The cold months are when farmers are more likely to convene at conferences. Perhaps not in person this year, but we convene nonetheless. For me, that means participation in the Cooperators gathering for Practical Farmers of Iowa in December, the PFI Conference in January, the Iowa Farmers Union in December and sometimes MOSES in February.
We gather to listen to some people who say they know some things and to others who do know some things. We listen and we sometimes speak. And often, our topic rotates around how we can be the best stewards of the resources we have at our disposal. Our soil. Our water. Our equipment. Our money. And our time.
Perhaps the last item is at the crux of many of the discussions for the diversified vegetable growers on smaller farms where we trade our time and labor so readily for a few sales here and a few sales there. We hope, in the end, that we can make a good enough trade each year that we can continue to exchange our time for more of the same the next season.
We discuss ways we can better reach out to our customers - with the knowledge that any efforts to provide that outreach will cost us the price of our own time. We listen to ideas about how we can perform our field tasks more efficiently so we can make the most of our precious labor hours - the unit of time that often drives our decisions the most. And we attend presentations on ways we can be good stewards for our soil, raise healthy and tasty foods, and apply the highest of ideals - as long as we are willing to trade the time it often takes to implement the techniques and systems that help us to do those things.
What we sometimes forget is that time is the currency that we must also pay for our leisure and for our health. Our learning often comes from experience, which is also a product of time and effort. If we measure ourselves by only one thing - the output of our farms - then we will find ourselves spending all of our most valuable resource on that one thing. Is that ok?
Perhaps it is for some people. After all, there are those who can find a whole and fulfilling life working hard from day to day on a diversified, food-producing farm. There are good things to be experienced and there is satisfaction in the work. There is learning galore and there is much to enjoy. There are valuable connections to people and organizations to be made when you farm this way. And there is an amazing diversity of tasks and skills that are exercised at this job.
The problem is - there is so much of everything that one has to do on farms not unlike ours. In fact, there is often so much of everything that we run the risk of spending all of our time on the doing part and not enough on the living part. It is a balancing act that many who try this life are very familiar with. And it can be so easy to get overwhelmed by the doing that we forget to do the living - even though the living on a healthy, diversified farm with the connection to nature and the good world around us can be truly rewarding and worthwhile.
This is why we take pictures of crocus when they are in bloom.
And this is why we gather in the cold months.
To discuss the ways we can be stewards of our most valuable resource and remind ourselves that stewardship requires care and balance.