Rural communities are made up of farm and non farm families living and sometimes working alongside each other. Whether a family has been a part of a rural community for generations or is new to the area, they appreciate the natural beauty and quiet the country provides. This fact sheet discusses how to build relationships between rural neighbors.
Farming is a business. A farm may appear to provide a romantic or storybook lifestyle, but to the farmer it is the family’s livelihood. Nonfarm neighbors need to understand they are living next to the farmer’s home and business.
Just like a private home lot, a farm is private property and neighbors should not trespass on that property. Land that appears vacant can actually be planted with a crop. When recreational vehicles or horses are ridden on farms, crops and fences may be destroyed. When neighbors pick crops, either for food or decoration, farmers lose money. The farm family, pets, and livestock are endangered when hunters fire their weapons on farms without permission. Farmers may offer the use of their land to a neighbor for some recreational activities. If that’s the case, neighbors should treat the farm with respect. If farmers don’t give permission to use their land, neighbors should stay off.
If a farm raises animals, there is manure that can cause odors. One dairy cow produces 15 tons of manure, a mature pig 1.8 tons, a beef animal 11 tons, a horse 8.2 tons and a dog 0.4 tons in a year. To recycle the nutrients in the manure, the farmer spreads the manure on fields. Odors in the air should go away in a few days. Farmers need and appreciate their neighbors understanding on these and other farming practices.
Farm equipment can be noisy and cause dust to rise in fields. Farmers plant crops and later harvest their crops within a small window of time. When the time is right and the weather good, the farmer is up at dawn and works long into the night. The good news is that planting and harvesting do not last for long.
To reach some fields, farmers move their equipment on the road. This can be dangerous to motorists and farmers alike.
Farm machinery may be wider or slower than it appears, so motorists need to reduce their speed on hilly or curved roads, slow down when they see farm machinery on the road, and pass with extreme caution.
Never visit a barn or livestock facility unless asked. Without being aware of it, people can spread diseases to animals. Farmers protect their animals from outside human contact to reduce the chances of their animals getting sick. If you want to visit a farm neighbor, phone first or stop at the farmhouse or office.
If invited to visit a farm, it is a good idea to follow some safety practices. Visitors should request permission before feeding, petting, or handling animals. Because farm animals are easily spooked, never approach an animal from behind. Loud noises or sudden movement may also frighten the animal. It is also a good idea to stay away from farm machinery. Always closely supervise children.
Most folks like to talk about what they do, and farmers are no exception. Friendly neighbors ask how farm animals are fed, cared for and handled, and how the farmer’s growing season is going. By asking questions, neighbors can learn a lot, show interest, and start to become a part of the rural scene. Thanks are always appreciated when visiting the farm home or business.
Advice to Farmers
Farm and nonfarm neighbors have a lot in common. They love their community and want to provide their family with the benefits of rural living. Farmers greatly benefit from being good neighbors. These benefits include pleasant relationships, maintaining a way of life, and ensuring the future success of the agricultural business.
Farmers can reduce hassles by giving some thought to their farming practices. They can avoid spreading manure on Fridays or just before holidays; ask their neighbors to inform them when they are planning a party so manure spreading can be properly timed; and spread manure in the most environmentally friendly method, so that nutrients are absorbed by crops. Manure injection and properly designed manure storage can reduce/eliminate runoff problems and greatly reduce odor. Manure or mud dropped onto the road can be minimized by cleaning equipment and making sure it is operating properly. To keep themselves and motorists safe, farmers should avoid moving machinery on roads during rush hours.
Farmers who take the time to explain their practices, often head off conflicts with neighbors. Some farm families have an open house or picnic and show neighbors around the farm. Here are some quotes from farmers who live and work successfully with their neighbors. They explain their good neighbor policies in the following ways:
- “We invite the neighbors’ children over to see the barn and the bunnies and then they think of our farm as an asset.”
- “We give the neighbors a dozen eggs and then everything is OK.”
- “We dig out our neighbors after a heavy snow and help pull them out of the ditch when the roads are icy.”
- “We are always friendly and welcoming to our neighbors.”
Sometimes problems arise among farm and nonfarm neighbors. The best method of handling these situations is by neighbors calmly discussing the problem. Unresolved problems can result in conflict that permanently damages the relationship.
Neighbors involved in a disagreement can develop mutually acceptable solutions if they are willing to set aside strongly held positions, be truthful with themselves and others about their true interests, and openly exchange ideas. Building trust is essential to working through these problems. Follow these steps toward resolution:
- Carefully select the time and location for the discussion. Sitting down in neutral territory may help. Asking someone to facilitate the meeting who is skillful in mediation and does not have an interest in the outcome may also help.
- Listen carefully to the other person. Respect and try to understand the other person’s feelings and needs.
- Define the problem in clear concrete terms.
- Work together to generate as many solutions as you can, taking care not to pass judgment on other’s ideas.
- Research the possible solutions to problems. Learn what new methods and technologies can assist in solving the problem. Consult your Extension office for up-to-date research-based information.
- Reach agreement on the most workable solution; one that all involved understand and can live with.
- Establish a way to check on how the solution is working.
- If the other person does not live up to his/her end of the bargain, restate the problem and agreed-upon solution, and inform the other person what your next step will be if the problem is not resolved as agreed upon.
Consider legal action or reporting to governmental agencies only if the other person does not work toward the agreed-upon solution or if the other person refuses to meet to discuss the issue. Taking legal action can be expensive and often means that the people involved have little control of the outcome.
Living together in rural areas has many rewards. Today’s rural neighbors can enjoy the lifestyle and the new friendships that result from understanding and tolerance. Building strong relationships is the best way to create the kind of community that both farm and nonfarm residents want to call home.