee - you seem interested in not burning bridges. I think that is the best path. I have seen more than one friendship ruined because the parties have lost sight of this.




You are right - I am very interested in not burning bridges. I've invested so much in this friendship (and in my space here on the property) that if it's possible to save it, I really want to, and will work for that.

Chris Kott wrote:
Be aware of blinders in your judgement, though. Getting a shitty deal just so you can stay isn't worth it if there are better deals to be had elsewhere.



You have an excellent point here though, Chris, and this is what I am afraid of. For various reasons I don't have a lot of other options, so it wouldn't be easy for me to leave - but I don't want to put myself in a worse position just because I'm desperate to stay.

Stacy Witscher wrote: The plant nursery sounds like a good idea. I suggest above all else, being honest with your friends.



This will be key, I think. I have attempted to re-start the channels of communication (after a long period of them being 'down' or non-existent) and so far farm owners seem receptive to at least the IDEA of improving communication itself. Whether or not we will be able to come to some end arrangement that actually benefits everybody has yet to be seen... but I am more hopeful now of it than I have been for the past 18 months, so.... fingers crossed.
 
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