Small Bites – Practical Tips for Farm Resiliency

Small Bites are short, informational articles with practical ideas about stress reduction, improved communication, and farm and family well-being. They are written by coaches from UMaine Extension’s Farm Coaching team. Farm coaches are available at no cost to work remotely with farmers and farm teams.

Small Bites – Resources for Mental Health

Authored by Coaches Polly Shyka and Leslie Forstadt

We on the Farm Coaching Team express heartfelt care and concern to all affected by chronic stress, mental health challenges, and compassion fatigue.  We wanted to share this podcast from the National Young Farmer’s Coalition that tells the story of people coming together after a tragic loss in the farming community of Washington state.

Here are a few resources that farmers, farm partners, farmworkers and farm service providers might find helpful to share with others.

We strive to be part of a collective response of stress and mental health support in farming communities. Please consider reaching out to other farmers, farmworkers and others you know who may be struggling.

If the Farm Coaching program can be of any support, please reach out. We have experienced farmers who are part of the team and who know the stresses of farming inside and out.

Small Bites – Demoralized? Depressed? How much worry is too much worry?

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

It is May and if the birds don’t wake you before dawn, the circling thoughts of the undone projects probably do. Those onions that need to get in the ground, the broken axle, the wholesale account that fell through. The reality of what needs to be done can lead to uncomfortable feelings of overwhelm.

We all are familiar with it, some more than others. When that feeling lasts for more than a few hours or days, it may be helpful to parse out if what is happening is demoralization or depression. According to Dr. Kaethe Weingarten, there is a difference between being demoralized and depressed. “Demoralization is a normal reaction to overwhelming circumstances when the way to solve the problem is unclear or difficult to do. What distinguishes demoralization from depression is that if the situation changes, and you are demoralized, you are going to feel better.”

A lot of farmers can feel demoralized in spring time, through droughty times and certainly around financial issues. People have felt demoralized through the pandemic. You can watch Weingarten discuss this issue and the difference between “normal worry” and “excessive worry” in this video. She gives concrete ideas for how to work with these distressing feelings.

It’s okay to not be okay. The folks at Farm State of Mind, the Heal Food Alliance, the Northeast Farmers of Color Network, and FarmAid have different ways to connect and reach out for others to talk to. Connection can help you stay mentally and physically healthy. And reach out to trusted family and friends who can provide additional support.

The farm coaching team is available to talk with you about stress you are experiencing.

Small Bites – Social Sustainability and Well-Being

Authored by Coach Leslie Forstadt

Don’t forget your own health and well-being, and find ways to build in routines to take care of yourself. If you are finding that you are overwhelmed, or having a hard time doing the things you usually do, please talk to someone else. Ask for help for the farm, adapt as needed, and consider reaching out to a counselor or phone hotline.

This video about social sustainability includes ways to create equitable and fair systems for all farmers and why this is important for personal well being.

And this video focuses on stress that farmers experience. Be aware of your own signals and connect with those around you in case others may be struggling and too proud or fearful to reach out.

Supports for mental health and well-being – Call the Strengthen ME support line (207-221-8198 , or The Maine Crisis Hotline or “711” for supports in Maine, and Farm Aid has a hotline (1-800-FARM-AID) just for farmers who want to talk about stresses and how to find support.

The Farm Coaches can talk with you about changing up your routines, building in sustainable strategies for your farm, and talking about these issues with your staff. Reach out and we can find a time to Zoom, talk by phone, or visit the farm.


Small Bites -How to Stop Stalling and Get the Tasks Done

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

A few weeks ago, I had a big project that was looming but I was not making time for it. I knew the deadline was coming right up and I was thinking about it a lot, so some mental preparation was happening, I just wasn’t showing up for the actual work of putting the pieces together. The day before the deadline, I was avoiding doing the task so cleverly that I cleaned two whole dust covered and cluttered bookshelves, top to bottom. I laughed when I realized that I was using deep cleaning to avoid a task that I had committed to (and needed to finish!) Tax prep falls in this category every year around this time!

I will avoid doing the little things, too. Emptying the compost bucket only once it is literally overflowing is a signature move in my kitchen. I also avoid online shopping and ordering farm goods. Seed orders are particularly challenging.

I figure I am never going to love doing any of these little tasks that I avoid so expertly but I do need to notice when I am avoiding a task so that I can be accountable to my farm team members. They may be relying on my actions to make their next move or decision. Noticing and saying the behavior out loud. “I am totally avoiding fixing the irrigation in hoophouse 3” is where I start. Then I might get some nods and chuckles and I can use that accountability to propel me to action or I can ask for help. “Is anyone else excited about this and want to take it over?” And if not, then I might try, “Would anyone be willing to help me with it so that it gets done today?”

I do value accountability, so admitting to my avoidance is often enough to change my cleaning binges and other stealthy behaviors around toward the critical task at hand. If you would like to read more about avoidance and the ways to change this pattern, this article may be of interest to you.

If you’d like to talk to a farm coach about strategies for completing tasks and personal or teamwork, send us a message!


Small Bites – Reflections of a White Farmer

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

This past year certainly offered ample opportunity for us, as white farm owners, to reckon with the difference between our social justice intentions and the reality of our actions (and inaction) and their impacts. Racism, sexism, nativism, homophobia, colonialism and elitism were all subjects of conversation around our packshed all summer. How do we live up to our ideals? Should we move funds toward BIPOC owned businesses? Put a land acknowledgement on our website? What is authentic and right to do? How to beware of virtue signalling? How do we intend to keep up the efforts?

This winter, I have seen and participated in groups of farmers coming together in workshops offered through MOFGA, Soul Fire Farm and others to learn about the history of racism and colonialism in farming. These groups also train farmers in strategizing with other farmers about how to shift toward more equitable actions, agreements and practices. There is a lot for us white folks to learn. MOFGA has put together an incredible learning guide that could be used on farms, in farmer groups and in the broader community to challenge and change some long-held, convenient and oppressive patterns. Food Systems New England is winding down the 7th year of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, and it’s not too late to tune in and join this opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth.

Looking for a space to reflect and do some inquiry about your farm and equity? The farm coaches can help and refer you to opportunities in Maine and more.

Deciding on Kids’ Role(s) on the Farm

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

As a parent to three children and a co-owner of a farm, a lot of people wonder how much our children are involved in the daily tasks and chores of the farm business. My answer is always, “only as much as they have wanted to.”  But that was our answer. Every farmer-parent has to find their own right path through a demanding business and even more demanding parenting. With that said, here is a bit of what we figured out.

Early on, when the boys were young and in need of naps, fresh diapers and snacks very frequently, one of us would be “on” with the boys and the other would be “on”  with the crew and farm details. We would often split by the half day or whole day, especially in summer, when getting the children to cool water seemed the most important task of the day.

As the boys got older and had bikes to ride and frogs to catch, we were both able to work on the farm at the same time. Then prioritizing field trips and off farm fun became important so that their needs were met and that they didn’t experience their parents working “all the time.”

We have always taken a day off per week for family activities. We have always had our children participate in all household tasks, especially cleaning toilets, showers, vacuuming, dishes, cooking, shoveling snow. We have never paid an allowance as we wanted our children to contribute to normal upkeep of a community space without any money attached.

When they work on the farm, however, they always get an age appropriate hourly wage with which they may have half as spending money and half as savings money. So far, our 17 year old has become a summer farm crew member for the last three years. The younger guys have an open invitation but they are still building stuff and biking and eating snacks in the shade all day, it seems. That is so fine with us. We want them to remember a childhood of fun. They will have their whole lives to work. If one or more of them decides they like farming, great, but we have no expectations that they will take on any of the weight of our jobs and our life choices.

How do you want to incorporate kids on the farm? There is no one right way, and if you’d like to talk about it with others, the farm coaches are available to discuss roles on the farm, incorporating family members, and shared work in general.

A Strong Foundation is Built on Gratitude and Appreciation 

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

Want to up your game as a manager, boss or mentor to your farm crew? One place to start is by paying closer attention to the people around you. This sounds easy but actually requires a good deal of focus, intention, and patience. Attention is a form of appreciation, so really focusing on a co-worker’s question or story, asking follow up questions, and using body language to show you are listening all carry the message of appreciation to others. Appreciation is good for everyone and good for our brains! This article discusses the benefits of appreciation and gratitude in the workplace.

Gratitude has many forms. Sometimes it is the tried and true “Thank you so much” that does the trick. Sometimes we show appreciation by offering to do a task for someone who normally does that task. Think dinner, dishes, animal chores, morning coffee. Gifts are a recognized language of appreciation, so chocolate bars, pizza or homemade cookies can carry a clear message of  appreciation. So can a raise, of course.

How can you bring more of your gratitude and acknowledgement to those around you? Starting small and repeating often is what helps a new habit stick. Small gestures of kindness, attention and gratitude will feel good to you and your team and bring everyone closer together.

Farm coaching is a place to practice appreciation and gratitude. Every time we meet, that’s part of the conversation.

Is Farm Coaching for Me?

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

What happens in a Farm Coaching session?

Farm Coaching is farmer-centric. Farm coaches follow the leads and needs of the farm team. The farm team’s goals and stuck spots rule the agenda. Coaches take notes, ask clarifying questions. Coaches work to help teams notice, articulate and investigate values, priorities and patterns.

Here are a few things farm teams have done in the Farm Coaching program:

-develop a labor tracking form to better account for crew hours

-develop an agenda and activities for an all farm staff meeting to announce management changes

-discuss roles and responsibilities of different leaders in the business

-develop a communication plan that maps out daily, weekly, seasonal and annual meetings

-engage in facilitated discussions with multiple generations of stakeholders

-engage in facilitated conversations around long term goals and develop action plans to move toward them

Farm Coaching is a place where farm teams can come together to learn something new and gain new skills and tools to go forward together. Farm Coaching helps teams grow stronger and smarter and kinder, together. Call the farm coaches to see what can work for you.

Coping with Grief in Times of Loss

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

When our family milk cow died of milk fever 19 years ago, I was alone on the farm for the weekend. I’d been checking on her and her heifer calf all day and evening. All was well. When I entered the barn early the next morning and found her on her side, stiff and barely alive, I nearly passed out. I called a neighbor dairy farmer and he came over to help. As we walked down to the barn to assess, he said, “When you have livestock, you have deadstock.”

This simple truth was good for me to hear and it speaks to the basic truth of our own mortal existence as humans, as well. We will all lose loved ones through life. The COVID-19 pandemic brought loss and grief into so many lives, all over our country and world. Ongoing systemic oppression causes whole communities to grieve the loss of freedom, opportunity and sometimes life.

How we choose to tend to these losses is called grieving or bereavement. Some people choose to keep their grief to themselves and may not want to burden others with their “heavy” feelings. Others reach out to talk to family, friends and/or professionals. The important thing is that you are able to access the resources of time and space and connection/solitude that you need. Only you know what feels best.

Loss or bereavement groups are a way to be in community with others like you who are suffering a loss. Most communities have groups that meet for 4-8 weeks to discuss loss and healing. Local churches and hospice organizations often host bereavement groups online and in “normal” times, in person. There are some wonderful resources on the importance and many faces of grief online. Here is one video that is short and sweet but you can search through TED talks for lots more thoughtful offerings that might help you navigate through a big loss.

The true cost of getting distracted & ways to avoid it! 

Authored by Coach Abby Sadauckas

This morning I enjoyed the rare experience of focus. Generally I develop my weekly computer “to-do” list on Sundays when my partner and I compare our calendars. This week I had two days without off-farm obligations- yahoo! How did I ensure I’d actually complete the tasks I wanted?

First, I made a big list of things I’d like to get done this week (both big and small). I grouped them by what I needed the internet to do, versus no internet. Then, I prioritized each by how good it would feel to get it done. I separated big tasks and noted how much time to allocate. I put one big task per day based on what I know are my prime productivity windows. Then, I grouped together similar tasks, such as emails. These could be done in the evening as they don’t require me to be “at my prime.” Finally, I broke the big tasks into components such as, “what needed to be done before I even turned on my wifi hotspot?” I also thought about any preparation (research or web cruising) that could be done at another time (think non-prime hours!) Before I knew it, I had a detailed plan of online tasks, things to research and deadlines to do them.

Time blocking, as I just described can be a big help in avoiding distraction. Who distracts me most? ME!

This article in Fast Company really drove home that point by introducing the phrase, “self-distracting.” This is the phenomenon whereby my internet loads a mite slow and so I just pick up my phone….. five minutes later, it can be challenging to remember what exactly I was doing, let alone get back into the task. In fact, it can take as long as 23 minutes to get back to the task at hand. More examples of how to avoid interruptions in my next small bite.

Need help in figuring out how to prioritize what’s important to you & how to get it done? The Farm Coaching team can help! 


Planned Decision Making Reduces Frustration (and Increases Happiness!) 

Authored by Coach Abby Sadauckas

This article in Fast Company discusses the impact of getting distracted and it introduced me to the idea of self-distracting by highlighting a behavior I simply thought of as a pet peeve. I, as many of you, make many decisions with my partner. This means we need to have fairly frequent conversations to check-in, follow-up and ensure we actually made a decision.

One of my least favorite things is when I’m in the middle of something and it seems to be an opportune time to have such a conversation. Reading this article made me realize, that’s because I know how difficult it will be to get back on task!

With this knowledge, I’m better able to plan for decision making on a weekly basis and identify good times (for us it’s lunch) when we can ask the following; What decisions are hanging out? Which do I need to be involved in (or not)? How involved does my partner want to be in a particular decision, or can I just move ahead with their blessing? Asking these questions has streamlined our farm meetings, clarified our roles, and made me much happier!

Need help in figuring out a weekly schedule so you can find ease in decision making? The Farm Coaching team can help!

Stress Adds Up and You Don’t Have to Feel Alone 

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

Farmers have different ways to cope with daily and long term stress. If you are feeling like you have to handle it alone, please don’t. Stress and anxiety often walk hand in hand and can make you feel like it’s impossible to do what “should be normal and easy.”

Stress and anxiety can get tough to handle alone. Telling others that you are stressed to an uncomfortable level is a good first step. Tell a friend or family member that times are tough. Make a time to connect by phone or in person. Or reach out to someone not in your circle who is there to listen. Reaching out can be hard and awkward if you are not used to sharing your struggles but it is worth it! When stress builds so high you are suffering, asking for help can ease the load. No one needs to suffer alone.

There is a Warm Line in Maine available 24/7 to call and talk to someone (1-866-771-9276 or 1-866-771-WARM). If you want to reach out to something agriculture-specific, you can also contact Farm Aid’s helpline for crisis support. Consider posting the hotline number: 1-800-327-6243 in your workplace for all of your co-workers.

We may be hard-working and tough as nails farmers but we can also talk about and attend to our mental health challenges, like we do our physical challenges. We are all in a larger community that cares how we are doing. You matter. Tu Importas. There is no shame in struggling in a stressful profession and in a stressful world. This excellent tip sheet in English and Spanish has more information about signs of stress and tips for coping.

If you’d like to think about ways to support your farm team in creating a community that can share about stress and ask for help, the farm coaching team can provide resources and help in this area. 

When Hiring a Manager, Clarity is Key

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

Hiring a manager for the first time can be a boon for your farm and work-life balance. Bringing others into management capacity with added responsibilities requires a lot of clarity and shared understanding. Clarity begins with an ample job description. Be very descriptive about your expectations around quality control, food safety, efficiency, communication, managing others, workplace culture, and accuracy, to name a few.

Management needs to act as a team. Weekly managers meetings are a must so that everyone is informed and no one is left out of the information sharing. We meet with our managers for a few minutes before the crew arrives each morning so we have a plan that is unified. How much decision making authority will your new manager have? How much input does the team provide and how does the manager weigh how to make decisions? Only you can know what makes sense for you and your operation but you will want to let your manager know what and when they have the leeway to act/decide independently of your or another manager’s input.

No surprise here. Clarity and communication are the key concepts, once again. So much time and energy are saved when the lines of communication are clear and good.

Looking for sample job descriptions and planning documents to include a new person in the management structure? Reach out to the Farm Coaching program

Activity Logs Help with Planning

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

What can I do in February to bring peace of mind and lower my stress level in May, June and beyond? When the busy days of spring and summer arrive, I feel great comfort in looking at a checklist as a reminder of what tasks need to be done on a regular schedule in different areas of our farm. Developing new checklists and logs is an annual winter activity. Activity logs that track cleaning, watering and temperatures let me know that protocols have been attended to.

I am more able to delegate details when I have a checklist to refer to before and after the task.

Most farmers have logs for pesticide applications and animal mortality, as required by law and different certifiers. Might there be other activities and events that you would like to capture?

Placement of Logs

For us, the key to logs seems to be placement. Having a fertilization log hanging by the hose shutoff in the greenhouse makes sense.

Data is a Balancing Act

To have value and provide value data over time, logs be kept up, so make sure that entering into logs is part of the various job descriptions and daily expectations you communicate to your employees. Needless to say, there is such a thing as too much tracking, so make sure you don’t overtax your workplace with data collection that isn’t useful and/or necessary.

Checklists and logs are quick and easy ways to get lots of information to and from co-workers. They can be a key management tool in improving communication in your farm business.

Looking for ideas for what to track and where to keep your logs? Farm coaching can help you set up a plan for this season. 

Using Data to Plan for Labor for Next Season

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

This is the time of year when I spend hours per day with spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are an indispensable analysis and planning tool. Planning for labor needs for the upcoming season lets us foresee times when labor is short or flush, and helps us plan accordingly. Analysis begins with adding the past year’s labor actuals to an existing labor planning spreadsheet. I bring over two or three years worth of monthly labor totals (in hours and dollars) to this document (to compare 2019 to 2020, for example).

The spreadsheet is organized by month so that I can look at August labor actuals and predict August’s labor needs for 2021. The columns contain: Employee names (Column A), Actual 2019 monthly hours worked (B), Actual monthly 2020 hours worked (C), 2021 projected hours per week (D), 2021 projected hours per month (E), Hourly wage (F), Projected total wages per month (G), Projected withholding taxes per month (H).

In this one spreadsheet I am able to look at the past and plan for the future both in hours and dollars. The financial pieces move over to a cash flow projection document. But the projected hours per week that our employees are intending to work really tell us if we are going to hit our labor needs per week/per month throughout the whole season.

Developing recordkeeping systems that yield useful data is a great way to improve your quality of life, clarity on your team, and a better bottom line.

Reach out to the Farm Coaching program if you would like to talk through record keeping systems that can improve role and financial clarity. 

Can a Household Budget Clarify your Farm Goals?

Authored by Coach Abby Sadauckas

Setting up a farm and keeping track of the financial details can be a stress on interpersonal relationships and personal finances. 

Instead of focusing on how much income the farm might generate to support just the business and reinvestments, it may be helpful to identify the ways the farm will create income to support personal or family needs. 

For many of us, the farm produces a quality of life that is at times unparalleled. I recently read an evocative social media post describing the joy of biting into a perfectly ripe cantaloupe. Yes, that is often the type of payment we might most enjoy, but unless your town is ok with paying your property taxes in cantaloupe it may not be enough.

So, where to begin? At our farm, each year we sort through our saved grocery receipts to get a sense of several big picture numbers. How much did we spend on groceries (coffee, canned goods, pasta)? How much did we spend on household supplies (dish washing and laundry soap, dog food) and what do our monthly expenses looking like (i.e. car payments, tax club)? Then, we look at ways to bulk buy some of those grocery items to reduce costs. We’ve also begun having some of those household supplies (ie the elusive toilet paper) delivered right to our door. This saves us some money, but more importantly time headed to a different store to procure that one item, which inevitably leads to impulse purchases. We then put these numbers into a simple spreadsheet with the same categories as what is listed above, total the columns and review our monthly household budget. We then take that and add in savings goals (i.e. retirement, vacation, take-out). This is done on a monthly basis that reflects when the bill might come due or when we want to take that time away from the farm. If there is a deficit we’re able to identify it now, adjust our owners’ draw for the farm’s lean months rather than skip paying ourselves. 

Want more ideas to keep track of finances? Farm coaching might be for you!

Good Ideas Without the Hard Work

Authored by Coach Abby Sadauckas

A colleague of mine had a handwritten sign above his desk that read, “All Good Ideas Lead to Hard Work.” In my younger days, I thought this was perhaps the most cynical sign I had read. I wondered, ‘Well where’s the optimism in that?’ With a few more years under my belt and a lot more ‘good ideas’ I realize there’s certainly some truth in this phrase! It’s not so much the idea, as much as the implementation that counts.

So, how do you implement a good idea without having the result simply feel like a lot of hard work? One way is to use an action planning tool that can break down the components of this grand vision into workable steps. If you (like me) are the Chief Idea Generator on your farm, this tool can be deployed by the Chief Reality Officer (aka the bubble burster) who may often bring your lofty goals down to earth. Rather than pit your ideas against their reality, the action planning tool can identify who does what (and by when) in an objective way. Having the tool set the parameters of your conversation, instead of your farm partner may allow everyone a bit more room to brainstorm without feeling like all the work will come back to them.

To get a copy of the action planning tool, reach out to the farm coaching team!

Small Bites – The Four Gs: A Tool for Family Meetings, Too

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

In a previous “Small Bites” article, we introduced the Four Gs activity as a way to take the temperature of a team and discover key “Gives, Gains, Groans, and Guidelines” important to progressing toward a shared goal.

You might want to try this out at your next family meeting, as well. Maybe the goal you are working toward is a harmonious weekend. Or a clean house. Or making Nana her birthday cards and gifts. Kids of all ages love markers and a large sheet of paper. Draw the grid then take turns telling  your Four G’s to the designated note taker. When everyone takes turns contributing, you have the chance to slow things down with questions, reflections and appreciations for each participant. You can also build connections on your “family team” by linking different people’s contributions to others’. “Looks like a few of us have the same groans going on! Sally and Abby share a give. That is really cool.”

For extra entertainment and humor, try illustrating some of the contributions as the grids get populated. Nothing wrong with a little fun.

Reach out today if your farm team could use some new tools for communication and planning. The Farm Coaching program is a free service supported by a grant that works with farmers state-wide from Northeast Extension Risk Management Education. 

Is 2021 Your Year for Farm Coaching? Clarity Shows Care

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

2020 asked a lot of us. Or perhaps the better word is demanded! As farm managers, we needed to pivot and adapt to a health threat that affected our farm crews, our markets, and our communities. While this kind of adaptability was necessary, change brings with it uncertainty that can feel very uncomfortable to our farm teams.

We heard from our farm crew that clarity was even more important in times of shift and change. One particular situation that came up a few times was when farm crew members were “a little under the weather.” Should they be asked to stay home? Or should they be allowed to work on the farm but on a project by themselves? In all honesty, we wavered and waffled on this issue through the season. We wanted to provide our workers with the hours and wages that they needed but we certainly didn’t want to unwittingly expose anyone to illness.

Our farm crew told us loud and clear that they needed clarity and most importantly, that that clarity felt good and important. It felt like care.

Want a sounding board to think and communicate with clarity? The farm coaching team can meet with you to get clear about fuzzy areas of communication and decision making. 

Welcome the New Year and Learn Something for You

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

As the New Year approaches, put yourself into winter planning! As you tee up your spreadsheets and seed catalogs and dig into the predictable planning and analysis after the farm season, consider making a learning plan for yourself. Actually, two lists might be in order: one for farm related learning and research, and another that feeds some of your interests other than farming.

The farm list should reflect some of your struggles in the last year. Pests, varieties, staffing issues. Or an area that you want to grow into. A lot of farmers in Maine are looking to learn more about de-colonization and racial justice. You could start a book group over Zoom with some of your farmer colleagues, or sign up for a workshop. We are missing each other in so many ways.

Beware of the rabbit-hole effect that watching YouTube videos can lead to! Make a list. Make it reasonable with just 3 key ideas or interests you would like to explore and then tack it up for yourself. It is so fun to be a student.

With podcasts and web-based learning opportunities sprouting faster than galinsoga in May, there are so many free and low-priced webinars, live web events and videos to take in. Throw in a book for good measure, of course, and have a great time getting smarter, kinder, more resilient. And Happy New Year~

Looking for new ideas for personal and professional development? The farm coaches can send you ideas based on your interests and goals.

Small Bites – What’s Important Now?

Authored by Coach Abby Sadauckas

As the days get shorter, there is more time in the evening to begin the process of reflection and planning. I’m not feeling particularly motivated to do this type of work until I think of what I’d like to avoid in the next farming season! Examples include scheduling poultry processing on days without an employee or ordering feeders for broilers before we need them, rather than a week after it’s impacting their growth.

For each of us, the motivation for planning will be different. This article with 7 steps to get you started from the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension helps you think through what’s important now. This activity can be done with your farm team or with the assistance of a farm coach.

How will you ensure that 2021 will build on what you learned in 2020 and where you found success and challenge?  Schedule an appointment with a farm coach today! 

The Four Gs – A tool for collaboration

Authored by Coach Abby Sadauckas

The Four Gs is an activity included in the book, People & Permaculture written by Looby Macnamara in 2012. The concept is simple and the activity is powerful! What does it do? In a group it is helpful to understand the motivations, concerns and parameters of others. Anybody else experience collaboration fatigue? Did you think everyone was on the same page about project goals?

Sitting down with this tool can help identify, in a non-confrontational manner where differences of opinion or approach are, either before you get started or once things go off track.

To use the tool, take a sheet of paper and divide into four sections by folding or by drawing a grid. Working clockwise, write a heading in each quadrant – Gives, Gains, Groans and Guidelines.

  • Gives include what you’re willing to bring to the project to ensure success- this might include your marketing skills.
  • Gains are what you hope to achieve, whether that is a personal goal or one you feel is critical to the project’s success. In other words, what do you get out of your participation?
  • Capturing the “groans” is key at the start of a collaboration. What are you worried about? Are there experiences you’ve had, didn’t enjoy and would like to avoid? Share those here!
  • Guidelines are where you can identify what works for you and it is helpful to include specifics. For example, I love a deadline, I want it in writing and I want others to hold themselves accountable. What’s important to you? Capture it in the guidelines.

The 4Gs can be used at the start of the project, at seasonal shifts on your farm, or when you need an open way to hear from collaborators about how a project may be going.

Want help to implement the 4Gs on your farm? Reach out to the farm coaching team to set-up a free consultation and a step-by-step setup of your own 4Gs activity.


Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

In this week when settler-colonist culture celebrates Thanksgiving, the idea of gratitude is circling about. Gratitude has two precursors, noticing and acknowledging. We must first slow down enough to notice that for which we are grateful. We can notice with our memory, our senses, our attention. Once we have noticed, we can acknowledge that this entity, person, place or concept is a blessing, a gift, a privilege is the second step before gratitude can really bloom.

What might you notice that you haven’t before? How might you acknowledge this person, place or entity as a unique gift? How might you show or express gratitude for this entity?

Now is a good time in the farming season to create space for this type of reflection. This could take the form as a prompt in your farm team meeting, “What’s been a blessing this season?” Or a letter to your team, thanking them collectively and/or personally for their contributions,  and unique gifts of steadfastness, care, grit, creativity, honesty, etc.

Perhaps you are drawn to showing your gratitude for the land on which you farm and/or the people who tended it before you. Leah Penniman, co-founder of SoulFire Farm gave a keynote address at the 2020 Common Ground Fair, a great resource that shares the history of land and human labor acquisition and exploitation in North America.

As you reflect and pause for gratitude, farm coaches are available to support your vision and aspirations moving forward.   

How Cross Training can Benefit the Efficiency of the Farm

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

Cross training is not just for fitness buffs. On the farm, cross-training is a good management practice that can increase efficiencies and help with coverage in times of need. Cross-training members of your team so that more than one person holds the know-how for a particular task is just plain smart.

On a friend’s livestock farm, the whole crew, farmers included, switched jobs — for a week!! The milkers took the deliveries, the egg-washers fed pigs, the hay-makers fed the calves. (I wonder what the cows thought!) Having to do a job start to finish is a great way to learn a job, so this grand switcheroo was actually a great cross-training event.

It is good to have multiple people prepared to do each job. Some farms have very detailed and complete Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). These step by step instructions, often with photos, get the critical steps, variables and quality considerations on any crop or task on paper. In thinking about what a grand switcheroo on your farm might look like, what would others need to know? How would you communicate that? Is that information captured elsewhere or could you include it in your existing SOPs? Or do you need to create new SOPs to capture all the crops and tasks?

COVID-19 has made a lot of farmers consider contingency planning. Hedging against illness or injury or absence, cross-training employees is one option you might consider to make your farm more resilient.

Want help to identify areas where cross-training might help your farm? Schedule an appointment with a farm coach today! 

Small Bites – End of Season  – Goodbye till Spring?

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

It’s that time of year! Blaze orange clothing becomes the norm. Frosty mornings, big root harvests for vegetable farmers and lots and lots of fall cleanup. If you have employees working with you, this also may be a time of saying “goodbye ‘til spring” to many of your staff members.

Have you ever done an end of season meeting with each employee? Do you have an end of season party? Give out a bonus in cash? Saying goodbye and thank you to an individual or whole farm crew can tie up a great or a rough season with just a bit of levity, especially if you want to retain crew members for next year.

On our farm, there is a “last day” when we do a final big project together. We often serve lunch to the farm crew that day. One fun-loving employee made a “Best of 2018” survey a few years ago where he collected “Best crop, Cutest Critter, Biggest Villain, Moment I wish I could Forget” and etc. from the crew and then read them aloud to capture a bunch of laughs and memories from folks.

With an eye toward next spring, you may be thinking about which employees might take on more responsibility and which might not get offered a position. Be honest and forthright now with your thoughts so that your employees will have the benefit of your thinking for the long winter ahead.

If it would be helpful to think about a plan for employees for next spring and you’d like someone to bounce ideas off, reach out to the farm coaches


Authored by Coach Leslie Forstadt

This Small Bite shares a 3-minute video about stress. When you get to know yourself well, you can recognize what makes you stressed, how you react to stress, and how to find healthy ways to buffer your stress.

Please reach out if you are feeling like the stress is overwhelming.

FarmAid Hotline 1-800-327-6243 (1-800-FarmAid; M-F 9-5)

Maine Intentional Warmline 1.866.771.9276 (WARM) (24/7 availability)

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255

StrengthenME  207-221-8198 (8am-8pm)

Farm Coaches are available to help talk and sort through the opportunities and challenges that you are experiencing. You can click on this link and request a coach call or email you. Coaching can include a referral to behavioral health counseling if that is needed. 

The Eisenhower Box

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

When the pigs need new pasture, the salad mix needs to be seeded and the kitchen looks like a tornado went through, it seems impossible to tend to the back burner projects that are always lingering in the background. How do you prioritize which one to do? This time management tool, called the Eisenhower Box, can capture all of those back burner projects in one place.

Urgent? Not urgent? Important? Not Important? You may wind up throwing out an unimportant, not urgent task after all. Or you may decide to delegate the important, not urgent ones.

The trick is making or finding time to attend to them. Can something wait until January? Or is there a two hour block you can block off to schedule time for yourself to address one of these longer-term but important projects?

Usually taking the first step is the hardest to get the list out of your head and on to the paper. The key is to address the back burner projects before they make it to the urgent state and everything jumps into the urgent and important box!

Try out the Eisenhower Box in a farm coaching session!

There’s No “I” in…Team Building with Collaboration on the Farm

Authored by Coaches Polly Shyka and Leslie Forstadt

Coaches and leaders the world over aim to cultivate a sense of team spirit, togetherness, cohesion in their teams. Cooperatives work hard to maintain a sense of community and alignment among varying personalities in their teams.

Farmers who are small business leaders, and those in organizing roles in cooperatives may find great benefit in finding ways to intentionally team build. You know how the banks have “Jeans Friday?” Dressing up or dressing down may have no relevance on the farm, as we dress for the work to be done, but there are so many ways to bring people together.

We want the farms as workplaces to be mutually beneficial, not superficially “fun,” but truly places of deep and broad collaboration and commitment.

Leadership and guidance sends clear messages. Here are a few specific ideas that may increase a sense of team vibe and togetherness:

  • All members contribute an item for the morning meeting
  • Tackling difficult tasks all together
  • Rotating roles for a short time to “step into another person’s shoes”
  • Meetings that are short and sweet
  • Sing together as the work is done
  • Look at stats and benchmarks together for creative decision making
  • Make a goal together to improve a specific enterprise or task
  • Share the glory and success
  • Discuss retooling or reorganizing together
  • Signs in the workplace that say WOW, THANK YOU.
  • A nice new speaker for music in the packshed or barn or workshop.
  • Funny cartoons posted at people’s work stations.
  • Celebrating birthdays (Ice cream or ice cream sandwiches are easy treats.)
  • Shared meals during the day and after the work day

The culture of the farm is influenced by the people who are part of it. Your group will come up with its own, of course. Knowing your co-workers is step #1. Small steps to make your workplace fun, interesting and collaborative is ongoing work. Depending on your situation, it can be the foundation upon which the farm is run, and for established farms, it can be an ongoing part of team development.

Ways to work together and celebrate the accomplishments are part of how farm coaches can sit with you and your team. If that sounds helpful, drop us an email and sign up for farm coaching!

Discovering Patterns

Authored by Coaches Polly Shyka and Leslie Forstadt

The term “pattern recognition” is associated, these days, with big data and artificial intelligence. It is also used to describe a living brain’s (human or animal) ability to recognize patterns of behavior, smell, sight, and link them to previously experienced stimuli. For example, the fox‘s eyes and brain are wired to recognize the exact angle of an alert-snowshoe hare’s ears so that when it scans a forest glade, despite the hare’s stealthy camouflage, the fox might recognize that particular slant to “two twigs” sticking up above a small stone.

In self-reflection and maintenance of human relationships on workplaces like farms, noticing patterns, and then naming them can be very helpful. In self-reflection, it’s a way to notice if you are reacting to situations or responding. When you are reactive, it’s much harder to have a level-headed conversation. When you notice patterns and are able to respond, you can talk about what’s happening in sometimes less-than-ideal situations.

Discovering a pattern may feel like having a sense of “I have been here before” and it may be paired with an uncomfortable feeling.

Notice — Name it

For example, on the farm you might feel a familiar sense of discomfort when the Monday tasks are assigned. Notice the feeling. Then name it. You can talk to your co-workers, “Last Tuesday was a real push for us. How can we work differently (or rearrange Monday?) so this doesn’t keep happening?”

You may find notice patterns with specific people and types of interactions. Then, in talking with the person, you can name it. “Last time I gave you feedback about the herb bunch sizes, it was a bit awkward, for both of us, I think.”  How can I give you the necessary information in a way that is more comfortable?”

Notice, then name a pattern you see in yourself, “The break room always has dishes piled in it by the end of the week, and I get mad and then eventually just do the dishes since there’s no one around.” This is an opportunity to have a conversation with others about changes that can be made in the schedule or in work assignments.

Patterns are everywhere. What we do with them and how we communicate about them can make all the difference to a day, a workplace, and our relationships with ourselves and others.

Looking for ways to better observe patterns and/or call attention to them? Farm coaches can help!


Noticing the Little Things

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” This reminder from professor of medicine and founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Jon Kabat-Zinn, can offer us an incentive, an invitation to slow down and appreciate the beauty, smells, temperatures, abundance, and other beings around us. It costs nothing and has measurable health benefits both physically and emotionally. Mindfulness is a practice that never ends and can be incorporated into ANY activity. And it truly feels so good every time you make that choice to separate from your racing mind for even 5 seconds. Simple moments like:

  • Noticing the freshness or temperature of the air when you leave your home in the morning.
  • Looking right into the eyes of a favorite dog, cat, cow or sheep.
  • Tuning in to a distant bird call
  • Pausing over a meal to give thanks
  • Taking in a smell you love: coffee, flowers, the hayloft, fresh basil.

What moments will you take for yourself today? How do you feel when you notice “the little things?”

Schedule a one-on-one farm coaching session and we’ll talk about what you’re noticing related to the farm and the opportunities and challenges you face. 

The Benefits of On-Farm Problem Solving

Authored by Coach Abby Sadauckas

What do you talk about in farm coaching? One aspect is to reflect on what’s been happening on the farm and what’s worked well. Referring to the past to inform the future can help with problem solving on a daily basis. And it helps to take time to reflect.


  • Has this been a challenging season on your farm?
  • How have you and your farm team been coping?
  • Can you think of a situation this season where you and your team were able to work collaboratively to solve a problem or rise to a challenge?

When you think about these questions, who was involved? If your time worked collaboratively, how did you reach agreement? If you had trouble coping, what additional resources might have been useful?

Reflections like these are part of the farm coaching methodology. Farm coaches work to help you consider past challenges and use them to create a pathway for you to use in approaching future situations.

Schedule a one-on-one farm coaching session and get started! It’s free, and sessions can be scheduled soon after you inquire. 

Taking Stock

Authored by Coach Abby Sadauckas

As the days get shorter, my to-do list gets longer. A sense of urgency has descended on the farm as the mornings grow cooler and darkness arrives earlier. In this time, I try to jot down a few things each day under the headings of successes, failures, refinements.

What worked well this season? I think of a new plant I put in the garden that I’ve enjoyed immensely, so I’ve marked that down to grow again next year. Failures include free-ranging our geese who removed several plants from the garden and have eaten all my kale! Refinements include writing down notes on SOPs (Standard Operating Principles) for our broilers, hens, and brooders to add to our employee manual.

With these prompts, I fill the pages of my planner with clear, effective notes to both capture the successes of the season AND to make notes about specific changes to improve the 2021 season.

Need help to get started on this process of taking stock? Contact a Farm Coach for a free one-on-one session.

Staying Healthy on the Farm

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

Anu Rangarajan from Cornell’s Small Farms Project recently said, “A healthy farm needs a healthy you.” Do you agree? What small way might you increase your health this week? This day? This minute? Of course, what is healthy for you may not be healthy for everyone, but some things are considered pretty universally healthy. The challenge is having access to these things and support to have them in your life. How are you doing?

Check in about these things::

  • How much is your stress level having an effect on your well-being?
  • Are you getting enough sleep?
  • Do you take time for regularly scheduled and healthy meals?
  • Are you drinking enough water?
  • Can you find moments to breathe, journal, or meditate?
  • Is there clear and regular communication with the people around you?
  • Is there time to move your body? Ergonomically wise movements for repetitive jobs, stretching when tight or sore, brief bursts of movement for sedentary workers, exercise.

If one or more of these is lacking, just know that healthy habits take time to form. Try to repeat your healthy action or new activity as many times per day or week as possible. Setting reminders on your phone may help you remember and act on your actions. Telling the people who care about you that you are attempting to incorporate a new healthy habit is a good way to get support and encouragement.

Like Anu said, If you want your farm to thrive into the future, make sure you are tending to yourself along the way.

One way to tend to yourself is to sign up for a farm coaching session. This can include talking about setting a plan for self-care.

Methods of Communication – Part 3

Authored by Coaches Polly Shyka and Abby Sadauckas

It’s helpful for farmers to remember that effective communication is critical to the overall performance and outcomes on the farm…That is even more true when farm activities are the most hectic. There’s always something to do on the farm, and it’s important to remember communication practices always affect the farm’s bottom line.  -Dr. B. Lynn Gordon, South Dakota State University Assistant Professor and Extension Leadership Specialist at the College of Agricultural and Biological Sciences and College of Education and Human Sciences

How has in-person communication changed in the age of this pandemic? How does it feel when you have to talk louder, enunciate more, and consider your body as you communicate with your farm team? How often are you doing some or all of these things while wearing a mask? How has it changed to talk with customers at the farmers’ market?

At our farm, we’ve always joked about having “creative hearing” which is another way to say, “I misheard you!” While physical distancing is important, it can’t be underestimated how important in-person communication is to us. For direct market farmers, ensuring that you’re offering ways to connect and hear from your customers continues to be critical. A quick check-in question such as, “How are you doing this week?” or “Anything special planned for the weekend?” can create a space for connection. The same goes for co-workers, of course. Monday morning seems a natural time to hear stories and news. During more stationary tasks, check-ins with those we work with is always a good bet.

Sign up with a farm coach to reflect on your current methods of communication and find new strategies to adapt to the changing communication needs of your farm.

Methods of Communication – Part 2

Authored by Coaches Polly Shyka and Abby Sadauckas

As mentioned in our previous Small Bite, there are many ways to connect with and hear from the important people in your life and farm business. While the primary modes of communication (text, email, and phone calls) are crucial, it may also be helpful to consider the secondary means of communication. Secondary means of communication include:

  • Calendars
  • Task lists
  • Your website and/or
  • Online store

How you use these to both “set the tone” and to convey important information is worth considering.

On our farm, a weekly calendar guides our decision-making and helps us clarify who is doing what. It helps our employees understand who they will be working with on which days and what’s happening on the farm on days they are not there.

A weekly task list is kept on our (the farmers’) phone helps deepen this understanding as prep work for a new batch of chicks involves moving older chicks to the field houses, cleaning out the brooder, and washing feeders and waterers.

In the same way, thinking critically about the wording of our website and online store conveys a great deal. “Order by Wednesday Midnight” sets clear expectations of our customers. We can enhance that messaging by adding it to our posts on social media, in our email footer or in our weekly newsletter.

Find ways to communicate with consistency and clarity for the farmers, customers, and anyone engaging with your farm.

Want to talk through how to improve communication with customers or employees? Reach out to the Farm Coaches.

Methods of Communication – Part 1 

Authored by Coaches Abby Sadauckas and Polly Shyka

There are a plethora of ways that you can “hear” from family, staff, and customers. Right now is a great time to consider how, when, and through what channels you want to hear from each of your farm’s different constituent groups. Thinking about methods of communication might help you reinforce or clarify some boundaries. During the current conditions, it is a great time to reset boundaries and expectations to both preserve your sanity and retain organization.

Letting each person or customer group know how and when you receive and reply to messages can provide clarity and ease during the busy season.

Here are some of the channels that you can choose from:

Text Messaging
Pros: It’s quick! Texts are real-time responses with a written record of the decisions made.
Cons: It may be easy to overlook communication if your “channels” of family, staff, and customers mingle in your texts. Short snippets of text may not convey your full meaning or may lead to miscommunication.


Pros – Can be great to document a conversation, particularly with customers. It may be helpful to set-up an “out of office reply” or footer in your email that explains your office hours and/or response time. You can also set-up responses to frequently asked questions in your drafts to use and re-use when answering common inquiries.

Cons – It may take more commitment to designate a “block” of time to read and respond to emails. Some users write emails like text messages. Sentence fragments and other short-hand may lead to a misunderstanding.

Pros – Best used for time-sensitive matters that can hold up decision-making. Also important if you need to hear a person’s tone in a sensitive conversation (with a customer regarding pricing or an issue about a returned product, for example.)

Cons –  It can be hard to dispense with pleasantries and get down to business. Also, there is no written record, like email and texting, so taking notes is important if important decisions are made.

Social Media & Direct Messages (DMs)

Pros – These provide additional access for customers to connect and can offer ways for customers to “see” the farm and for you to share day-to-day activities.

Cons –  Managing social media communication in each platform can be both cumbersome and time-consuming. Consider using a social media management tool to streamline the process or delegating some of the responsibility to others at the farm.

With information flowing in and out of all of these channels, making sure the right people and records get updated is really where it all comes together. How do you record orders that come in via text or social media? What are the systems that support all of this communication? Capture the information into a good system that is easily accessed by your whole team. Stay tuned for the next Small Bites to read more about systems to support communication.

Reach out to the coaches to make a communications plan that incorporates all of the above!


Talking about Stress 

Authored by Coach Polly Shkya

Talking about stress is generally not a favorite subject. Stress can be uncomfortable, annoying, potentially embarrassing, and rarely energizing or creative. It is important to be able to ask your team and partners (and yourself!) about stress and stress patterns. How are people doing? Are there work-related stresses that people are holding? What is happening off the farm or in the larger community that contributes to the stress load of individuals?

How does each person on your team show their stress? Cope with stress? One person might get flustered and forgetful, another might work through lunch 3 days in a row, another might get testy and irritable. You can note how stress shows up in different people who are important to you and your business. You can also just ask: “When you are stressed, what does that look like?” You can ask: “Is there anything you need right now?” That kind of caring, observation, and memory is helpful to you as a leader because it can help you be supportive and help navigate or assist people out of tight spots.

A little bit of stress can be a good thing and can lead to creativity and inspiration; mild stress can be motivating and clarifying, but chronic and heavy stress can be unhealthy and weigh individuals down. When we expand our awareness of stress patterns in the people we care about, our conversations broaden, we become better leaders and collaborators, and our businesses can be stronger.

How are you coping with the stresses on the farm and in your world?

Looking for a place to talk about your own stresses? Send an email to schedule a time to chat with a farm coach.

What will your farm look like this fall? 

Authored by Coach Abby Sadauckas

As the farming season continues, now is a great time to think ahead. It may be useful to take a few minutes and write down your thoughts, concerns, and ideas for the Fall and Winter.

Consider these questions:

  • “How might my markets change this Fall and Winter?” 
  • “How much money do I need to have saved by December 1st?” 
  • “What bills do I want to have paid before the end of the growing season?” 
  • “What information do I need to capture now so that decision making for 2021 will be easier?” 
  • “Who might I collaborate with to sell more products this Winter?” 
  • “How are my wholesale markets weathering this pandemic and economic downturn?”

As you review your answers, what are some things that jump out at you? How might your farm partner, spouse, or members of your management team answer these same questions? Asking some key questions now can enable you to monitor your progress toward them for the rest of the growing season and think about ways to solve problems before they happen.

Schedule a time with a farm coach to talk through your responses to these questions. Having a sounding board may be just what’s needed! 


Authored by Coaches Polly Shyka and Leslie Forstadt

Each farm’s leadership team is different. Leadership doesn’t only mean “I am the boss.” Sometimes it’s a “What do we want this to be?” In the best cases, leadership means guiding, tending, caring for the whole system by seeing the individual parts with clear eyes. Leaders hear and see the people, place, plants, animals, equipment, and work individually in some cases, and collectively in others.

There are many different types of leadership, and many different leaders work to build successful farm teams and strong community connections.

Are you a servant leader? A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. (Read more at

Are you a transformational leader?  Researchers and authors Bass and Riggio explain: “Transformational leaders…are those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. Transformational leaders help followers grow and develop into leaders by responding to individual followers’ needs by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the leader, the group, and the larger organization.” (Read more at

Sometimes we find ourselves default toward a controlling style when in fact we want to include our whole team in decision making. Examine these leanings and learn about other ways if it’s not working for you.

Leadership is a skill set that requires humility and honesty,  growth, and self-reflection. In other words, great leaders are emotionally intelligent. Leadership is a great privilege. And leadership can be learned. Find out more about your style and other types of styles. Examine cultural, historical, and societal aspects to leadership. Are you collaborative? Are you able to lead the way you want to? Have you had good experiences in the past with being led? More on culture and leadership here.

If it’s something you want space to reflect upon, sign up with a farm coach to do some thinking about what kind of leadership is happening where you farm.

Why saying “Thank You” Matters

Authored by Coach Abby Sadauckas

Over the years I’ve learned how to show gratitude in small ways, every day to deepen my relationships with those around me. Saying “thank you” to family members, fellow farmers, or your partner may feel unnecessary, but it provides positive feedback and ensures they know you’re really seeing their contributions. As humans, we thrive on a sense of connection and right now is an excellent time to consider how you’re offering appreciation to those that support you and your farm.

Curious about how to integrate appreciation into your day-to-day? Check out this resource from University of Maine Cooperative Extension for tips and prompts.

Reach out to the coaches to make a gratitude plan.

Who Does What on the Farm?

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

Some farms are led by one person. Some by partners who are also in an intimate relationship. Many farms are led by friends or community members. Some farms are run by family members from different generations and sometimes multiple family units. Leadership and decision making are sometimes collaborative, sometimes top-down, and sometimes completely unclear. Each constellation has its opportunities and most have challenges, too.

Talking about who does what on the farm and how you make decisions can help involve everyone and can create more clarity if there is confusion or lack of clarity. Organizational charting is a way to record and discuss the leadership “chain of command.” If you have an employee manual, putting an organizational chart in there can save a lot of confusion when someone is seeking the right person to ask a question of.

It might read something like this:

At Julietta Farm, we strive for clear communication and efficiency. We offer this basic chart that shows our farm leadership team’s areas of responsibility. Please direct questions and seek further instruction from the person associated with the task you are working on. 




Ordering supplies










Food safety




Atina Diffley of Organic Farming Works has a very helpful resource called “Roles and Responsibilities: Who is Responsible for What.” Want to walk through it with a farm coach? We are happy to have a conversation with the leader(s) of the farm and facilitate a conversation to clarify roles. Reach out to the Farm Coaches to set up a time to chat.


You Actually Like to Wash Eggs? Some Jobs we Love, Some are Slogs

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

Essayist Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” All of us have our preferred activities. One farm partner or team member might love setting up new systems while another takes the greatest joy in organizing. One person might find troubleshooting a broken piece of equipment the most difficult thing while another really can’t stand washing eggs. Fixing fence, website maintenance, irrigation, payroll, sharpening harvest knives…each could go either way, depending on one’s preferences. Getting clear and honest with these preferences can be really fruitful. Like the SWOC analysis (referenced in a previous Small Bite), this can be done on a large sheet of paper together or individually and then shared. Learning about the most preferred jobs and the slogs of your farm partner and members of the farm team can help in the most obvious way: more of the joy jobs, more help through the slogs. If a job is a joy, is there a way for me to do MORE of that job or type of job? If a job is a slog for someone, is there a way to do LESS of that job or type of job? How can the rest of the team help accomplish this task either for or with the person? Of course, we all have to do things we don’t really love doing but if we can admit to these preferences and ask for help or accept help that is offered, a day might just go along in a better way.  If you want to dig deeper, farm coaches can walk you through an exercise or send you a worksheet about roles and responsibilities, which is is a great way to learn more. And here is a great article about resilient leaders.

Reach out to the Farm Coaches at UMaine Extension. No topic is too small.


Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

Meaningful, relaxed, non-business oriented connection in times of stress is so important for long term business and relationship stability. It can feel impossible to prioritize connection with your partner or children when things are so stressful on the farm and in the world. Just plowing through the “To Do” list can seem like the biggest and best stress reliever. And for some people it is, but not for everyone. Some people have higher needs for connection than others and no matter what your role in the farm business and family, look out for and speak up for your and other people’s needs. If you are a decision-maker and leader on the farm, have you asked about people’s needs? Are your family’s and your employee’s needs on par with your own?

Small moments of connection can go a long way toward easing family, relationship or business stress (if you work with your kids or partner). Connection looks different for everyone but usually involves slowing down and paying attention. It doesn’t have to be a ½-hour walk every day. It can be a ½ minute slowed down hug or reaching out to put your arm around your partner’s shoulders while walking to the greenhouse. It can mean making the person at the desk a cup of tea or putting a chocolate bar in the front seat of the delivery van. It can be asking the question “is there anything you need?” Connection takes a bit of effort but mostly it takes thoughtfulness and willingness to do a small thing. Connection makes everyone feel a bit better.

Need ideas for how to connect with your family and farm team? Want to talk to someone if you’re feeling stuck? Reach out to the Farm Coaches at UMaine Extension. No topic is too small. 

Navigating Disaster

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

COVID-19 was described recently by Scott Carlson of Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG) as “similar to being hit by a natural disaster.” Or even “an earthquake and then a tsunami.” COVID-19 will take many lives. The news of the day becomes another event to add to the stresses. All of us will be affected personally in one or a multitude of ways and in ways that may not wreck crops or equipment but it may affect markets, community relationships, processing, and distribution chains. Most disasters mean a long recovery period for farmers – not 2 months but disaster experts say that it is more like 2 years. So we are in this for the long haul. FLAG just published this excellent guide for farmers to use when navigating the various agencies and programs offering COVID-19 assistance. Stay well out there and look out for the wellness of those around you.

Farm coaches can meet with you to talk about all the decisions and changes happening on your farm – learn more about farm coaching.

What’s a SWOC and how can it help?

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

A SWOC or SWOT analysis can be a great way to look at Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Challenges (or Threats) for your farm business. To start, divide a sheet of paper into four. In each square write at the top one of the four components. If you work in a partnership or couple, try doing this individually first. Set a timer for 10 minutes and sit with your pen and paper or laptop without any other distractions. It may help to consider your farm’s land base, markets, labor needs, community, and family as you work through each of the four areas.

After you complete your ten-minute brainstorm- review your results and consider the following-
1. Of the strengths you listed- how are you using them on the farm now? What advantages do they give you and your farm? How would you like to be using these strengths (or maximizing) them in 3 months, 6 months, a year?

2. In reviewing the weaknesses you listed- how have you approached these disadvantages? Are there support services that might help? Do you need additional training or education?

3. How many opportunities have you generated? When you review each of these, can you say WHO on the farm would handle them?

4. Challenges can be overwhelming. When you look at the list of challenges you’ve identified can you compare them to past challenges? How did you tackle those? Are there external factors that could create new challenges, what are they?

Doing a SWOC exercise is a way to generate new ideas, perspectives, and share some of what may be on your mind. The format allows you to capture your thoughts and if needed, take more time before discussing them with other members of your farm team. More prompts and perspectives on SWOC analysis here.

Want some help? Meet with a farm coach to go through the process – learn more about farm coaching.


Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

Self-reflection is an often overlooked skill in life. The ability to reflect on our own strengths and challenges without judgment is “grown up stuff” and can really lead to positive changes. Self-reflection is simply the time and space to ask ourselves a few questions and listen to and possibly record the answers. A journal is one way for recording our thoughts. Here are some possible questions for self-reflection:

  • How am I doing today?
  • Am I holding stress in my body? Where is it?
  • What is one thing I did really well this week?
  • What was one thing I would like to improve next week?
  • What is one thing I could do to take better care of myself next week?
  • Which relationships are tough for me?
  • Which relationships really feed me?
  • Who can I lean on if things get really stressful?
  • Are there unexpressed feelings that are adding to my stress?
  • One time in the past when I overcame a big challenge was ______….I used
  • ________(planning, organization, strength, compassion, humility, etc ) to attend to that
  • challenge.

Sometimes sharing the answers to one or more of these questions with your intimate partner can be a nice way to connect. Self-reflection is very intimate and can be a great way to connect heart-to heart with the one you love.

Need ideas? Want to talk to someone if you’re feeling stuck? Reach out to the Farm Coaches at UMaine Extension. No topic is too small. 

I Statements

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

When expressing yourself to others in your workplace or family, using “I-statements” or “I-messages” can help. I-messages are about your own feelings and needs and requests. I-messages are not accusatory and do not carry blame. I-messages carry your own impression and relay clearly how you were impacted by a situation or interaction. I-messages let the people around you know what is going on for you, what you are feeling, what you are in need of, or how an interaction differed from your expectation. I-messages clarify and ask for something different next time.


 “I am feeling so frazzled because I need to finish inputting data into our new webstore. I really could use help with dinner tonight. Would you be able to pitch in around 5 and clean the kitchen and chop some potatoes to help?”

“I felt really frustrated yesterday when the delivery got off so late. The chef at the hospital needs everything before 2 pm, so when things run late, I feel really unsettled. I feel like it reflects on me. Could we do a bit more this afternoon to prep for tomorrow’s harvest so that the delivery can leave here ½ hour before the deadline? That would really ease my stress level on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

“Hey guys, good morning. Thanks to whoever swept up the greenhouse floor last evening. That was really great to walk in on this morning. I did notice that there are still a lot of harvest totes in the van and unwashed ones on the pallets. I gotta say little things like that get under my skin. I wish they didn’t…I am working on it!! I know people forget. Let’s all get back into that 5-minute tidy-up at the end of each day. That would help me and our morning routine a lot. Thanks.”

Need ideas? Want to talk to someone if you’re feeling stuck? Reach out to the Farm Coaches at UMaine Extension. No topic is too small. 

Schedules Can Help

Authored by Coach Polly Shyka

Routines and schedules can ease stress. When there is uncertainty all around, it can be very useful to put a bit more attention to daily and weekly routines on the farm. Brain research tells us that when we have a plan, a schedule, our nervous systems are more at ease. Personally, you can prioritize wellness practices that support your nervous system. For example, working on a project, practicing meditation or yoga, walking, exercising, shooting some hoops, talking with a friend, or therapist. Relationally, you can tune into the people you live with and schedule time to connect. For example, a game night, weekly bike ride, picnic night, fireside night, early morning bird walk, coffee time conversation about how you’re coping. Professionally, prioritizing daily and weekly meetings becomes more critical than ever. Making sure everyone knows the flow of the day at the start of the day can really ease manager strain. Simple things like trying to take a lunch break at a predictable time each day, instituting a paid 15-minute break each morning, picking up donuts on Friday mornings or listening to the same radio program each week while you pack CSA shares. Routines are powerful.

Here’s a sample farm schedule. Want to learn more about farm coaching?

This material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2018-70027-28588

Northeast Extension Risk Management Education logo    USDA logo