“Sometimes it’s comforting to know we all have the same struggles,” admitted Stephanie Quinn. She, alongside husband Phil Quinn of Quebec’s La Ferme Quinn, were part of an amicable panel of fellow farmers discussing working with your spouse or family at the most recent NAFDMA Convention in Austin, Texas.
Also a part of the panel were Olivia and Mark Telschow of Helene’s Hilltop Orchard and Scott and Laura Skelly of Skelly’s Farm Market, both located in Wisconsin. As many agricultural operations feature spouses and family members working and managing together, many also don’t take into consideration the challenges that can arise from doing so. The duos shared what they have dealt with over the years and what has worked best for them.
Le Ferme Quinn has been a farm since 1982, and Phil and Stephanie have been working together full-time since 2010. Phil said they create a good balance. “She’s type A, and I’m more the wild ideas guy,” he said.
Mark is Olivia’s employee – they are not co-owners. “It’s interesting, and it works for us,” Olivia said. “It allows me to be that driving personality.”
At Skelly’s Farm Market, Scott and his brother are co-partners. Their parents are still involved but allow them to make the decisions. When Laura married Scott, she said she wanted to be an employee in their business first and actually learn the job. She worked her way up to her current position.
The Skellys said they were fortunate to have a smooth transition between generations; the other farms had trickier situations. Stephanie said Le Ferme Quinn had issues with transition as well because Phil’s parents were divorced, and he has one full sibling and three half-siblings.
“It was a messy succession buying the farm from my parents in 2017,” Olivia said. “Now we’re wondering where we want to go if our kids don’t want to take over.” Mark and Olivia are looking to retire in 10 or 15 years, but they’re a Centennial Farm, so Olivia wants to keep her “fingers in the pie.”
As an important piece of advice, Olivia added, “Ask where you see retirement as a couple. It’s important to be on the same page.”
As with so much else in life, clear and open communication is crucial. The Quinns use their commute time – a 45-minute drive to the farm – as their meeting time. The Skellys do the same during their lunch breaks. “Scheduled meetings feel awkward for us – less formal is better for us,” Laura said.
The panel also encouraged everyone to express anxiety when they’re feeling it – don’t hold it in. And even though it may be difficult, ask for help when you need it.
Communication is also useful when making sure different areas of the business don’t bleed into each other. Stephanie said, “It’s really important to have separate departments to keep things straight.” The other farmers agreed that creating “bubbles” both inside the business and between your work and your personal life are essential.
All six growers on the panel also stressed the importance of rest. “Make sure to take at least one day off a week,” Stephanie said. “You get more done in six days than seven days. Doing that also allows other staff to step up.”
by Courtney Llewellyn