The View From Inside
Written by: Paul Wipf on Thursday, April 26th, 2012
Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (Psalm 133). On Hutterite colonies the overarching aim, beyond earning an honest living, is to create an atmosphere that is conducive to a Christian life as King David mentioned above.
There are approximately 31,000 Hutterites in Canada, living on 340 colonies. Each colony has approximately 18 families working together to farm an average of 8,800 acres, or about 490 acres per family. A five hundred acre family farm would not be sustainable with today’s high start-up and input costs. On a colony, families pool their resources, and since there are more than enough operators, equipment costs are minimized by sharing fewer pieces of machinery.
With that many families on those few acres, Hutterites have the ability to be self-sustainable in many areas. We are able to raise and process our own beef, pork, poultry, and dairy. On-farm carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics and welders take care of building and repair needs. The ladies can be full-time moms and concentrate on homemaking, housekeeping, cooking, canning, and so on.
The basic Hutterite business model is mixed farming consisting of dairy, beef, poultry, hogs and agricultural land. But we have to take into consideration that some colonies are situated in areas that may be better suited for either crop farming or ranching, or they may be closer to certain markets such as hog-slaughtering plants, oilfields, manufacturing or other opportunities. There is emphasis on marketing and promoting our production as fresh and good quality and adding value rather than shipping the raw products. For example, some colonies are now selling processed meat instead of live beef.
Hutterite colonies have different levels of decision making, but virtually no decision is made alone. There are the elders, who consist of the minister, financial manager, field manager and one or two advisers, and the members who consist of all baptized males.
The elders have a brief meeting every workday morning to discuss things like the day’s plans and activities. Subjects are first brought up at these everyday meetings. For instance, while the manager decides what to plant and what levels of input to use, his decisions are made with input from these meetings.
Equipment purchasing is also discussed and prices from various dealers are gathered by the financial manager. Major decisions such as equipment upgrades and purchasing are then made at a general meeting with all members attending and providing input, preferences, and the pros and cons.
The key to marketing the production of the colony is knowing your cost of production (ie the break-even prices) and then trying to sell into a rising market. Marketing decisions vary from colony to colony depending on financial situations, bin space and cash flow, and production marketing is the financial manager’s decision with input from the elders. The key is not to get too greedy.
Colonies work closely with financial advisers, keep good records and continually monitor their cost of production. The goals which Hutterite colonies set are very simple ones. Our whole objective is to put a roof over our head and food on the table. Like any other family farm, we are consciously aware of our needs and pay attention to planning.
To savour the well-earned fruits of a hard career or endeavour, Hutterites are not get-rich-quick, build-a-mansion, retire, or travel-the-world type of people. No, it’s about leaving the colony’s land and barns in better shape for the next generation, preferably in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way, for we are working with God’s creation (the land, earth) and we respect and honour that. It’s all about caring for our children and children’s children!
The real strength of a Hutterite colony is being interdependent, working together, and the belief that the community is more important than any individual. There is no room for selfishness. One could conclude that the strength comes from leaders who are gifted and can inspire the members, and from members who treat their peers with dignity and respect.
Other strengths or advantages include the willingness to share the workload, which provides the labour force needed for farming. Also important is a willingness to share the vision of profits going towards a common good (such as caring for the elderly, widowed and disabled) while providing a stable, if somewhat sheltered upbringing, for the young and providing for future generations.
Our goal is not necessarily to get rich. It is to sustain a lifestyle that is conductive to a Christian life for us and for our children.
Other than pooling our labour and property we have no big advantage over other farms. We pay taxes and are price takers when we buy and sell commodities just like all other farmers. Non-Hutterite farmers could realize the same benefits by getting together and forming a buying company to purchase multiple pieces of equipment or other farm inputs.
Farming is what Hutterites want to do. However, it is tough adjusting one’s heart and mind to the fact that it may not be possible and or profitable to do so. We understand very well that for the Hutterite community to sustain an agriculture livelihood, there will be challenges and uphill battles, just like for anyone else.
With farming and the challenges that we face, we recognize that more proactive planning will be necessary, such as better knowledge of the cost of production, future marketing, and working with consultants.
A successful Hutterite farm could be described firstly as a place where you would want to raise your family and where children can be children, growing up riding horses, climbing trees, adventuring outside during the summer holidays, but also having the responsibility of certain chores such as helping in the summer garden, yard maintenance like cleaning up or mowing grass, helping with livestock, feeding calves, gathering eggs or many other things young people can do around the farm.
In conclusion, I’d like to say that we too are human and an imperfect people who from time to time make mistakes. We certainly don’t claim to be utopian. Really, we are all the same, just living out the challenge of life in different ways. We labour, worship, relax, chat and have fun living in peace with our loved ones as well as our neighbours.
I would like for my fellow man to know it is these similarities of the human existence that unite us. We are all God’s children.
Hutterites are a mosaic part of the multicultural Canada and we are thankful to call it our Home and Native land, thankful for our freedom of faith and livelihood.
It also helps that Canada is the best country in the entire world.
Paul Wipf, Farm Steward
First printed in Country Guide, November 22, 2011.