GFP030: Farm manager for a non-profit organization with Joe Listro of Sullivan Farm, New Milford, CT

Farming is not something that anyone should have to do alone. I have tried it, it's not great. I strongly feel that the more people you can involve with you farm the happier you will be, also more successful.

You don't always get to choose the people who work with you on your farm. That's often a great thing. When you work as a farm manager under a board of directors that can go either way.  They can either be your best friends, or huge pains in the behinds. In the case of Sullivan Farm, Joe tells us in the interview that he loves working with his board of directors because they bring a diverse skill set to the (farm) table.

In the beginning of the episode I talk about a very important part of farming. That important part is working with people. There are SO many people interested in agriculture these days and not all of them want to get their hands dirty. I mean, it is really hard to find people who want to process chickens with me. Even if they do not want to learn how to properly scald and pluck a pastured chicken, they may be able to help you farm out in other ways.

Whether it is accounting, marketing, grant writing, sign painting or whatever, everyone has something to offer. Your job is to keep their fire burning and find a place where you have a weakness to fill with their strengths. Do not "poo poo" someone's offer of help just because they don't want to play in the dirt with your or they don't know how to fix a tractor. There are too many things to get done, and those things are too diverse in nature.

Oh, and don't feel like you're using people if you accept volunteers. People volunteer all the time at all manner of things. As a farmer we work longer hours than most, we make less money than most, and we face more hardships than most. People are starting to see that, and they are starting to pitch in to make it a little easier. The "system" is kind of built against small farmers, but that doesn't mean the other people living within that system aren't willing to help.

Again, your job, take care of your volunteers. Just because they are not asking for pay doesn't meant you shouldn't give them something. If they are coming for the day, buy them lunch. If it's hot outside provide Gatorade or an ice cream. Think of it this way, if you were to hire someone for the you would at least have to pay them minimum wage. In CT that's $8.25 an hour. For an 8 hour day that's $66. If you buy that person an $8 lunch they still saved you$58. The point is, be willing to accept volunteers, but please take care of them and don't abuse their kindness.

Right click here to download the MP3

In this farm podcast you will learn:

  • Joe's very interesting start in agriculture
  • How to tackle a farm job when you have never done it before
  • How to work with a board of directors
  • Ways to market your farm online
  • How big should you e-mail list be?
  • How to increase farm visibility to drive more traffic to your farm stand
  • Even non-profits have to think like for-profits
  • The most important thing to have as a farmer
  • Finding little victories on the farm

Interview with Joe Listro of Sullivan Farm:

Connecticut native, Joe has worked on a variety of farms after his time at the University of Maine.  Joe has been planning and working on the variety of vegetables in the fields, managing and teaching the college and high school workers, apprentice, and interns and all other odds and ends on the farm for the past two seasons.

Items mentioned in this farm podcast include:

farm signs-7497
farm signs-7498
farm signs-7500
farm signs-7504

Take aways:

How are you leveraging other people's passions to help grow your agricultural business?

What nice things have you done for your volunteers/workers to thank them?

How are you keeping your "team" motivated?


My skills are ever-evolving as an interviewer. Thanks for taking the time to listen in, and let me know what you think. You can leave a comment below, send me an e-mail, reach me on Facebook or Twitter, or leave a 5 star rating in iTunes if you liked the show.