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November 8, 2017

Farmers sow bits of their heart and stir pieces of their soul into their crops and livestock. Plants become productive companions, and livestock care is a comforting daily routine. So when it comes time for vacation, farmers can’t simply schedule an out-of-office message and hop on a flight; they must plan carefully.

Garden plants (and weeds!) don’t take a vacation while the farmers are away. When seedlings or livestock are young, they can’t be left alone for even a weekend. Because planning to travel is tough, many farmers choose to stay home during the growing season and plan vacations during the winter.

Sometimes, travel during the summer is unavoidable, though. Children off from school, summer holidays, related family gatherings and outdoor festivals and events are all joyful reasons farmers might need to leave their homesteads for a few days. It can be done. You just need to get prepared, find some help and learn to let go.

Setting The Hook

“Last June, my wife and I went back home to the Midwest for a good friend’s wedding,” says Alex Pino of Revolution Farm in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “The whole month before we left for the extended four-day weekend, I was planning and prepping fields, everything at home and in the greenhouses.”

Begin planning by creating a list of your regular chores: watering, weeding, feeding, harvesting and so on. Think about the tools needed and people you know who might have some experience with those tasks. If your farm includes selling produce at a farm stand or market or to restaurants, add the marketing and delivery tasks to the list.

Next, prioritize what must be completed during time away, such as animal care. Create another category for noncritical but still important chores, such as harvesting crops and cleaning coops. Think of what can be done ahead so the garden will grow with minimal maintenance.

Making the initial “How to Take Care of the Farm” lists can feel like an overwhelming chore, but they will become valuable documents beyond the vacation. You’ll have somewhere to start for subsequent trips, as well. Also, writing down all the chores and how to complete them can grow into a future training manual and your lists can be useful procedures to share with beginning growers in the future.

Casting The Line

Your next step is to start looking for help. Pino recommends having some friends or partners that are somewhat already involved so if you have to travel or are sick or injured, the farm operation won’t suffer in the short term. “We don’t have employees at all, but we do a lot of labor trade with others, who then in turn might owe us a day of labor or vice versa,” he says.

A favorite customer might fill in at the farmers market or a neighbor might be willing to feed and water the chickens in exchange for collecting eggs. In the summer, perhaps a high school student in FFA or 4-H will stay at the house to watch over your farm.

Gardeners are independent folks, so asking for help can feel difficult. You might want to offer cash, produce or hours in trade. But often, friends and family will be excited to have a chance to pitch in and learn more about your farming lifestyle. Finding a solid farm-sitter can be a mental relief not just for fun weekends away but in case of emergencies, too. Depending on the time of year, length of the trip and nature of the farm, several helpers might need to be identified. Each will need some training and written instructions to clarify expectations. “We farm on four separate properties around Santa Fe, where we have called home for a decade,” Pino says. “We had one friend watch the house and put another friend in charge of harvesting some while we were gone.”

Before leaving, ensure that the farm is as tidy as possible: Garden beds are weeded, tools at the ready and livestock areas recently cleaned. Not only will helpers appreciate it, you might reduce a mountain of work when you return.

Be clear about how to contact you and under what circumstances you want to be reached. Some farmers want to be updated on how much rain fell and how many eggs were collected daily while others only want to be called in an emergency. If you will be away for an extended period, check in every few days or at least once a week to offer advice or hear updates.

Hit the pause button on project work such as building, creating new beds or product development. Unless your farm has staff that can carry out detailed plans, you’ll rest better on vacation not worrying about expensive or damaging mistakes.

Livestock Lures

Keeping livestock requires additional vacation planning because animals can’t be neglected. Often, the best fill-in caregivers for livestock are other farmers who keep the same kind of animals. Be sure that you leave your farm well-stocked with feed and supplies to make care as simple as possible. Leave the names and numbers of your veterinarian, extension agent or any other professional you trust.

Good Catch

Try to imagine emergency scenarios that might arise, such as an injured animal or wild weather. You probably won’t think of everything that could arise, just like each day on the farm presents unexpected challenges. Often, an experienced gardener or farmer might be willing to serve as a back-up caregiver or expert for the farm-sitter to call in extenuating circumstances.

Reeling In Relaxation

Finally, it will be time to leave. Truly relaxing on vacation when you are away from your crops and livestock is perhaps the last challenge a traveling farmer faces. Trust that the caregivers you’ve chosen will do their very best.

While you’re away from home, gather ideas in the foods, markets and people you experience on your journey. You might miss the June-bearing strawberries or lose a few rows to weeds, but what you’ll gain on vacation—a renewed appreciation of home and inspiration to grow something new—will make the effort to travel worthwhile.

This story first appeared in the July/August issue of Hobby Farms magazine.


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