The Importance of Staff Empowerment

The Charis Teaching Farm is under the umbrella of The Charis Project.  The primary mission of this non-profit is to strengthen families and empower individuals to change the world around them, thus combating poverty.  The way the farm approaches this is through staff empowerment, land restorative practices and food production.  The more that I continue in my role as the interim farm manager, the more I see how all those goals intertwine and feed into each other.  A great example of this is how we empower our farm staff.

For the past month, I’d been delayed from coming to the the farm for various reasons. The only communication my farm staff received was from our Charis Director.  He went to the farm mainly to pay their wages, but was also able to offer a few ideas for things the guys could do while I was gone.  With such little input, I didn’t really know what to expect when I got back this past weekend.  Would everything be dead, overgrown, uncared for?  Would they understand the importance of keeping the cover crops and worms going since those are our base resource for the farm?  Organic/Natural farming is new to our staff and very different from chemical farming.

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Tomatoes, cucumber, corn.  All doing well under our staff’s management.

When I stepped on the farm, my anxiety quickly left.  My eyes were greeted by a small plot of long bean which had not been there before I’d left.  In the field next door, I found ripe red tomatoes, cucumbers growing on a lattice work that the guys had put together, and a field full of kale and mustard ready to be harvested.  The farm had thrived under our workers’ guidance.

 

One of my main concerns was for our worms.  Given the language barriers with my limited knowledge of Thai, I wasn’t sure that they understood the importance of keeping the worms well-fed, moist and protected from ants.  When I got to the farm house, under which the worms are housed, I found one of our workers on the worm bin shelves feeding the worms.  The other worker was putting water in the containers that serve as ant-barriers.

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Wenai with a junior farmer collecting buckwheat seed.

One of our workers was anxious to show me the large amount of sunn hemp seed they’d collected from our harvest last month, with much more to hull besides.  They had tomato seed drying and luffa seed already collected.  They even took initiative to bring in some dried wingbean for planting in the future.  I finished my time by joining them in the field to collect the seed from the buckwheat that grew during our short-lived winter/spring here.

 

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Pbaang collecting buckwheat.  Also shown is drying sunn hemp and tomato seed.

Being away from the farm reinforced what I already knew or suspected:

  1. We are blessed with some exceptionally skilled and hard-working farm staff.  They take initiative to keep the farm working and are pursuing it as a self-sustaining model by collecting the seed.
  2. We could not do what we are doing without the indigenous staff on the farm interpreting the vision of the farm into something that works in this climate and culture.  They understand this land and have more dirt knowledge than I could ever get from years of internet or book research.  My ideas may look good on paper, but they know how to realize them.  This mode of employing local staff is becoming recognized as best-practice among NGOs.  Those who have not started moving in this direction are encouraged to revisit their vision for what and why they do what they do.
  3. By following the ideals of The Charis Project, investing in the staff, paying them fair and legal wages, and giving them license to make the farm their own, we have shown them that they have significance.  They are friends, not merely workers, and their work has value, which is healing the land and serving their people.
  4. The respect and care that we show our farm staff directly translates into productivity on our farm. Something I have suspected for a while is that our relationship with the land is dependent on us having healthy relationships with the people around us regardless of their origins or lifestyles.  If we treat each other well and treat the land well, the land will reward us and take care of us in return.
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Luffa being dried for seed among our Jackbean crop.

The Charis Teaching Farm focuses on staff empowerment as a primary way to accomplish our far-reaching goals of strengthening families.  I have learned from this past month how important it is to invest in my farm staff.  I have taken the time to get to know them.  Their hard work is rewarded with more than just monetary compensation.  The Charis leadership respects them enough to ask their opinion.  We have encouraged and allowed them to take initiative and begin their own projects.  The harvest of such investment has been ripe with satisfied and productive laborers who will continue to help guide our farm toward success.

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