My family owns and operates an organic farm, and as you can imagine, winters are brutal. Waterlines freeze, air temperatures and moisture fluctuates, and livestock animals are more vulnerable.
Local friends in the farming community often share tips to keep business moving, but information can only go so far. Sometimes, we just need extra help. Fortunately, many area families are on the lookout for ways to support the region’s sustainable food movement. The best part is that their kids love when they volunteer at a farm!
How to Get Involved at a Farm This Winter
To encourage your local farming families with your tangible support, resolve to volunteer at a farm in your area this winter. Here are 11 different ways—some classic, others super creative—you and your family can help a nearby operation when the temps take a nose dive:
Get Your Hands Dirty
- Open barn doors and gates. Mud freezes overnight, so in the morning, gates tend to stick in place—keeping animals in (or out) of pens and barns. It takes extra muscle, sometimes even chipping and pounding at the ground, to restore regular gates to their operational status. This may seem like a small task, but it can be a big help to busy farmers.
- ‘Mooooove’ the animals around. Practice your cattle call, and help round up animals to transfer indoors. Or, volunteer to help move the smaller, more manageable livestock into warmer winter dwellings.
- Warm the stalls. Cold animals are never hungry, so your local farmer’s early morning priority won’t be feeding them. Instead, they’ll need to be warmed up after a chilly night. The farmer may have you help by adjusting heaters, opening and closing doors or windows, and even holding baby animals. For kids, this is the most fun. For parents, this part is likely the most social media friendly, so have your camera handy!
Prepare for Water Work
- Thaw waterlines. Overnight, lines freeze (just like they could in your home), depriving thirsty animals until help arrives. Thawing these lines out can ensure all livestock get the water they need and stay hydrated.
- Keep water flowing. Once in motion, water won’t usually refreeze, so it’s important to keep the liquid flowing. Farmers usually have multiple ways to do this—but not enough manpower to execute. Jump in here and help out to make a difference.
Help Your Fellow (Farmer) Man
- Give a tour. Few farmers enjoy public speaking, but visitors love to hear interesting tidbits of info. Learn everything you can about the place, and then offer to show others around safely. This keeps folks in designated areas and out of trouble, and lets other families see how theycan help—all without having to engage the business owner repeatedly.
- Install or service floating row covers. Most year-round crop farmers use row covers or hoop houses to squeeze a few degrees of warmth from the atmosphere. At our farm, our hoop houses take a beating from the winter winds, and we appreciate a few extra hands to right them.
- Clean barns and milking parlors. In summer, this is called “mucking stalls,” but in winter, there’s more scraping the floor involved, since manure and caked bedding freezes and sticks. It’s not the most glamorous job, I agree, but this one is often our favorite to have done and out of the way, each day.
- Tidy the farm store. Rotate products to ensure customers can see all items, and ask if those wares nearing their expiration date can be transferred to the “sale” area or be specially labeled. As a consumer, you have a unique perspective for what other customers may like to see. When you visit to volunteer at a farm, you can make these suggestions and assist by offering your view.
- Help with administrative duties. Your local farmer may be delayed with frustrating weather-related issues outside, so your offer to take care of some office administration may be particularly helpful. You may be able to enter receipts, edit photos for the farm’s website, track sales, and even coordinate future (think summer!) philanthropic outreach.
But Don’t Forget the Animals
Finally, you can always look into feeding the animals. (It is one of the original educational winter activities with kids, after all.) Today, some agritourism farms even charge families for the privilege of feeding the animals, since the job is a fun one, so look into opportunities near you. Plus, it’s rewarding—especially for youngsters.
If it weren’t for volunteer hands, many farmers would likely find the wintertime unbearable. In fact, we attribute our farm’s success to our helpers, and know that without them, we wouldn’t get to enjoy all the rest of the year has in store.
How does your family help local farms in winter? Do you have any tips for making the visit a success? Share them along with your stories and photos!
Image source: Bethany Johnson
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.
Why It’s Good
For local, sustainable farmers, winter can be brutal. Crops must be covered, animals need to be specially cared for, and equipment requires extra maintenance. Help to relieve farmers' stress by showing up to volunteer at a farm this winter, and feel good knowing you made a unique difference.