Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Endurance Tests

Every year the month of September heralds the "back to school blues" on our farm.  For those who have read our blog for a while, you know I will put a caveat out there right now just to balance out what follows.  Tammy and I do love our farm and genuinely like what we do.  We've got some of the best customers around and we're pleased to provide them with our great produce.  So, don't get too worried about us just because of one post.

But, every thing that is worth doing has its stages and moments where all is not green beans and sweet corn... or peaches and cream... or whatever you want to use to indicate positive results and feelings.  I sometimes will share such things in our blog to educate others a little bit about what growers, such as ourselves, might be feeling.  We will do our best at every CSA distribution to be positive and interact with you with a smile.  But, just like everyone else, we will have our moments where we don't really want to smile and we aren't feeling all that positive.  We'd like you to understand where some of that might come from and why we sometimes hesitate when you ask us how things are going.  We hesitate because the real answer is so complex, we're not always even sure what the answer is! 
Well, there's ONE field that looks good.
Part I - Building Endurance
Every growing season is an endurance test for the farmers.  Early in the season (March-May), our bodies and minds are not used to the routine.  The struggle at that time is simply the normal process of building endurance for the daily routine that is work on the farm.  But, this is balanced out by Tammy's transition from school to the farm (typically late May) and the addition of seasonal workers (who typically have a school schedule as well).  Add to that the natural promise that the beginning of a season always brings and you have some natural balance to the moments when the muscles ache and you just want to fall into bed and sleep for a week.

Part II - You've Got Endurance - Too Busy to Notice It!
We are quite busy through May, but it is nothing like the next part of the season.  And, actually, this stage probably starts about May 20 at our farm and ends towards the end of July.  The arrival of workers tends to coincide with the time of the season where we're doing so much that a week goes by and we're not entirely sure where it went.  But, the list of tasks completed is always impressive - it's just that the list of the things that need to be done always gets longer.

We're planting, picking, weeding and everything elsing!  We do get sore and we are often very tired.  But, an amazing thing is happening at the same time.  Some of the things we struggled to lift in April are an afterthought as we pick them up.  The list of accomplishments on an early May day looks like we took it easy if we were to happen to review it July.  But, when I review an accomplishment list that was recorded in early July during one of the Winter months, it even impresses me.  That's saying something.

Tammy says, "Why'd you plant so many green beans?"
Part III - External Pressures
There are always external pressures that come to bear in any occupation.  But, it is typically late July into August that the specter of chemical application rears its ugly head.  Additionally, we become very aware that workers are approaching their final days on the farm for the season.  And, Tammy has to begin converting back to school mode.  We're usually every bit as busy in August as we are in June/July, but the tenor of work changes and priorities shift in response to how much time is left with the extra helping hands.  So, while we might be tired and are guilty of thinking thoughts about not working so hard, it is balanced by some new energy to reach closure on some important tasks for our workers (and for ourselves).

Hydro-cooling broccoli and cauliflower
Part IV - Are We There Yet?
And, here we are - the beginning of September - and this phase usually starts during the end of August.  So, we've been in it for a little bit.

I don't think I've said it enough, but I am proud of Tammy and the work she does.  It is amazing to me (and it should be to you as well) that she puts so much of herself into teaching Social Work at Wartburg College and then comes home and does the same for the farm.  But, the reality is this - we have to work to phase her out of as much of the farm operation as possible while keeping her involved enough to stay happy.  After all, we are partners in this effort and I wouldn't have it any other way.

The net result is that much of the farm work is done by yours truly (no I am not trying to diminish any help I DO receive - I appreciate all that I get!  So, thank you Kory for help with cleaning and packing this Fall.  And thank you Tammy for continuing to help with the poultry and the green beans!).

But, the biggest difficulty is that we are at the point in the season where you fully realize that there is an end in sight and a big part of you just wants to skip the in-between parts and jump right to the end.  Wouldn't it be nice to dig all of the carrots and potatoes and hand each CSA member 15+ pounds of each and then call it a season?  It's right after that thought that I realize the CSA continues deep into October.  Then, after that, we typically do a Fall share for a smaller number of people.  And, oh, by the way, you have ducks, turkeys, two flocks of hens and two flocks of meat chickens to deal with still.  And, if you wanted to plant any more Fall/Winter crops, you'd better do that now (or else).

It's also the time of season where you do a little reflecting simply because all of the personnel changes encourage reflection.  As a result, you look at all of the things that were supposed to be done by now (and aren't).  Then you look at all of the things that you wanted to have done by now (and aren't). take a deep breath and look at the things that HAD to be done by now (and aren't).  Some of these things can never be corrected and others you should just let go of because you know something more important will suffer because you choose to still try to finish them.

This is often an exercise in negativity since the focus is on what wasn't done and all of the things that didn't quite work out.  We still haven't put up a walk-in cooler.  The broccoli isn't providing the side-shoots we expect every year.  The new approach to keeping the weeds out of the winter squash failed and now you have a mess on your hands in that field.  It's difficult and it is hard to want to keep at it.  Especially when you know it all seems to come down to you and your shortcomings.

In short, we question whether we are actually any good at what we do during this time of the year.  After all, if we were any good, we wouldn't be in the same pickle this year with the weeds as we were last year (and the year before that....etc etc).

Part V - Renewal
Then, I looked closely at this door.
Two small, seemingly insignificant words - "thank you".  And, we're suddenly feeling better about things.  A successful morning picking more than enough melons for our Waverly members and scouting that shows we'll be able to do the same for Cedar Falls this week.  A kind word from someone else during distribution.  And, a general feeling that most people seem to "get it" at least enough to know that we're doing our darndest to make it all work for those for whom we grow produce and raise poultry.

It's still going to be a battle for the next few weeks, but eventually, the renewal wins out and we're ready to begin looking at how we're going to keep improving.  Preparing to complete the cycle and entering the final stage.

Part VI - Reflection and Anticipation
Time to put the season into perspective and begin planning for an even better year than all those that came before.  Perhaps I'll save that for another post.

Thank you for helping the farmers through their own personal endurance tests!

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