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Life on the Farm – “The End of Authoritarian Farmers.”


Life on the Farm – “The End of Authoritarian Farmers.”


For almost 20 years, I have been a dictator. Now, I’d style myself a “Benevolent” Dictator, but authoritarianism was still the rule of the day. Due to the paradox of business growth, the rise of the millennials and the aging of my daughter, my authoritarian days are over. The promise and trouble of the top-down management style handed down from generation to farming generation has met its match in this modern day of agriculture, and I’ll share why.

I came by it honestly. Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about – Dad rules, and he makes the rules, because he is ultimately responsible for the family’s well-being. He puts food on the table. He disciplines. He is the head of the family.

Notions such as this might seem quaint in our ever-opening society, but back in the mid-seventies, when I was growing up, this was the norm. My grandmother and grandparents all were depression era people. This was even more entrenched in their generation and stories of family lore were of heroic family men sacrificing for the farm and family. Those men were revered for it.

I came by this honestly.

The life transition came slowly. I married a strong, beautiful woman, who “wasn’t about to take my last name, thank you very much.” I had to learn to work beside my Dad (old school) without the two of us killing each other in a desperate battle for control.

I learned as our business grew that I needed other people, brilliant people, to help design mazes, cut mazes, organize ordering, proof materials, help at the Fun Park – terrifyingly, I was no longer able to be in complete control of every moving part of the farm and business.

It was at a board meeting of Farmers Inspired, a national organization of farmers who do what we do at Maple Lawn Farms, that I first learned an African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

What a profound statement. We, I, You don’t have to go it alone, running as fast as we can. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. What a joy to have the pressure of being alone, doing it alone lifted off our shoulders. What if we could “do it together”?

Back to the farm. I frankly couldn’t do this alone. Think about it – Dad manages production. Matt manages row crops AND works with me on the wine. Michelle books the groups and organizes the ordering for the farms we help. Janelle does the books and the schedules. Betsy does payroll and farm invoicing. Dee manages the market. Allen helps you in the orchard. Frank fixes everything. Jenny pours wine and leads at the Fun Park. Plus, over 65 part-time staff deliver the fruit and the experiences you know and love on the farm.

Authoritarianism is dead. The days of a “boss” screaming insults at a “worker” are over. Everyone on the farm can go work anywhere else, heck, I’m a terrible manager if my people can’t be employed somewhere else!

Authoritarianism dead and I’ve noticed a few reasons why it’s not coming back.

1. Things are better with more eyes. I know I’m pretty good at making, say a brochure. However, when Audra does the graphic design, Michelle proofs for details and I write the exciting copy – the brochure becomes great.

2. More taste buds. I, now that we’ve done it, can make wine. However, when Matt and I discuss, plan, check and take notes, then run our ideas by our buddy Carl, winemaker at Allegro Vineyards, then have some of the women as additional taste-testers, we make tasty wine AND can replicate it on batch two.

3. Helping hands. I our process, I’m ultimately responsible for every guest experience, but I can’t possibly connect with every guest, every time they visit. We have a system of returning staff helping new staff get up to speed, train while shadowing and supporting each other as new staffers learn the ropes. Its a system of more helping hands, more teachers sharing knowledge.

My daughter just turned 14. She is a wonderful, caring, beautiful kid who is outgrowing her “Daddy” vertically and in maturity. I confess to not being ready to give up my little girl. While she was a child, authoritarian rules were for her education and safety. Now, as the bible says, “children are like arrows in your quiver”, meaning they are meant to be honed, then careful strung, aimed and released to fly true and free into the world. Luckily, I don’t have to let go just yet, but I assure you that my authoritarian days are over.

The myth of American Business and the American Dream. The myth is that a lone American hauls him or herself up by the bootstraps, bold goes alone to achieve great things. That’s just totally false.

The real American Dream is that a brave individual can believe so fervently in a positive vision of the future, that a group of like-minded people will choose willingly to join the cause. Together they will overcome the challenges and plot a course to success.

I no longer wish to be a Benevolent Dictator. I want to be a farmer, a business owner, people want to partner with for mutual benefit. I don’t want to bear the load alone, but share the success with the team as we go.

Maybe it’s my age, but I no longer want to go “fast and alone”, but, instead, I want to go far and go together.

Come meet the farm team, the winery team and the Fun Park team. You are going to be amazed at the quality group of people who’ve come together at our one little farm in Pennsylvania.

See you soon on the farm,

Farmer Hugh