Farmsitter program helps farmers take a break

Farming is a great and rewarding lifestyle, sometimes the hours are long and the breaks are short. In most industries there is someone who is trained to take your place if you need a vacation or if you are sick.

Frank Campbell the president of AgriConnect has come up with a new business to help farmers who need to take a vacation or who just need a break.

Frank Campbell the president of AgriConnect has come up with a new business to help farmers who need to take a vacation or who just need a break.

Farming is a great and rewarding lifestyle, sometimes the hours are long and the breaks are short. In most industries there is someone who is trained to take your place if you need a vacation or if you are sick. However, farmers, for the most part, don’t have that resource available to them.

With AgriConnect Corp. they are able to link up with different members of the agriculture community and find people who are willing to help and become farmsitters.

The idea came from Frank Campbell, the president of AgriConnect, who had worked in the natural gas industry for 32 years and was in constant contact with farmers and rural issues. He says that the farmsitters idea really hit him while he was camping with a friend a few years ago.

“He was driving 100 kms each morning to do chores. He did this three mornings in a row and I was giving him the gears saying isn’t there someone who you could ask for help and he said that he saves his neighbours favours for when he goes longer distances,” said Campbell.

The wheels started turning as he thought that any other industry you could go get help but not farmers. He did some research, contacted his local MLA, formed the company with a diverse board and received a grant from the Ag and Food Council of Alberta innovative in Agri business management Fund and Alberta Agri and Food Fund.

The program is very simple: those looking to help or those in need of help either sign up via fax or on their website.

“We go through our database of currently 70 farmsitters and we go through to see if we can find a match, which, is in close proximately and meets the need, we give the owner the requested help. They are hiring them we are not an employment industry almost like a dating service we will find a date for you but it is up to you to get along.”

The service is free to sign up on and the wage is worked out between the farmer and the person who is hired to help.

He thinks that in the current economic situation more farms are becoming corporate and small towns are losing other industry as well. He said that the 2006 census reported that there are 130,000 farms registered in the western provinces. He says that if only one per cent use the service that is 1,300 family farms that they have given an alternative to go on a vacation and save the farm from becoming corporate.

Art Humting, who owns a cow calf operation with 40 cows just south of Ponoka, has registered with the farmsitter program. He has owned his farm for the last 20 years and found the program as he was looking online for cattle prices one day.

“I think it’s a good program, there are a lot of people who stick to their own and there are a lot of older farmers and they can’t get away because no one can help. It is to help other people out,” said Humting. “I think it will be a beneficial program, if I ever needed someone to help me out I could call the farmsitter group and they could help me. I have someone around that could help but he is older and can’t expect him to keep doing.”

As they launch the program they are finding a lot of retired farmers are interested in helping out.

“It is not an employment thing it has many ties to help the rural community. It is an opportunity for seniors who are retired who are still getting up early wanting to work, there are a whole wave of people who have skills, it’s a whole untapped resource,” said Campbell.

He notes that the program, which was launched in the summer of 2007, is used in many different ways. There was one family who had a 600 head cattle operation and had a medical emergency to attend to. The farmsitters network was able to find a retired couple to help out. In another situation there was an elderly woman whose husband had died several years ago, she had one horse, three sheep and a dog. She was able to find someone who drove by her house everyday who was able to stop in and check on her.

The Alberta wide service is free and plans to go nation wide by the end of 2009. AgriConnect is a link to help farmers at www.agriconnect.com for more information.