Schoepp: Farming with ‘intentional design’

How we as producers live our lives and treat our employees is our art on display.

There are many ways to describe intentional design — from the theory of creation to a management style. When I think about the term, I am drawn to compare it to reactive design and how they differ in result from an industry and labour perspective.

This is not a critical singling out of any industry — we can apply the discussion to business and to our lives. Living with intention involves the weaving and promoting of the complimentary existence of all aspects of our being and our business towards an end. It is a promise to itself driven by core values and evaluated on the prosperity at every level of the design. It is not sustainability which is founded on no injury, nor is it prosperity alone without the consideration of the design itself.

Reactive design is to quickly create a solution that is not considerate of the whole nor of the long term. We often live our lives this way thinking that a business plan is plan enough. And when the real world hits and the plan goes sideways, we react and cheap out or implement something that may have unfavourable consequences, unintentional as they are.

When I consider our agricultural world today it stirs a curiosity in me on turning points when mankind left his interwoven planting and harvesting of food and lost contact with it. In the evolution of agriculture I also wonder at what point we became the lowest class of people in the system even though food and clean water are the foundation of all civilization. And why do we as a society of farmers sometimes treat our people, our employees, without consideration as how they work within our system to the greatest good and the most honourable task on earth?

Urbanization is sweeping the globe and I have seen it rob farms of a valuable workforce the world over. In Canada we are facing a critical shortage of workers to the point where it is estimated 74,000 jobs will need to be filled in the next seven years. Is that a problem or an opportunity to intentionally design our farms and our future?

Job postings for farm managers who must work inside and out and be responsible for the rest of the team in the multimillion-dollar business, such as a large dairy, for $18 an hour are not going to attract a lot of attention from an urban or rural resident. Men and women leave the farm for better wages, a lower cost of living, the creation of their legacy and for a better life. Or is this being disproved? Are they leaving because we hire and fire with the seasons, struggle with providing benefits that are critical to young families and lack the framework of a culture that is reflective of core values and beliefs?

I recall standing on a hill and admiring a most beautiful fully integrated and intergenerational farm and listening to the father say that we must create a place of nurturing for young people to come back to the farm. I realized that he wanted his daughters to come home and in the design that was nearly right, one fundamental piece was missing and that was an environment that his daughters could embrace.

From other farms and businesses, feedlots and ranches, I hear tales of missed or misunderstood loved ones because there was a single focus of one or two goals and solutions were often reactive in nature. This differs from a design that includes the needs, wants and desires of all the family, the workforce, the client and the businesses and trades in between.

Think of beautiful art. The artist does not leave out supporting strokes. She does not fail to attach the ear to the head or the flower to the stem. Nor does she fail to protect the portrait and most importantly she paints on canvas, not paper. Reactive design is scribble done in haste to get the message across. Like lovers who must change the meeting place, it can be misinterpreted. More importantly — it is rarely on display. How we live our lives and treat our employees is our art on display.

Collectively it may be time to consider the importance of what we do and what food means to the world and then to ensure our young future employees, both urban and rural, have the training and skills. Going back to the dairy example, managing a dairy is a fine art and should be treated as one with the appropriate skills taught at centres of excellence. That has a value and the team members should be compensated as such. Offering coffee shop wages to a person managing a multi-million-dollar enterprise is an insult. As owners and managers we have an obligation to ensure we design a work culture that is inclusive, mitigates risk, supports all of the team, is beneficial and includes continuous training and advancement. We are accountable to create a culture for the cultivation of character, skills and performance.

Until we stop looking down on labour in a reactive way there will be no ready solution for our farms and businesses. A friend once said that any level of loyalty can be bought and most certainly that may at one time have been true — but there is no staying power in money without culture. Respectful wages for the calibre of work is part of the solution but the whole of the answer is in intentional design for our farms and our future. c

Brenda Schoepp is an inspiring speaker, consultant and mentor who works with young entrepreneurs across Canada and around the world. She can be contacted through her website All rights reserved. Brenda Schoepp 2015

About the author


Contact Brenda through her website: All Rights Reserved. Brenda Schoepp 2018

Brenda Schoepp's recent articles



Stories from our other publications