By Sophie Neems, Communications Specialist at Farm Credit
Meet Stacey Carlberg who, along with her husband Casey Gustowarow, manages The Farm at Sunnyside, a 15-acre, certified organic vegetable farm with 250-300 laying hens. Stacey and Casey sell at Farmers Markets, as well as through wholesale and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). While I worked for Stacey at her farmers market stand in downtown DC, I noticed how intentional she is about personnel management. She graciously agreed to speak with me about her hiring and management strategies. Here are some tips from Stacey:
- Hire people who have teamwork experience. Stacey doesn’t prioritize previous farm experience in a potential employee but instead looks for “any kind of experience where you may be pushing yourself to work hard and feel a sense of responsibility to your coworkers.”
- Ask yourself, “do you get along with the person you are interviewing?” Though seemingly obvious, ensuring that a potential employee has communication skills that mesh with yours will be important when spending a great deal of time together, collaborating on challenging projects. “Trust your gut,” Stacey advises. If something feels weird in the interview, it’s likely a red flag.
- Host a daily morning meeting. Each morning Stacey and Casey meet with their staff to share their goals and tasks for the day, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. Stacey shares, “…in farming everything is always changing, all the time, the weather is changing or the crops are changing, so our standards change.” These meetings help avoid staff feeling that they have done something wrong after working hard on a project all day.
- Use walkie talkies. With a 15-acre farm divided into four main growing areas, walkie talkies allow the staff to communicate with Stacey and Casey throughout the day. Stacey said, “We’ve found [walkie talkies] to be really helpful in improving our efficiency and decreasing some miscommunication.”
- Bi-monthly dinners. Sharing regular meals allows managers and staff to spend time together without the pressure of the professional hierarchy. Instead, everyone has the opportunity to get to know each other as individuals, building camaraderie and morale.
- Prepare. Stacey said, “We don’t want staff to feel like we are wasting their time, so a big part of our job is planning ahead.” For example, Stacey will ensure that all tools needed for a given task are on hand, such as the proper harvesting knives or rubber bands to package produce for market.
- Have reasonable expectations for a first-time employee. As an experienced farmer, Stacey is efficient and knowledgeable. Hiring a new staffer means acknowledging their learning curve. Stacey said, “We know that we’re throwing a lot of stuff at first time employees and we can’t expect them to do the job like we do it.” Stacey has found that giving employees space to learn encourages them to stay on for more than one season.
- Delegate tasks and leadership roles. Stacey and Casey train each staff member in a specialty area, such as chicken management, greenhouse and market prep. Having one person in charge allows employees to feel ownership over a project, while also streamlining problem solving if something goes awry.
Stacey and I closed out our conversation with a discussion about her experiences as a woman farmer and manager. Stacey said, “I think it’s cool to set an example for your other women employees: as a female farm manager you have all these strengths, but [it is also important to] admit to the things that you don’t know how to do or need to learn more about.” Stacey paints a realistic picture for those she mentors, demonstrating that despite the challenges inherent in an agricultural lifestyle, farming and farming as a woman, is a viable opportunity.
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