Thursday, May 10, 2012

Taking a (Much Needed) Break from the Farm!!

By Karen Nicholson of Stepping Stone Farm Alpacas, Stowe, VT

Farming is 24 / 7 / 365 and often physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. Perhaps more than any profession, farmers need a break; a vacation away from the farm for two days, a month or even a year. The benefits of taking a vacation from such work are indisputable. A vacation is a must have, not a luxury. And there are countless creative ways to make it possible.

Indisputable Benefits of Taking a Vacation
  • Live Longer! Everyone needs to recharge their battery; thereby keeping stress levels lower and keeping you healthier physically and emotionally.
  • Improve your Mental Health and Creativity! Taking time to relax makes you less prone to experience burnout, making you more creative in your life and work.
  • Strengthen your Relationships! Uninterrupted time away with loved ones nourishes relationships. Stronger relationships provide the foundation for increased life enjoyment in the good times and provides the strength you need to get through the stressful hard times.
  • Find Creative Inspiration! Taking yourself out of your routine and surroundings spurs you to look at things and think in a different way, often resulting in great creative inspiration.
  • Become more Productive! The mental and physical benefits of vacationing lead to increased quality of life, and that can lead to increased quality of work on the job.

Creative Ways to Have the Farm Looked After
  • Employeesif you have employees, make it a part of their contract that “x” number of days/weeks per year you will be away and they will be expected to cover for you. Train them far in advance to do tasks that you normally do.
  • Hire a Professional Farm Sitter – there are professionals who advertise this service. They can either come by the farm a certain number of times a day or live in your farmhouse to watch over the farm. Prices vary greatly based on the scope of the work and the individual doing it. For the professional you might expect to pay from $36 per day for two farm visits to a smaller farm up to $100 for a larger farm. To find a farm sitter: ask another farm of a name, look in your local newspaper, put a wanted listing on the farm page of Craigslist or in Vermont’s Agriview.
  • Train a Competent Person to Be Your Farm Sitter - there are many trustworthy, competent people with no experience that can easily be trained. What you need is someone with a strong work ethic, a strong sense of responsibility, who is resourceful and motivated. Price could range from no charge (internship, barter) to $20 per day (neighbor teen) and up. Who could you train? A very enterprising, trustworthy high school student; a pre-vet student from a nearby college; a vet tech from a nearby small animal vet office; an employee of a friend or family member who is motivated and trustworthy; a person who grew up on a farm; a person who recently lost their job; a person who needs a temporary place to live; a young person who lives with parents and would welcome the get away; a retired farmer; a friend or relative; get creative – the list of potential people is endless.
  • Farm Sitter Exchange – these types of cooperative groups have been used forever and successful for many different situations: babysitting, dinner exchanges, house swaps, etc. You exchange no funds. When you use a farm sitter you get negative points in your account. You work off your negative points by sitting for someone else’s farm but not necessarily the people who cared for your farm. It is a ledger of points and you are free to use anyone in the network you trust. Where to find one? Join the established Northern Vermont Farm Sitter Network; start your own regional network or; create your own exchange with a few nearby farms.
  • Neighbor/Friend Barter – maybe there is something you can offer a trustworthy neighbor in exchange for farm sitting. If you sell goods you could provide them with goods (eggs, milk, fiber, etc) at no charge in exchange for a week’s worth of farm sitting.
  • Boarding – for a more long term vacation you may want to consider boarding your animals at a qualified farm. You could then rent your home to generate income.

How to Fund the Vacation
  • Savings – Regardless of income, everyone has the ability to forego something in their daily life in order to set aside a fraction of their income. It is a time-tested solution.
  • House Exchange – You can vacation all over the world doing a direct house exchange. You live in their house, drive their car and they yours. You hire a farm sitter to come by a few times a day to do chores and look after the animals. Google “house exchanges”.
  • Agri-tourism / Rent your Farmhouse - A farm vacation is New England is a sought after experience. With the rent you generate it can pay for your vacation plus a farm sitter. (Advertise on VRBO, Criagslist or through a local agency)
  • Inexpensive Vacation – the point is to get away. Go visit relatives, go camping, or go farm sit for someone else to get a new perspective.
  • Combine Ideas – use the farm sitter exchange and rent your house too for a no cost vacation.

Other Considerations
  • Peace of Mind - Essential to the success of your vacation is that you have peace of mind that your assets are secure and well cared for. For each individual farm this will mean finding the right person/people at a price (or barter situation). Know and articulate your expectations. Have a contract with the farm sitter to make things black and white.
  • Insurance – You may wish to consider insuring valuable animals to further protect your assets while away.
  • Provide Detailed Information – Always leave detailed instructions on how to care for the farm. Make sure vet and other contacts are easily accessible. For longer vacations you may even want to send a note to your vet(s) that you authorize vet care and specifics about the extent of care.

What Others Say About Getting Away

“Our family goes on a camping trip for 1 week every summer. Either our college age son, if he's home, or neighbors take care of our farm. We connected with them by being friendly neighbors. We did pay them a little but we help each other out a lot, so what we paid them would not be typical. We had written instructions, simplified our routine and also double-checked for safety issues. We also leave a list of people to contact for each potential type of problem and are available by cell phone. We value our annual vacation because of the uninterrupted time with the family and we come home with a renewed appreciation for our farm and animals.” • Nancy Kish of Agape Hill Farm

“The Northern Vermont Farm Sitter Network works very well in my area and has enabled the people involved to have a competent and experienced sitter take care of things while they're gone, without feeling like you have to pay someone or feel bad about convincing them to take care of an overwhelming about of animals. Most of my friends have a cat or a dog, not llamas, goats and chickens.” • Lee Findholt of Wicked Good Farm

Karen Nicholson, of Stepping Stone Farm Alpacas in Stowe, VT, has a herd of six alpacas, four French Alpine dairy goats, 6 Indian Runner ducks, several laying hens, two dogs and two cats. Over the years, her family has been able to get away for a few weekends and a week each year with farm care from professional farm sitters, farm sitters they have recruited and trained or relatives. They are now living away from their farm for six months while farm sitters live in their house rent free in exchange for caring for the farm. Any comments or questions can be directed to:


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