Daughters-in-law must find own niche

Last updated 05:00 20/03/2014
Family: Sheri and Daniel Salatin and their three children out on the family farm in Virginia.

FAMILY: Sheri and Daniel Salatin and their three children out on the family farm in Virginia. Sheri says it is important to just be yourself when trying to find your place in a family farm business.

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Just be yourself. That's the advice from Sheri Salatin for any woman marrying into a family farm business.

By being yourself, it would enable the daughter-in-law to find their place within the business, she said.

"Many multi-generational farm businesses will tell you that getting in-laws is the hardest stress on a family business and the daughter-in-law is the worst of these stresses."

She spoke of her experience of finding her role at Polyface Farms at a recent workshop in Auckland along with her husband Daniel and father-in-law, Joel.

Polyface Farms is based in Virginia in the United States and is headed by Joel Salatin, who Time Magazine called "the world's most innovative farmer."

By marrying Daniel she became in her words: "Family business kryptonite - the daughter-in-law."

Daughters-in-law were entering a business that was already established, whose members had a pre-understanding about how it worked and what the social norms were.

The family often understands what is going on but the daughter-in-law does not. The family often did not realise the daughter-in-law was the outsider, she said.

The daughter-in-law had to find their place or fit on the farm. That meant thinking about what you wanted or liked to do.

"You have to be willing to be part of a team, to go with the flow for a while and see how things operate. You're brilliant ideas aren't going to be appreciated at first."

It takes a different kind of person to become a farmers wife, she said.

"It is a partnership between both spouses. If you're not both on board on the same team, it just doesn't work."

Wife's had to be willing to make small sacrifices and be willing to work alongside their husband because farming was such a lifestyle.

Daughters-in-law had to realise that their personality may clash with other family members. Be as gentle as possible and understanding was needed by both the daughter-in-law and the rest of the family, she said.

"It's about out you being you and them being them. They are not going to change you no more than you are going to change them and it takes a little bit of time to work through that."

Expect it and be willing to forgive, she said.

Backing off if you were stepping on toes was also important. It was important to realise there were some jobs on the farms that you will not do because they were the responsibility of another family member.

Key to finding a place on the farm was to start something no one else on the farm was doing.

That meant examining the business and looking at what was open and where the opportunities were and looking at your own gifts and talents.

Salatin was still looking for her spot two years into her marriage. Then an opening came when a family member in charge of marketing and home delivery left the farm to pursue a career in aviation.

Sheri jumped at the opportunity and established "buyer clubs" among the homes the farm would deliver its good to.

It grew from 30 families to 5000 families, representing 40 per cent of their farm sales.

Sheri also expanded the delivery service to their region's top chefs.

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She also discovered that no one at Polyface was interested in computer work and taught herself how to use computers and developed the farm's website.

"I realised I really enjoyed it and I found myself thriving and they were my niche.

"I wasn't stepping on anyone's toes and I was contributing to the business and I felt part of everything. I found my place.

"I stopped trying to be my mother-in-law or my sister-in-law and became myself."

- Waikato Times

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