In the early part of the farming season, there is a lot of excitement. So much “newness” all around. The seeds are sprouting and plants are going in the ground. The soil seems so rich and the air seems so fresh. Everyone is back from the winter break and there is a lot of energy for tackling the many tasks.
Meanwhile, at the end of the season, as the work winds down, there is also excitement. The planting is over, there is no more weeding (yee haw!), and the final harvesting is being done.
But right now, in the period between the equinox and before the solstice, the days are long and usually hot and humid, the plants (and weeds!) are growing so fast you can’t keep up with them. The amount of work seems overwhelming and most of us in the field have lost any momentum and energy is low.
This is the hardest time of the year. It’s a plateau. We all know it is part of the cycle we have to go through. But just because it is predictable doesn’t make it any easier.
Behind The Scenes – More Grind
This season, Joel has done less farming than ever before. To keep everything running smoothly, Joel has had to attend to all the administrative work that goes on (like any other small business).
But even though he isn’t spending hours in the sun, or breaking his back pulling weeds, or moving the cattle, or wrestling irrigation hoses to a new location, he is still feeling exhausted.
Keeping up with payroll. Installing new software. Organizing delivery routes. Answering emails. Updating work calendars. Making purchasing decisions. Dealing with supply chain issues. It’s all important stuff, but at this point in the season, he feels mentally fried. Just like the rest of the team, Joel feels the same mid-season frazzle in the office.
A big reason he got into the work in the first place is how refreshing it was to do physical work. But more than that, it was invigorating to tend to soil, cultivating the plants and animals, seeing the incremental changes in the garden, feeling a sense of satisfaction in harvesting really heathy food that benefits family and friends -- and knowing he is blessing others.
Just like any job, you have trade-offs. Aspects of work responsibilities that are less appealing. Farming is the same. A lot of very routine stuff has to be done behind the scenes – both in the field and in the dank basement office – stuff that you don’t see on the website.
Spending a summer as an intern on an organic farm probably looks romantic and idyllic on Instagram or artsy blogsites. But the reality is the field work requires hours of sweat and toil. Nothing shiny or compelling about it. It isn’t “raw” and “back-to-nature.” Getting blisters isn’t very appealing. Soaking your shirt with sweat one day and then working hours in a soaking rain the next quickly makes any idealism fade. That’s why Joel’s grandmother – who grew up on a farm 90 years ago – wondered why Joel wanted to be a farmer. She knew it was a lot of hard work.
For all of us – and especially in the next month or so – we get overwhelmed and lose enthusiasm. Whether its buying new nozzles for irrigation, or restringing the pasture fence the cows knocked down. Whether its weed-whacking the lawn (for the umpteenth time) or calling the veterinarian. It’s not the glorious narrative that many conjure up, but it is important so we just keep pushing through each day.
Joel has a strong preference for visual and analog management systems... Especially clip boards and peg boards and charts!
Always Looking To Improve
In the midst of all the daily tasks, we encourage everyone to suggest ways to improve our productivity. The goal is not just to “do more faster,” but to make our work less stressful and less frustrating.
One task that Jed English took on recently is refining our boxing process. The boxing process is when we have harvested and cleaned our crops and then have to get them ready for delivery. Because our new online purchasing system makes it easy for customers to personalize their order, it requires special attention to keep everything straight!
The challenge is two-fold: 1) getting the right product into specific boxes, and; 2) organizing the boxes in the van so that there isn’t any confusion when making home deliveries or site drop-offs.
Whatever he comes up with will probably be refined as his ideas help us all think through the task, inspiring us to brainstorm and come up with an even better solution. It’s that kind of teamwork that makes sure our friends get what they ordered and the entire process is easier for everyone!
Wax Boxes – Less Waste
You may have noticed that we recently changed to delivering your orders in wax boxes. While these boxes are a bit more expensive, we are hoping that in the long run it will be more environmentally friendly. You see, this allows us to reduce our use of plastic bags. The wax boxes are more study as well, so we can recycle them and reuse them for weeks (basic cardboard boxes quickly deteriorate if the get wet from our washing and packing process.
But, we need YOUR HELP to make this change a success. We need you to bring the wax boxes back to us each week so we can reuse them multiple times over the course of the rest of the season.
We think this is important and we hope you do to. Making our carbon footprint smaller requires us to work together. Let’s do what we can to make the world a better place to live in.
Is Your Backyard Grill Ready?
The managed, rotational grazing of our grass-fed beef cows has already proved its effectiveness. This week our butcher came to our farm and took away the two largest cows who had reached peak weight – and very soon we will be offering our customers some of the finest top-quality hamburger available in the area.
The reason the butcher came to the farm was to facilitate our efforts to treat the cows humanely before we process the meat.
You see, we don’t have the metal gate systems to quickly force the cows into a hauling trailer. That is very stressful for the cows – something we would rather not do. So, instead, we have to rely on gentle management, moving slowly among the herd (understanding their gentle nature) to separate out the ones that are going to be taken away for processing. These big animals feel more secure in herds, so we do what we can to cull out the two we wanted, always allowing them to stay near the larger group, but allowing them to actually remain grazing on pasture until the very last minute.
Yes, this takes a little more time. But we want to show our gratitude and respect to the animals. They play such an important role in our pasture reclamation efforts. Simply by “being cows” they accomplish things we could not do ourselves. First, their bodies process pasture grasses into some of the most flavorful beef you will ever taste. Second, they naturally fertilize and restore the soil which improves the pasture’s health and vitality.
Since they are helping us reach these important outcomes, we try to provide conditions so they experience their “best life.” We give them clean water and predator protection. We move them to new sections of the pasture every day. We honor them as God’s creatures.
After butchering these two (out of our 13 beef cattle) we will have ground beef available from our online store soon – enough to last through the fall season.
Family Life News
Last week was really hard. Just about everyone on the farm (but not the children) were hit with a show-stopping stomach bug that kinda brought things on the farm to a screeching halt for a day or two. We weren’t all down at one time, but it rolled through our ranks for 3-4 days, which meant only the most important tasks were accomplished.
The good news is we are back on track, working hard to keep our harvesting and delivery schedule right on schedule.
Thanks for your continued support!