Reflections on running the farm

There are these special weeks, sprinkled throughout the year, when Ted goes on vacation and I'm left to manage the farm.  A lot of people have asked me what that really means.  What's really different?  There are obvious answers, and there are many ways that simply having another highly skilled person on the farm allows us to do twice as much each week.  Beyond that, there's a shift that nothing short of running the farm would create.

So, what's different about running-- versus assistant managing-- the farm?

1. Irrigation, most clearly.  Normally Ted keeps complete track of what needs watering, how much, and when to strategically water for harvest and weeding.  As I mentioned last week, I've gotten a lot more comfortable diving in to this part of management over the past couple years.  But doing it for just a week here and there means I'm just now getting into a groove, just a few days before Ted is back in the game.  One thing that I haven't had to do much of this year is decide what systems to use throughout the farm-- Ted set up almost all the lines really well before he left, so it's just a matter of turning things off and on, with just a couple moves and set-ups.  So far, nothing's died.  That's the goal.

2. Problem-solving.  When things break, I usually set them aside to deal with later, tell Ted about, let someone else be handy and fix them.  The temptation to call Ted for a bail-out was high a couple times this week, but it's a fantastic practice to force myself to figure it out.  Tractor won't start all of a sudden?  Check the battery, wiggle the wires, re-center the weight censor on the seat.  PVC line gushing water when I need it to just work at the end of a long day?  Wrack my brain back to that one time Ted showed me how to repair it, fish out the materials from various buckets in the pump house, saw out the bad section, slick primer and glue around all the edges, and sink both ends into a repair coupler.  Luckily nothing too major broke this week, but I always wonder whether I'll be able to handle it.  One year I tipped the tiller on its backside, trying to hook it to the tractor for the first time by myself.  Thank God for Michael and our neighbor farmer Kevin.  So far, a riser or underground water line hasn't cracked or leaked on my watch, and the tractors have kept running fine, but I'm just waiting for the day when I'm really screwed and need to step up my problem-solving to the next level.  It'll be freaky, but that's how I learn.

3. Different skills.  Like repairing broken things, there are a few upper-level skills that I rarely get to practice when Ted is around.  Or, Michael ends up doing them while I keep people busy on more standard tasks like harvest and planting.  This week I got to practice changing tractor implements, which I've done but am just now, after two years occasional practice, getting the hang of.  I think it helps to have no other choice but to figure it out.  I got to shape beds for the first time, which I learned after talking to Michael that I didn't do quite right, but it was good enough.  I figured out how to use our spray tank to get Surround on the cucurbits before planting-- another skill that only Michael and Ted had under their belts.

4. "Lesson planning": This one's a bit more abstract, but it's at the heart of managing the farm.  Ted normally creates a game plan for each day and just asks me how many people we need for harvest. This week, I got daily practice plotting out and prioritizing projects, making compromises about what we can and can't accomplish in a week, deciding how many people to pull for harvest, weeding, planting, etc.  There are so many moving parts to the farm, and I realized that my tendency to be over-prepared actually helps everything run so much more smoothly.  With at least fifteen people to keep busy and harvest every day, on top of all the other projects like planting, food bank harvest, farm stand set up, trellising, weeding, and irrigation set-up, it takes time for me to wrap my head around it all and come up with a plan.  I misjudge a lot, so I learn more every day about how to best utilize our people power.  It's a challenge I revel.

5.  Perspective.  I step back from the day-to-day harvest and see the bigger picture when I'm running the farm.  I understand how often a farmer needs to walk the fields to keep track of all the weeds and harvest.  I appreciate all the behind-the-scenes work Ted is constantly chasing to keep supplies stocked, tools functioning, irrigation arranged, and so much more.  I see how this farm is not meant to be managed by just one person: it takes a team, and it's grown right in step with our staffing capacity.  I realize that as assistant manager, I relate to how I feel as an aunt: I can handle it, care for it, keep it thriving, love it wholeheartedly... and it's still a relief to be able to hand the baby back at the end of the day.

Speaking of which... I've got a nephew to welcome into the world in the next couple days, so you might not see another post until later this week!