Together at Home and on the Farm
A love note to working with your spouse.
Many people ask Gordon and I what it's like to run a farm together: Don't you get sick of each other? You must argue a lot? How do you do it?
The truth is, I'm not totally sure. I do know that our relationship, from the very beginning, has been grounded in working together. Many of our first dates involved trekking to the farmers' market, then the co-op; lugging big bags of groceries up and down the hills of San Francisco; cooking all afternoon; inviting a few friends over for a big crazy dinner; and finally, cleaning it all up. I don't think we were aware of it then, but we were very much practicing for starting a farm together.
Though it may be unusual today, working with your mate and family has been the norm for much of human history. It's still common among farmers and small-business owners. And like pretty much everything in farming itself, it's a challenge-but it has its perks.
One of the many reasons that people get into farming is that they want to be their own boss. When you're farming together, you have to make sure that each partner has a distinct "domain" where they're in charge and the other person mostly follows orders. It can be hard to "let go" of part of your business in that way, but it's far preferable to butting heads over every little detail. And in the long run, it allows each of you to master a larger set of skills than one person would be able to on their own. On our farm, Gordon is in charge of harvest, and the greenhouse is my "domain." Even so, for all our good intentions about dividing the work equitably, farming together can still be a headache. It's easy to slip into being short-tempered with your spouse in a way you might not with a co-worker or employee. And when a conflict arises, deeper issues in your relationship will soon surface. This blurring of lines between life and work is a constant challenge. But the truth is, farming is so all-consuming that even if one of us chose not to farm, they'd still be sucked into the farm vortex at dinner and on weekends, and wind up essentially farming. We might as well go all in.
There are times when I fondly remember the days when we went our separate ways to our separate jobs and got to come home to each other at the end of the day. There was so much to talk about over dinner! All the same, our relationship has never felt more interesting and alive than it does today. It's constantly being challenged, and we're constantly working on it. We don't really have a choice but to work on it, because if we can't figure out how to communicate well and treat each other respectfully, then our business will probably fail. That's a little terrifying, of course, but it's also very motivating.
I don't want to make any bold proclamations. We're still very much beginners at the whole thing, and we keep hearing from older farmers that everything will change when we start having kids. But at this point, 11 years into our relationship and three years into farming together, I can honestly say I feel more love and admiration for Gordon than ever. (And he says the same!)