A Catalogue of Conflict, 1 through 9

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life* and you will call it fate.

- C.G. Jung

*alternately: your farm

After a decade in agriculture (spanning my teens and now, into my late 20's), I've witnessed my fair share of working relationships in agriculture gone awry. It's a common and painful pattern: seemingly likeminded folks with vague professions of pro-social values find themselves heartbroken and at odds after a few months or years of working together. 

I believe our social dynamics and ways of working together within agriculture is the biggest bottleneck to a future of farming that is truly regenerative. We need to develop vocabulary around the problems that emerge; we need to empower ourselves and all others within agriculture to name these interpersonal patterns and begin the work of mending the divide. This is my attempt at doing this. Below are phenomenons one thru nine; many more are in draft form and will be published at a later date.

1.    Lack of honesty about individual motivations for involvement.

Example: Sometimes folks think they want to be an investor, but really they want to drive tractors. Sometimes folks think they want to drive tractors, but they actually are more interested in high-level decision making but little on-the-ground involvement.

Simply encouraging all involved to re-examine their motivations is sometimes sufficient to get on the same page. “Why are you here, and when you do not censor yourself, what do you see as your roll? Literally, what do you visualize?” Sometimes the picture we paint in our heads for fleeting moments is closest to our truest desires. Prompting and inviting those visions is a first step towards articulating it. 

2.    Lack of clarity about project's goals.

Example: When each party is asked what the purpose of the project is, they will give a different response. One person might say “ecological restoration,” and another might say “demonstration site.”

Those involved can have different motivations and appetites. But the goal of the shared project must be clearly articulated, written down, and brought up frequently as a north star.

3.    Unclear delineation of roles.

Example: Learning about the features and drawbacks of a given property appears to be in the wheelhouse of one person, but it is never clearly assigned. They appear to be “on it,” when in fact they are only acting out of surplus time and interest; the due diligence required (well reports, county permitting, access roads, easements, septic systems, etc) is never fully performed, yet there is the appearance of it being handled.

Creating a living document even at the early stages that articulates categorical roles and stages of completion avoids this. Before this can be done, it’s important to assess the appetites and desired involvement of all parties (see #1), as well as their scope of involvement.

4.    Lack of affirmation and recognition

Example: Someone performs a role that is unassigned and unrequested but nonetheless essential. They were the only one qualified to recognize that this role was necessary, thus no one is able to acknowledge them for it, and they themselves do not tell others of its value.

Example 2: Someone who seems overly confident does something easily recognizable as valuable, such as voluntarily giving a talk that conveys the purpose of the project to key members of the public. But their overconfidence leaves others disinclined to offer them praise or affirmation; support is withheld, often unconsciously, as a leveling device.

Many personalities are disinclined to share the ways in which they have helped. Some are overly inclined to do share. Instituting a period of regular meetings where everyone is expected to share ways they have contributed that weren’t action items from the past meeting can help in bringing this to light.

5.    The feeling of being owed... without that feeling being communicated

Example: Acting out of surplus or generosity, somebody performs a task that should be done by someone else but is neglected, and this is never communicated to the person whose responsibility it is to do the task. A precedent is set, and resentment grows. Eventually, the party who does the task feels that the other owes them a debt, and they begin to take liberties with aspects of the project in order to reconcile that debt. Implicit and unconscious sabotaging of the project begins, as the individual begins to identify more with their own brand than that of the project.

Budgeting times in meetings for sharing oversights and recognizing the party that handled a situation on behalf of someone else both allows due recognition to be given and communicates the problem before it can a become a pattern.

6.    Lack of accounting for the actual time invested.

Example: Someone says at the outset that they can only work on a project part time. Their actual involvement proves to be slightly more – about 30 hours a week. This is never accounted for.

Whether it’s in initial projections of individuals’ availability, or tracking the actual time invested, a deeply honest reckoning of time invested is essential for honest accounting, good tidings, and efficient work.

7.    Lack of involvement of experienced managers.

Example: Someone with good ideas and a modicum of exposure to agricultural production are put in a role that is beyond their expertise, and they end up costing more in inefficiency, mistakes, or real damages and injury than seasoned operators and managers.

Given the low value our society places on food and ecological health, a manager with six times the experience of a novice may only cost 30% more. Further, operators and managers are the worst place to cut corners.

8.    Those with capital micromanage those with knowledge and experience.

Example: A financially unsuccessful but operationally brilliant manager is hired to develop agroforestry production. His lack of financial success is assumed to correlate with limited knowledge. After hiring, he’s treated as an employee rather than a partner or teammate, and tasks are handed down to him but there is no conduit for him to educate those who pay him on their priorities.

Practitioners of a trade are historically have a tenuous relationship with their patrons, and some of this comes from the reality that some of their time will require “grunt work” easily mistaken for unskilled labor, which colors the remaining hours invested in high-level planning. Setting a precedent of mutual respect and articulating areas of deference early on helps to mitigate this tendency.

9.    Over-involvement of those with time and enthusiasm and under-involvement of those with expertise. 

I’ve seen this many times, and it’s a conundrum. The most sustained idealists in agriculture are those not currently practicing it. It’s good for people who have a surplus of time and enthusiasm to give of themselves; however, louder personalities can create momentum around their own ideas at the cost of the softer but more seasoned voices. But these people make great PR reps, cheerleaders, and networkers—jobs that those in the field often have little time or energy for. Create ways for amateur enthusiasm to satisfy itself and lend energy to a project, without it getting in the way of what is actually tenable.