Monday, I wrote a blog where I tried to express what it feels like to fail on our farm. I did not want people to read it and feel like everything was doom and gloom at the end. But, I DO want everyone to understand four things after that post:
- Failure at a farm like ours is common. It is part of the price of doing business.
- Our experience can help us deal with failure, but these failures still hurt and the hurt can build up over time.
- We will only cease to feel the pain of failure when we no longer care if we succeed or fail. I would rather feel the pain.
- Failure gives us the opportunity to learn, to grow and to seek redemption.
Creating a Place You Want to Be
We've said it before and we'll say it again because we believe it is true.
A successful field is one that makes the farmer want to be in it.
It is also not a surprise that success breeds success in this case. If we want to be in the field, then we tend to pay more attention to maintaining that field and addressing any issues that might come up.
Our 2015 melon crop is an example of success that we are still proud of today. The cash crop (melons and watermelons) did exceedingly well. We had about 100 CSA farmshares sold for the regular season that year and we were able to give everyone at four melons as part of the share that year AND we could sell others. The real win here was the beautiful combination of melon crop with support crops such as zinnia, borage, buckwheat, calendula and sunn hemp. The pollinators loved it. We got higher production numbers in the same amount of space with fewer melon plants.
Then we replicated this in another field the next season - showing it was not a fluke.
Looking At What Is Behind Success
It wasn't like we had never had melons on the farm before. In fact, we have grown melons on the farm since 2005 in some form or another with varying levels of success. In 2013, we were still waiting on melons to ripen in September after a late start to the season (sound familiar?). So, this was not a 'wow, we tried this and got it right the first time' moment. Instead, we had our share of failures (uh oh, there's that word again) and we had also seen some reasonable success as we learned how to adjust. It just so happened that we finally hit on a combination of practices and circumstances that led to a field we were very happy to work in every day.
There were numerous bits of trial and error that informed us as we did our best in prior seasons. We did plenty of reading and plenty of asking. And, we kept trying. If you don't count our growing seasons as gardeners, you could say 2015 was the result of ten growing seasons worth of learning and adjusting - complete with failures.
Success for the Long Haul?
Are we still successful with our melon crop? Well, not in the way we were in 2015 and 2016, that is certain. When circumstances change, the goals have to change.
We still have the goal that we want our fields to be fields we want to be in. We still prize diversity and habitat for pollinators and beneficial critters. But, demand for our CSA program crashed and we had no secondary market for the number of melons the old approach would give us. That, and, we started getting far too much rain to be able to make it work... on a regular basis. The adjustment has been to give more attention to a row of melons in the high tunnel (Eden to be specific). You can see them at the left, with lettuce and bunching onions nearby.
Field melons fell back into the 'failure' category and the high tunnel melons because our success story for that crop. But, up to this season, we have had sufficient fruit to meet the demand we have (and we can eat plenty of them ourselves).
This year? Well, the rules changed on us again this year and now we feel that we are back in a bit of a 'failure' cycle as we adjust to our new circumstances. But, don't count us out - because success breeds success on this farm. We know how to fail and we've learned from it (and will continue to learn from it). We also know how to succeed, and that gives us the confidence that we will do so again.