By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
Everyone had their coffee plus a treat from the breakfast table and was nicely seated around the tables at Bingemans Park conference centre for a day of learning.
It was all very comfortable and casual with jeans and hoodies predominating the fashion scene and the age group ranging from 20 to 40. This was the Young Farmer’s Summit and everyone was quite happy staying in their seats, thank you very much.
The first speaker wasn’t. He made everyone get up as a “social experiment” and share something they were passionate about in the agricultural industry.
I let out a sigh but I got up, looked around and shook hands with a man who was also outside the mean age range. I offered this: “My favourite thing is going to the barn at night, lean against a bale and listening to the cows chewing.” I could have said a dozen things. But that’s what came out.
Turns out he was a former dairy farmer and admitted that while he didn’t miss the business, he remembered that as being noteworthy as well.
Nice! A little connection with a stranger.
Then speaker Dale Kerr called everyone back to their tables and explained that we, as humans, had “overridden” a natural sense of social anxiety that every animal goes through when they meet another species.
Kerr said when he told us to get up and share, many of us were thinking, “I don’t want to do it. I’m not going to do it! What if they don’t like me?”
It’s more natural to be closed down and withdrawn when meeting someone new than open and be gregarious, he said.
However, amongst animals, humans have the ability to override that natural impulse to guard one’s self and connect with one another.
Not only that, it’s a key factor in how families need to interact when running a family farm.
It’s quite a thing to expect farm families to not only function socially as a unit, but to work together as a business team for the success of their farming operation. They see each other every day, constantly blurring the lines between work and family.
Kerr had a lot of advice on successfully merging the two and one suggestion was “stay in your lane.”
Immediately I thought of a pool where swimmers are practicing their strokes. One is doing freestyle, another backstroke and another kicking their legs on a flutter board. Each one is practicing and specializing on their own skill and technique, separated by very visual and hard plastic lane ropes and painted stripes on the bottom of the pool.
Farmers have no such visuals. They have to create their own “lane ropes” with respect, communication, structure and clarity. That means a whole lot of talking about goals, expectations, roles and operation procedures. It means sharing about what you know, what you want to do and what you want to learn.
It doesn’t require fancy clothes or board rooms ... work jeans and crop coats will do just fine.
But it does require sharing even when you are feeling anxious and guarded and respect when you feel you’ve been hurt or unheard.
I suspect, of all the multitude of skills people need to be farmers, these social skills might be the hardest of all to learn. Not only learn, but be intentional about applying every day.
As more families delve into succession planning and embrace a multi-generational business model, I thought Kerr had much wisdom to share about what it means to be both family and business partners.
You can read all about it in this issue. ◊