To cultivate a field

This time of year, we farmers are in quiet attention. Watching the weather and our soil, waiting for the best time to start our work. Too wet, our machinery gets mired in mud and damages our soil. Wait too long and you will spend much of the season chasing after the weeds.

The word we use for preparing our fields for growing crops is cultivation. It is only April 1st but I have been cultivating fields outside the farm all winter long. Field and cultivate are two words of multiple meanings. A field is an open area; it is also a course of study. To cultivate is prepare an area for growing crops, but it is also to improve by labour, care, and study.

What I love about farming and gardening is the potential duality of it: the work is physical and intellectual. I spend the winter making plans, researching, studying--looking for ways to improve farming techniques and systems and then I spend the growing season putting them to action, observing how my decisions play out in real life conditions.

This winter, I spent a lot of time thinking how I do things, trying to figure out how I can improve and make the gardens healthier and more productive. But a farm business is not just a field. It’s a business. There are financial and marketing plans to consider. It is also a collection of people working towards common goals and an art. So although I rejigged my farm systems, read a lot about insect ecology, and tweaked my website and accounting, the most important part of my winter was spent reading books about how to work and how to live. It could not have come at a better time.

I wrote about this in a New Year’s journal post, about a speaker I saw in December, who blew me away with her deep search to improve both her farm and her and her family’s quality of life. She shared a photo of the books on her nightstand. I took some of these and some books on my own reading list and set up my field of study: how to cultivate better work and life skills and habits to improve my well-being and hopefully, the well-being of the people who work with me and the farm itself.

Books for being a better farmer

Books for being a better farmer

And now I have a plan to set into motion along with my crop plan, my systems, my marketing that can be summarized to these points:

Work less, but deeper.

Work and rest need one another.

Choose your tools carefully and use them wisely.

Structure and commitment give room to freedom, not restrict it.

And finally, the guiding question: Does this enrich or impoverish my personal and business values?

Work less, but deeper

A few weeks ago, I spent time reviewing the hours I spent farming for the last two years. At peak season, I was clocking in 60-70 hours of work. It was a reality check, seeing those numbers on my spreadsheet. It was unsustainable and I vowed to work better, not longer.

Therefore, I made plans on how to support myself and my team better in those busy times. I have created set hours for us. I made solid, well-thought out plans to provide structure, so when I’m tired and flying about, the road is laid out for me clearly. I also forced myself to admit the ways I can sometimes fritter away time, which ultimately leads to me losing my free time to rest. I tried to cultivate new habits.

Work and rest need one another.

I have strived to make time to rest and recuperate, but never understood really, until reading further, how rest actually contributes to your work. Rest is not meant to be a passive thing. Active, but different, work happens in our brains and bodies while at rest. However, when you work to exhaustion, that activity nosedives. My sleep, hobbies, wanders, and daydreams make me not only happier and healthier; they make me a better farmer.

Choose your tools carefully and use them wisely.

When I first started farming, I had this hoe. I had read about it in a book and purchased it for the spring. And I could just not figure out the best way to utilize it. “But the book said it was the best,” I said to myself, trying a number of times to make it work. Meanwhile, I kept borrowing my friend’s tool, which worked great. The next year, the weird hoe sat unused and I purchased the the same one my friend used. The following year, I gave away the weird one. It wasn’t the right tool for me and trying to use it was a waste of time and energy.

There are many equivalents off-farm to this: softwares, record keeping systems, social media tools. Especially the later I examined closely and had to admit: Facebook wasn’t working for me. So I’ve deleted my business page. A continuous theme also across my reading: use social media with care. This wasn’t a warning from Luddites. It was a matter of neurology. Of addiction that is specifically written into these programs. Deleting all of my social media profiles was not an option: the are still good tools for storytelling, sharing news and events, and for being part of distant communities. However, a saw can cut wood and it can also cut you, if your not careful. Use mindfully.

Structure and commitment give room to freedom, not restrict it.

I have a weekly calendar above my desk where much of my waking days are now scheduled. I used to cringe at this sort of thing. I made it through the worst of school by keeping a tight schedule, but wasn’t part of being an entrepreneur about fighting for the freedom of my own schedule and commitments? Parkinson’s law is also on my board above my desk: work expands to fill the time allotted to it. Working from a structured schedule, from past experiments, I knew worked, but hadn’t been rigorous with it. I also had over-scheduled myself and hadn’t supported myself with healthy ways to rest and de-stress. This year I hope with finite hours and tasks balanced with active rest, I actually had the chance to succeed.

Does this enrich or impoverish my personal and business values?

After narrowing in on what are my key values, I needed a simple decision making tool to run choices through. Does this enrich or does this impoverish was a sentence written in one of the books and it clicked. There are so many exterior forces that impinge on decisions. Being someone that generally likes to make others happy and satisfied, I have trouble saying no if it means disappointing. While I think there are times in people’s lives to say yes to many things, that is not the time for me. I did that in my 20s and had a diverse array of experiences that I value very much. But now, I realize is a time of focus, slowing down, thinking deeper, speaking less and observing more (yes, the irony of this long journal post does not elude me).

So I will report back. Tell you how we do with these plans. Stay tuned to the journey.