April 3 2024 08:56 AM

Young people who are looking to learn have been great fits for our farm team.

Over the years, we’ve been pretty lucky with our employees. We’ve found people who understood the farming game. They knew that they weren’t always going to be home at 5 p.m. and that during certain times of the year, the days were going to be harder and longer. But about a year ago, our last main full-time guy left, and we struggled for a while. The people we had were good, but we needed more of them. We were running ourselves ragged. And then our vet made an observation about another farm she worked on, and we changed our strategy.

Guys, hire the teenagers. It’s been a while since I was a teenager, but I’ll say that they get a pretty bad rap. Yes, they do dumb things. Yes, they sometimes call off at the last minute for ridiculous reasons. But also, do you know how hard it is for them to find a job?

Thanks to an age-old mantra, most people assume they’re either too lazy or don’t have enough experience to hire them. This is dumb; how else are they supposed to get experience if no one will hire them? Also, the pressure they’re under to be involved in a hundred different things makes their schedules impossible. So, most teens need a flexible job that allows them to work maybe even just a few hours a day. And if they don’t have a driver’s license yet, it’s assumed they won’t be reliable. Why do we think we have the right to complain about young people not knowing how to work if we won’t take the chance to teach them?

Right now, other than one person and our family, the rest of our payroll is teenagers. I won’t pretend that every teen we’ve ever hired has worked out. We’ve had to let go of a few for various reasons, but the group we have now is fantastic. They come ready to work and willing to learn. And I’d like to think they’re learning more than just farm stuff.

Yes, we know they won’t be here forever. We also know that we may have to turn over most of our workforce every few years. But if you find the right people, be willing to invest the time it takes to teach them the skills they’ll need to move on someday. And it’s only slightly depressing how much faster they can move than the rest of us.

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.