What Farmers Can Teach Us About Relationships

Jan 30, 2018

Long hours at the office can put a real stress on any relationship, especially marriage. But how does the relationship dynamic change when a couple puts in long hours in the same job - or in the case of contributor Dave Kozlowski and and his wife Sandy Raduenz - the same field?

Kozlowski and Raduenz own and operate the organic produce farm Pinehold Gardens in Oak Creek. Neither of them were born into farming, but instead decided to pursue the physically demanding and rewarding profession together in their 40s.

On a farm, there's a strong willingness to work together, he says. "I think that creates a team effort in the marriage and that helps (it) succeed. Despite all the stress, the weather, low markets, despite the fact you're not making money - I think farm couples in general have a lot to tell people about in terms of healthy relationships."

Farmers actually have among the lowest divorce rates as a group, compared to other professions. "My experience is that divorce happens so rarely that it's actually shocking when it happens," Kozlowski says.

"I don't know too many farmers that are making oodles of money, and there's also not a lot of prestige in the job. So we go into it out of love of the work, out of willingness to put up with long hours and little pay, to be our own boss. We tend to like that, so we're happier in our work."

Couples who are happy in their work also tend to be happier in their relationship. "If there isn't that love of the position, or love of the profession between both people in the partnership, there can be problems along the way," he says.

One period in farming that did see a rise in divorce rates was the farm crisis of the 1980s. Farmers were encouraged to farm "fence row to fence row" with record production. However, farmers went into a lot of debt buying extra equipment and land. Massive debt along with high fuel prices and low commodity prices lead to a lot of farm foreclosures, auctions, and bankruptcies, Kozlowski explains. 

"Try as they might, they couldn't pull themselves out of it," he says. "When you're the generation that has to sell the farm and give it up, that's an extraordinarily mortal blow to your psyche. And I think that's why we saw the divorce rates go up, even though the couples may have shared in the risk and love of the operation, some people just couldn't handle it."

Kozlowski notes that suicide rates among farmers continues to be a problem, particularly internationally - on small farms under enormous pressure to produce.

He adds that he's noticed more optimism in the produce business, compared to commodity farmers such as dairy, corn, or soybeans. "In our business there seems to be a lot more interest in our work and maybe it's because of the direct connection with the communities that you're working with. Whereas, if you're a commodity farmer, you're working with the Chicago Board of Trade, your not working with your neighbors and other people in the community."

For Kozlowski and Raduenz, the community support and interactions with their customers is what fuels them and holds them accountable, personally and professionally. "You want to represent yourself as openly and honestly to your community as possible. And that suggests that you're not hiding anything and that suggests you're running a first-rate operation," he says. "We certainly want to also include everybody."

At the end of the long work day, Kozlowski says that despite the challenges, he never regrets buying a farm with his wife. "I could have the greatest market and restaurant sales in a week, but the thing that really motivates me is when a family comes and a child asks for our carrots, and right in front of me eats it," he says with a smile.

Even if you don't own a farm with your partner or spouse, or even work together at the same office or career field, Kozlowski shares his relationship advice:

"Forgive and patience. It's amazing how much you learn (about each other) as a couple the longer you stay married, and how important it is to know that."