The days are a blur of tending plants and animals as spring rushes on. The rhythm of crop rotation is full upon us as spring crops are harvested, beds are prepped and summer staples go into the ground. The first successions of summer squash are growing rapidly as are the hoophouse tomatoes.
It’s been such a warm, dry spring that I’ve had to adjust my expectations for salad mix and other cool weather crops. The hoophouses have been fabulous for protecting and sheltering tender plants but the unseasonable heat has made it harder to plan for correct amounts.
Some things have grown too fast, yielding sooner than expected and creating a more abundant harvest before I am ready to market it. I’ve also had to spend much more time watering and working on irrigation, which has slowed down getting crops in the ground.
On the whole, this is the most efficient, proficient spring I’ve ever had. The new planning tools are working, although I have struggled to keep up with some of the data entry on the crop planning software. Using new tools always takes practice but I’ve turned a corner this year and am enjoying the process.
I have a running spreadsheet that I copy and paste anew each week into a fresh tab. The days run across the top of the page and columns run down the side for different descriptors. The vertical column is separated into a section for morning and one for afternoon. The jobs to do are laid out under each day, along with other information like who the Point Person will be.
We harvest, wash and pack on Mondays and Thursdays, which is delineated on the sheet with a list of the crops and locations to be picked. Harvest tasks are allocated to individuals so that everyone knows the responsibilities and expectations. Group tasks are listed with further instructions given during the morning meeting.
Monday begins with stretching and check in, each person offering a brief synopsis of “how I’m doing today”, which gives everyone a better understanding of how to approach the shared effort. If someone is having a rough morning or an injury, we can note it and adjust the work plan for the day.
I hand out the spreadsheet so that everyone has a copy to review during the week, and although we don’t always stick to the order laid out, we’ve done a good job of working from the plan. I’ve had a hard time gauging how much we’ll be able to get done, often expecting things to take longer than they do. This is a good problem to have, but still one that requires adaptation and leadership.
If my planning is accurate, then I can make sure all components of the effort are assembled and well coordinated. When I’m off on my expectations, then I find myself having to reconfigure on the fly to keep the team operating, and the stress of this can be difficult to manage.
As we become more used to working together and more familiar with the nature of the work, we learn to anticipate and refine our individual roles. This makes the workflow more smooth and goes by much faster, increasing our overall productivity and efficiency.
It’s hard to stay ahead when the team gets better each week, because the rate of improvement changes the length that tasks will take. This adjustment in planning processes requires constant evaluation and is an area that I still have much to practice.
Farming is like working a 3-dimensional puzzle that is made up of many smaller puzzles operating in concert to form a complex, dynamic picture. A farm is a living organism that expresses health or sickness based on how the pieces work together, and this year things have shifted in a way that brings the edgy calm of being in the eye of the hurricane.
When I’m behind and feeling like there is too much work to be done, I carry that stress with me at all times. When we’re on the ball and pushing hard, I have the stress of managing operations, but I can balance that with self-care and good planning. This is the first year that I’m not feeling the need to be outside planting until dark, as we’ve gotten better at what we do.
Planning and practice make for proper execution. Clear communication and expectations make for effective implementation. Refining and revising based on date and input make for more efficient processes that feel good because they flow. Time is a teacher if we will but listen. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!
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Casey O'Neill co-operates HappyDay Farms, a micro-diversified farm in northern Mendocino County, California. His family raises two acres of Sun+Earth and DEMPure Certified vegetables, poultry and medical cannabis in a small-farm setting while working towards sustainability. Casey is stoked about sharing food, medicine and cultivation techniques with others. He is passionate about representing small farmers and works to support Mendocino County policy-makers in crafting sensible regulations. Casey also serves on the board of Sun+Earth Certified. You can find his radio show podcast at HappyDay Farms - Farm and Reefer Report on iTunes or Soundcloud. You can also find out more about HappyDay Farms here: http://www.happydayfarmscsa.com, on Instagram @happydayfarms and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/casey.oneill.395/ or https://www.facebook.com/happydayfarmscsa/