Family Farms and Family Values

When I meet with a farm or ranch client they often speak of the stewardship they feel concerning the farm business.  The stewardship is not just about the land, but also what that farm or ranch represents.  The business is a connector between the generations past, present, and future.  In so many ways, it defines the families shared heritage as well it's aspirations for the future.Stewardship is defined by Webster's Dictionary as "the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care."   This is an excellent description of how these farmers and ranchers seem to feel.  They are caretakers, entrusted to shepherd this legacy until it is turned carefully and responsibly over to the next generation.  In every family business there will be children who are active in the business and children who are not. With this comes the worry that family harmony will be disrupted by disputes.   We often talk to our clients about legal strategies that are meant to minimize the likelihood of contention.  Today I want to suggest the use of a non-legal strategy, the development of a family mission statement or family covenant document.I recently finished reading a book by S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A.  In the book he describes a gift he received from his children as they were moving into leadership roles in the business.  The gift was a written covenant wherein they pledged to be true to their Christian faith, to honor the Company's heritage and to manage the Company consistent with its espoused principles. The final paragraph of the covenant read:“We covenant to work cooperatively with each other.  In the spirit of humility and dependence on one another and to ensure consistence and unity, we will seek the advice of each other in making major decisions.  We will pray for each other and trust God to give us the strength of character to fulfill our stewardship responsibilities.”Clearly the Cathy children get it.  They understand that no amount of financial success can make up for dissension in the family.  The Cathy family continues to rely on this written covenant in guiding the operation of the business and the family relationships attached to it.  What are the values that guide your family in the operation of the farm? How does the family view the decision making process?  Is it collaborative or authoritarian?  Is success approached as a win or lose proposition or a does the family look for win-win solutions?  Hold a family council to consider the answer to these and other questions.  Write these covenants down.  Firmly establish family unity as a legitimate aim of the family farm.