So last spring we were asked by Tracy Horsman, the Project Coordinator, if we would like to participate in the “Community Roots” program where the Valley Community Learning Association, in association with NS Works and the NS Dept of Community Services would provide funding to employ fellow community members. This would require us to learn lots of new things that often seem scarier in our minds then they actually were. We write this blog post to share our experience in hopes to inspire other small farms that may be contemplating hiring employees through this program. Below are the steps we went through...
The very first thing we had to do was apply for Workers’ Compensation for the number of employees we planned to have. We simply filled out an online form that took all of 5 minutes and then received a letter by mail a couple weeks later with our rate and WCB number. The cost of the WCB was very affordable and paid in conjunction with your wage deductions you made every month.
Next thing was setting up payroll, something we have never done before. At first we thought we could do it all ourselves, like most things on the farm, but soon realized it was causing way more stress than we needed. We decided to call the bank and ask to be set up with payroll and they put us in contact with ADP. We spent about an hour on the phone with ADP setting up our payroll for our two employees. After that we just log on to our ADP account every two weeks and enter the hours worked by our employees. ADP not only paid our employees through direct deposit but also took care of all the CRA & WCB deductions that needed to be paid. We also have access to all the required documents needed for our employees and our accountant through ADP. The cost is around $45/month and you pay ONLY the months that you used it! ADP also offered additional help by phone for the first 30 days if needed but honestly the system was super intuitive so we just had that one call and were good to go.
Now we were all ready to get some employees! At first we wanted to start with just one full time person but Tracy convinced us to get a second employee which was a GREAT decision. Having two employees allowed us to match up strengths and weaknesses in each of our employees to ensure a better outcome for all involved. Something we had never considered before! We are now set on a 2 person minimum and would possibly go to 4 depending on how our farm grows.
The first week the employees came to the farm with a Job Coach (Zak), which was super helpful as we made this transition. Zak essentially gave us breathing room to keep running the farm while integrating/training new employees.. Not only was he a layer of support for us but also for the employees. Let’s be real, farming doesn’t come easy! We feel that Zak’s position was crucially important to helping all of us thrive and was a key piece to this program that allowed us to keep going.
It wasn’t all easy and we expected that, after all this was our first true go at hiring people to work on the farm. There were lots of lessons to learn. I often feel your first attempt at something is just to spot out all your weak points and then work from there. The first mistake we made was trying too hard to make everyone feel comfortable. While this is important, it shouldn’t come at an expense. We often want something to work out so badly that we will turn a blind eye to something small and that is the thing that will show up again but as a bigger problem. Address the small things right away! If correcting that small thing ends things then it just wasn’t meant to be, move on. Everything that is being said about having employees should certainly apply to life in general. If your choice is not to have employees because of those problems listed above, I can assure you those problems already exist in other aspects of your life and by having employees you can improve these skills and possibly improve your life. I know this is a big leap but I feel it is so important to point out.
With all of that said we look forward to employing more people this year. Having employees last season showed us how much better we could do! We increased production with the same amount of space despite the dry year we had. Our farm was more organized allowing for production to follow more easily. Project times were done 4X faster allowing us to complete more tasks in a day, which kept us on or ahead of schedule. We were able to harvest SO MUCH more crops in a day. I mean the list could go on. To put it simply this was the best we ever farmed.
Now for my number people out there wondering how much did this all end up costing us! It cost us $1049.31 for 483 hours of labor, meaning we paid $2.17/hour out of our own pocket, the rest was paid by funding. This was with hourly wages at $15 & $16. We would pay the 2 weeks worth of wages out of pocket, submit the pay stubs via email and be reimbursed the majority in 2-4 days directly into our bank account and the rest by cheque within the week. We were always fully reimbursed before the next pay period making the cash flow really easy to manage. Often with funding programs you are putting all your own money upfront and being reimbursed the following year which works if you have more cash flow to begin with but not so much if you don’t.
We have participated in a couple funding programs most of which left us running in the other direction and while this program isn’t perfect (is anything perfect it’s first go around?) we would love to continue with this program. We see so much potential in this program, not just for us but for the community too. This program is more layered and requires many levels of cooperation which doesn’t appeal to people on a governmental level but to be honest all our problems are intertwined and working in conjunction is the best way forward. We believe this is the program of the future and that is what we like about it!
There is one last thing I want to squeeze in here. Tracy you are amazing! You have so much heart for what you do. You want to be better and raise people up at the same time < this is a rare quality and we want to say we appreciate all that you have done and continue to do! :)
Olde Furrow Farmers!!