Scaling up without selling your soul – part 4


We do everything possible to not have employees. I don’t mean we’re against help, or against teams. But I’m a fan of bonuses and commissions. I don’t even believe in child allowances—nobody should get paid for breathing.

Most farms going through a growth phase similar to ours would simply hire minimum wage workers. But we have attempted, and for the most part succeeded, in building in a commission-based package for every position. When our daughter-in-law took over restaurant sales, we put her on a commission. Our delivery driver receives a commission per pound delivered, above a guaranteed floor. Both of those positions, therefore, receive a reward for watching for new customers and taking care of existing ones.

We use independent growers who are on a per piece pay scale. That way they can work hard and or more conscientiously, and earn more. When we hired an apprentice manager, he also took on the tour guide role and we share 50/50 in that income. Yes, he gets a floor salary, but also enjoys building an independent business within this framework. The income earning potential is open ended.

Can you imagine what would happen in America’s public schools if graduates who had been out for, say, ten years, could rate their teachers and the top ten percent received a $50,000 bonus check? And the bottom ten percentile were fired?

I suggest that rather than spend a bunch of money on trendy advertising and catchy PR firms, why not redesign job descriptions to create such an enthusiastic workforce that we wouldn’t need to hire ad agencies or PR firms? We live in a culture that loves minimalism and just-get-by-ism. I think too often we create that spirit by being too timid to innovate our compensation packages so that eager beavers get more than a pat on the back. I have no wage or salary aspirations, and keep my remuneration just a few percentage points above the heavy lifters in our business. What would I do with all that money, anyway? I’d rather go the grave a pauper but loved by my people, than go wealthy and unloved. Perhaps if more CEOs were less materialistic, their workforce would also show more noble values.

To be continued…

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About Sheri Salatin

Sheri is married to Daniel Salatin. She is the marketing director at Polyface Farm and stay-at-home mom of three children. Sheri is passionate about clean food and is enjoying working the land along side her husband. When not farming, Sheri can be found reading, writing, sewing, baking and serving in her church family.

7 Responses to Scaling up without selling your soul – part 4

  1. This is good stuff. We are experiencing a bit of growth right now, and have needed an extra hand for several weeks to ease the growth pains and allow more family time for our growing brood. there is a young man who has been helping us with butcher days all season and has been eager to come to the farm to help whenever he can.

    The decision we faced was to either stay where we were in production (sold out every week with 9 pens on pasture), or grow into the three extra pens laying around, provide a few more birds to Oregon’s Southern Willamette Valley, and allow this young man a larger opportunity to learn, and experience what we are working to realize.

    We did invite him in and decided to compensate him with a small percentage of our chicken sales. It isn’t much money, but the value is huge for he and our family both!

    He get a few dollars in his pocket and an experience that will allow him to make the decision to do something similar someday. We get more family time (I work another full time job at this point), we get to feed a few more families, we get to see more pasture (historically monopolized by grass seed farmers) respond in beautiful and healthy ways, and we get a few more dollars for diversifying our operation.

    It is beautiful. We agree with your post here. Hopefully more people will recognize this as a healthy way to grow.

    • James L Tyree II says:

      What is the name of your operation? I live in Portland and know of Afton Field Farms in Corvallis. What’s yours?

  2. @James, It is great to hear you know about Tyler and Alecia’s operation at Afton Field Farm. They are friends of ours, and have been a great resource as we have started up Our Family Farm (thats us:) near Eugene. Thanks for asking, and thanks for being aware of people working hard to raise good food in Oregon!

  3. I like your business model and more importantly your ethics. I did not know that you even existed. Great job!!!

    Mike C We are a family business succession planning firm that honors the family owned and owner managed business.
    Mike C

  4. Jamie Dzieszkowski says:

    What a wonderful way to reward your employees, happy help builds a healthy business. So many employers today run their operations on a “you can be replaced” basis and merely have little value for the workforce. With this concept your employees are rewarded by doing a fantastic job which in turn makes happy customers. We are working on putting your ideas to work on our small homestead here in Michigan. The idea of becoming self sufficient is appealing to our family. Teaching our children how to rely on their own abilities is very important in today’s scary world. Being proactive is also important, there may come a time when all we can rely on is ourselves. If the world lacks farming know how…the world starves. Your site is an inspiration and I hope to have a chance to visit Polyface this summer for a tour. Thank you for sharing your amazing ideas Joel! I have your books on order at the local library.

  5. Shawn Saker says:

    I’m in Texas now, but I’ll look you up in Eugene next July. I know of Afton, as I ‘m from Oregon originally. I was raised in Eugene and am excited to see more healthy business models there.

  6. Tony A Laycock says:

    I first of all want to tell ya’ll that your farm in an encouragement to me. I’m trying to start my own pastured pig operation to help other farmers with feeder pigs and for to sell healthier meat. I love seeing animals have freedom. If you have anything for me then I would love any advice from the best in my mind.