Farm succession planning. There was a time I dreaded those three words. They were the topic of every dairy related conference or meeting for years. I get it — having a concise, clear, written plan of the legalities of transitioning the farm is super important. However, I’d almost argue there’s another transition that’s even more important, and we never talk about it. As a farm kid coming back to the farm, how do I physically and mentally transition into owning the farm?
I can’t be the only farm kid who has struggled with this, can I? How do we navigate the managerial, day-to-day, changes? How do you make the necessary tweaks in the familial relationships while still being able to be a family at the end of the day? How do I know when to fight back and prove my worth versus when to let something go so I can still comfortably sit across from my family at the Thanksgiving table every November?
I can honestly tell you that I don’t really have the answers to any of those questions, but I’m still working on it. I think that every single day, it’s a brand-new personal choice. Some days, I push back because it has to be about the farm. Other days, I step back because my family means the world to me. Some days, I put on my big girl pants and have some really hard conversations with my dad that I never imagined I’d be having. But then some days I’m just the farm kid taking instructions.
I won’t pretend it’s easy. The give and the take can be confusing and, honestly, hurtful at times. It also isn’t a quick journey; something tells me we’ll be figuring this out for forever. But one of my favorite things about this dairy life is getting to be with my family. We don’t take expensive vacations or go on cruises, but I get to see most of my family every single day, and that’s a life I want to live.
I think I’ve written about this before, so maybe this makes me sound like a broken record. Still, I can’t help but feel it’s one of the most important parts of farming, and we never talk about it. I can’t even give you the number of farms I’ve heard of that have failed because of family relationships. Even more heartbreaking is when it’s not the farm that falls apart but the family.
If all this article does is make you think about your farm family dynamic, I’ll consider it a win. Call me naive, but I also think it’s a choice. You have to choose your family every single day. For example, I know that if push came to shove and I could either save the farm or save my family, it’s not even a choice. Can you say the same?
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.