Working On and Off the Farm

Farming is a career where the work is never done, unless it’s time to go to your other job. According to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, more than 60 percent of the 2 million primary producers in the U.S. work at least part of the year for another employer in addition to running their own farm.

For some farmers in Western North Carolina, that could mean farming in the evenings and weekends after an office job, farming during the day after working an overnight shift at a hospital, or having a day job as a dietician or teacher where they can contribute their agricultural knowledge to those workplaces.

In addition to growing food and preserving working farmland, farmers are integral parts of the community in other ways. Hayley Creasman is a fixture at weekend farmers markets, known for her big smile and enthusiasm for her family’s apple orchard, Creasman Farms. In addition to farmers markets, she helps grow and harvest 40 varieties of apples, but on weekday mornings you won’t find her at the farm.

“I’m a teacher’s assistant at Henderson County Elementary School,” Haley says. “Sometimes it’s a nice break, but it’s a never ending job on the farm. I’ll go to school and then when I come home, I’ll help Mom and Dad pack apples.”

Some nights after teaching and helping on the farm she also works at a retail clothing store. “So I’m constantly doing something. It keeps me busy and I just enjoy it all,” she says.

Haley’s sister, Colby Buchanan, also works on the family farm, helping out in the orchard and making content for the farm’s social media feeds. She also works as a tax accountant.

“The accounting work coincides with the busy versus slow farm seasons. Farming is definitely a year-round operation, but our slower winter season is when tax season is really busy. So I’m able to utilize the seasonal work with the taxes. I also do some audit work and help some non-profits and also some local small businesses,” says Colby.

They both laugh when I ask if they get many days off. “I feel like we’re always working, doing something,” Colby says.

Farmers often have outside jobs for financial stability or to supplement their income during a slow season. Often one person in a farming partnership has a job off the farm while the other farms full-time. Colby says farmers simply have to be innovative.

“We all have to do a little something else. It’s just like the natural spirit of a farmer to have an interest in something else,” Colby says.

For Melissa Harwin of Highgate Farm, that “something else” was nursing. While she and her farming partner John Kunkle were establishing their produce farm, Melissa worked part-time as a nurse when she wasn’t working on the farm. One of the reasons she continued nursing was to have access to health insurance, but she also enjoyed using her brain and body in different ways depending on what job she was working that day.

“I was working with a team of professionals who worked in health care but who weren’t necessarily nurses. I was a nurse expert and then there’d be an I.T. expert and a clinician expert and a doctor and that was really fun to be working with a team of professionals all bringing our own skill sets and knowledge into a project,” Melissa says.

In 2015, Melissa and John were able to expand their farm and get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, so Melissa stopped working as a nurse. Now Melissa works full-time on the farm growing everything from tomatoes to brussels sprouts.

Sometimes she misses the controlled indoor climate and comfortable chairs of office life, but she appreciates how the knowledge and skills she gained at both jobs overlap.

“My interests are the same in terms of keeping people healthy. Health, nutrition, food—all those things are tied into both careers,” she says.

Find more information about Creasman Farms and Highgate Farm in ASAP’s online Local Food Guide:

Aired March 22, 2021

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