Part Three: Farming Family Strife
Shafer: Not everyone would choose to go to work every day alongside their relatives. But running a small farm often means just that. This week in our series on family farming, Robin White looks at how wives and husbands, parents and children and brothers and sisters work together on farms and how the stress of running a farm business sometimes stretches family relationships to the limit.
White: When Ted Bucklin took over running Oak Hill Farm in Sonoma County four years ago he knew nothing about farming. He was studying for a masters in social work when he got a call from his mother asking him to come back to the family farm. Pretty soon he found himself living in a wooden house in Glen Ellen supervising 13 employees on 700 acres growing produce and flowers. (SFX cutting and clipping in flower room mexican music)
Bucklin: If you look around on this wall you can see the herb wreath the bay wreath with marjoram small garlic braids, large garlic braids...
White: The place had been a hobby farm owned by his wealthy stepfather who was now very ill. The farm was losing $60,000 a year. Bucklin was hired by his mother to run the business and set himself the task of making it pay for itself. He increased efficiency and let go of some long time employees. But the rookie manager quickly found out the farm had its own ways of operating. He managed to incite a small strike among the workers and bad feeling in the community around the farm. Eventually his own job was on the block.
Bucklin: mom has been to the point of such dissatisfaction with me that she fired me and I just refused. I said no way and you're a fool for trying to. And since then I've actually convinced her that she was wrong
Teller We have made a lot of mistakes
White Anne Teller is Bucklin's mother...
Teller and some of the mistakes we've made together and some we've made in opposition to one another. You know they're not very large and they're not irrepairable but they are certainly there and I'm sure it's true in any family.. ....blood and money doesn't always mix
White Between them they've managed to turn the farm around and this year expect to make a small profit. It's not uncommon for older farmers to have trouble letting go of the reins. Steve Schwartz is with Farmlink, a Sacramento organization which helps farmers transfer property to the next generation.
Schwartz The best story ... was a dairy farmer and he said " My son I'm really looking forward to him taking over the farm he's a great dairyman he's good with the cows.. but he's just not good with the books so he's really not ready to take over the farm ...so it turns out this farmer is 87 and his son's 65 and the question is what are you waiting for - he's not ready - when's he going to be ready?
White Schwartz says poor communication is the biggest barrier for families.
Schwartz we talked to a guy who literally had a forty five second conversation with his mother fifteen years ago and she said I don't think there's room for you here and he took that to mean I better move off soon and take my family and rent somewhere and do my farming elsewhere and that's not exactly what she meant
White If you talk to enough farmers you find that stories like this are common. The most contentious situations arise when several children inherit one farm. Olivia Boyce Abels runs a mediation business in Santa Cruz and helps farming families iron out potential problems before they arise.
Boyce Abels: You get into some of the families where there are 1600 acres and there ...eight children and two siblings still want to farm six don't and ... there's going to be a fight of some kind and it may be that its not a blatant litigation but it may be that its as sad as poeple not really talking again and not really wanting to have Thanksgiving or Christmas together
White: It sometimes takes families a long time to get over disputes like this. In his rambling ranch house in the vineyards outside of Selma, farmer and author Victor Hansen says he grew up with grudges that went back three generations.
Hansen: I was told that when my great great grandmother died - this must have been about 1877 one of the brothers walked into this very house and hadn't seen her for 30 years and stripped all of the rugs out of the house. And then demanded his land. I have no idea if that's true but my side of the family told me that and I was not to like that side of the family.
White: A few years ago Hanson managed to alienate his own brother by writing a book about their farm. Even though the characters in the book were fictionalized, Hanson says his brother found the book too critical in its descriptions of their neighbors and the men didn't speak for two years. It was only with the passing of time that the brothers began to talk again.
Hansen: I guess we had a lot of commonalities one of them was we had children that worked and got along and liked each other and the other was a realization that 120 years on a farm there's depressions there's war there's people been killed there's stuff like that and they come and go
White: But what stays the same, Hansen says, is the land and the commitment to continue farming it despite all the hardships and disagreements that arise. For the California Report, I'm Robin White.