ESSEX — It’s spring and Sandy Lewis should be feeling optimistic. On a recent afternoon, the cattle farmer sat on his back porch and admired the view. A wind blew across a rolling field and cooled as it passed through a copse of chestnut trees and eventually took flight over a row of cedars.
Natural air-conditioning, he said. A feat of natural ingenuity.
But despite the factors in his favor — the clay soil that has spared the region from the droughts plaguing similar cattle operations in the west, his farm’s natural drainage system, the pending arrival of the Bryce Powershift HD180, a state-of-the-art machine for driving fence posts — he’s feeling rattled over one commodity that has slipped through his grasp.
While the Lewis Family Farm offers what they say is the region’s best beef — USDA-certified grass-fed, no bull — the 1,200-acre farm lacks sustainable manpower, a growing concern as first cut looms on the hay-scented horizon.
Lewis said he has placed advertisements across the country for a farm manager, in free papers and in monthly trades like the Stockman Grass Farmer and Graze.
Combined, those reach 17 million people each week.
The requirements were simple.
Six letters of recommendation, three each from personal and professional references, a CV and a personal essay.
“When considering a candidate from, say, Texas or Florida, we need to know about them,” he said. “We just want candidates who are conscious, centered and want to work regardless of their background.”
The response was incredible, said Lewis. But few responded as they asked.
“We failed to attract a single candidate with a winner’s profile,” he said.
Applicants were applying for the wrong reasons. Some appeared to be looking for a warm place to bed down for a spell. High turnover isn’t good for business, said Lewis — especially in a field that requires intensive training.