July 12 2023 09:55 AM

There’s a difference between working for family members and working with them.

As fast as agriculture is changing, some things have stayed the same. Most farms — over 90% — are still family owned and operated. My family is a big part of the reason I love farming. Getting to see them every day is one of my favorite things. Most days, we truly like each other. Still, it’s not easy. As many days as I love them, I want to kick them in the shins and then poke them in the eyes for just as many.

When I first came back to the farm, I was not prepared for the personal upheaval. Coming home to the family farm, you learn that there’s a big difference between working for your family and working with them. And the transition is hard. Having worked on my family farm for my entire life, I thought I knew my place here. I naively expected very little to change. Boy, was I wrong.

At first, it was the age-old story of the younger child wanting more responsibility and power and the older parent not wanting to relinquish it. Looking back, it was everyone’s fault. I underestimated my dad’s experience in knowing what changes I wanted to make that would or wouldn’t work, and he, having made all the decisions for 30 years, should’ve included me in more of that process. At times, there was an obvious lack of trust in my limited experience and a palpable annoyance at his understandable need to still treat me as his daughter rather than his equal. Our entire relationship dynamic had to change, and neither of us were ready for that.

Over 10 years later, I now know that it’s hard to see your parent as anything but your parent. For the first eighteen years of our lives, we’re told not to talk back or argue. We’re told to do as we’re told. And maybe that works when you work for your family. But when you work with your family, you must retrain your mind.

Working with my dad, I’ve learned that I’m meant to challenge him. Being a partner in the farm means not constantly asking his permission and being strong enough to voice my opinion when it differs from his. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy to make the switch from daughter to business partner. What I learned, the hard way, is that he was never going to just see me as a capable, vocal partner; I had to become that person.

Maybe this all seems obvious to you, but it wasn’t for me. I think it’s a dynamic that we don’t talk about enough in agriculture. When I was going through it, I felt so alone. I felt like I was the only person who went back to her family farm and struggled with the change. So, if that is or has been you, I want you to know that family isn’t easy. Even now, I have days when I think maybe this wasn’t meant to work.

But I also believe that family is a choice. Whether it’s a family you were born into or a family you found, you have to choose to love those people every single day. You choose to put them above your own pride, the stress of farming, and the general craziness of this world. I don’t like working with my family every day, but I do, and will continue to, love them.

Jessica Peters

The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.