A Farmer’s Transition from Planning to Doing

By Dan Popek, Asst. Farm Manager

 

To quote our farm manager, Jason, “there are two things we can get better at: planning and execution.” When put so simply, it makes solving problems much easier. Any ambitious project, such as having a successful growing season, requires a continuous negotiation between these two mindsets. 

Preparations for the Season

“If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” 

On the farm, we take this seriously as we are planning on growing over one hundred varieties of vegetables. Many of these require different methods of care, and all the other variables are no less nuanced; soil health, composting, fertilizing, and pest control all need to be done on paper before they can be successfully done in practice.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

            • Attributed to Abraham Lincoln

So how have we been sharpening our axes? 

Perhaps the most important thing to sharpen our minds. We learn a lot in the season, but the winter, when things are slow, is a great time to learn from others to build a stronger foundation grounded in the science and philosophy of our organic farming community. Besides the numerous online resources and books, we also went to the MOSES farming conference, a large gathering of like-minded Midwestern organic farmers all trying to learn how to improve their practices.

A universal aspect of farms is that they get messy. In the height of the season, not only does the barn get chaotic, but the plans do too. Continuous variability forces our plans to be flexible, but our master plan will be the flexible template for keeping us focused on what it takes to bring great quality vegetables to the table.

Likewise, clearing the clutter and strategically putting tools right where we will need them will feel like a fresh start to an efficient year.

Finally, we are preparing by taking that last deep breath before we start swinging the axe. The first weeks of spring are always a shock if we are not physically and mentally prepared. 

Resistance and Commitment  

To me, the recent weather has symbolized this transition to the season of execution. I went from a week of scrambling to get things done on the computer, to happily spending nearly the whole week outside. 

Before that, I’ve been resisting this transition, hoping that the crop plans can be perfect and thoroughly researched and justified, that everything is exactly in its place, and that I have soaked up every bit of information there is to know about farming. A lifelong education can be learned in one winter, right? 

This bit of perfectionism is what can kill great projects just before they can get out of their elaborate planning phase. I have to let go of having the “perfect” plan so that it can be tested out. 

This is because there will never be the perfect preparation. Unpredictable things always happen and we need to adjust. Having a plan helps in preventing these and in getting through the unexpected, but it is only when executing the plans that you will ever come across the unforeseen variables.

So, are we prepared? Can we move on to the execution phase?

To us, it doesn’t matter; the season will start whether we are ready or not. We just need to accept our preparations and trust that they will get us to our goals. (Speaking as a former athlete, the last thing you want to do before a race is question your whole season of training.)

Now is the time to have confidence! Not just in the plan, but in our ability to adjust to the unpredictable things. 

Farming as My Teacher

Farming allows this dichotomy to fully present itself: in the winter there is more time to plan, and in the summer there is practically no time at all. This shift of mindset is practically built into the season. 

And if you are like me and have trouble shifting to the execution phase, farming has a quick fix: a changing season. Nothing got me more in the mindset to work than a week of 50 degree, sunny days. 

But an even harder lesson to learn is in how unpredictable the nature of farming is. Every unexpected obstacle, whether heavy rain or tough mistakes, calls for adjusting the plan, and every big decision needs to be made thoughtfully in a planning mindset, even while in the middle of the season. 

This continuous negotiation between planning and execution is what is going to help our farm improve every year, make us more resilient to the unexpected and bring better quality vegetables to our community.

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