I love snow. I love how silently and gracefully it falls. I love waking up and looking out the window to snow on the trees, the field across the street, the chicken coops. I love heavy, thick, white sheets of it blurring the sky. I love sunshine on snow, how clear and sharp and dazzling it is. I love the blue shadows of trees across snow, and how it blankets fields and ponds, and the way it makes winter so light and open.
Things are very quiet on the farm. Our crop plan is done, and the seed order in. Last year we spent weeks crop planning. We made formulas, plugged numbers into spreadsheets, and spent hours moving around little post-its representing 50′ of beans or tomatoes or broccoli, trying to make everything fit. This year, I spent one week churning out all the pieces of the crop plan: the seed order, the field map, the transplant, direct seeding, and greenhouse seeding schedule. It was certainly a bit of work, but the systems were already in place. Instead of creating it from scratch, we got to look at what we did last year – what worked and what didn’t – and adjust the numbers based on our experience. It’s indicative of what I hope this season will be like – full of its own challenges and surprises, little failures and unexpected successes – but more familiar, like a pair of well broken-in work boots.
I hate to admit something: I love spreadsheets. This is, apparently, somewhat unusual for farmers. Most farmers I know make make crop planning spreadsheets and seeding calendars and budgets, but they don’t relish it. Most of us farm because we can’t stand to be inside, because we love sun and rain and soil. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutley nothing better than being out in the field, playing in the dirt. It’s hands-down the best part about being a farmer. But I love the planning part, too. I love plugging in numbers and watching excel magically calculate how many bed feet of carrots I need to grow, or how many flats of peppers I need to seed. I love crunching the numbers to make a careful budget. I love (and if you are briefly reminded of Josiah Bartlett right here, so much the better) balancing the farm accounts. I get a small yet definite joy from entering careful records into Quickbooks, reconciling the register against the bank statement at the end of the month, and being able to call up any number of fascinating banking reports.
I’ve been doing most of the spreadsheet-making and accounting since we started the farm, but it took me a little while to realize that I actually really enjoy it. Farmers grumble about office work: “Ugh, I have to go to the books now, wish me luck…or, I spent four hours in front of the computer, it’s going to take me three days of transplanting to recover…” And while I understand this sentiment, and a part of me feels the same way, I’ve noticed two things about myself:
1. I like the whole package. Take New England, for example. Winter, spring, summer, fall. I love them all. I couldn’t pick and chose which part of living here I love best; I take it all, the blizzards, the bizarre springs, the short and beautiful growing season, the glorious autumn. Sure, there are some things I could do without, but making this place my home means I don’t get to decide what parts of it are mine. All of it it is mine, good and bad alike. It is the same with farming. I’d take field work over office work every time, rain, snow, or sleet. But running a farm involves math and money and business-savvy, it involves networking and making phone calls and managing people and keeping records and making spreadsheets. If there has to be a budget, if I need to make a seeding calender, I want to be the one doing it. I want to understand every part of the process. I want the whole package.
2. Different kinds of work balance each other out. I may have overstated when I said I’d pick field work over office work every time. More accurately, I’d pick field work 99% of the time. Because there were days last summer, in 95 degree heat with staggering amounts of humidity, where coming into the house to work on the zine for an hour was a blessing. It’s one of the reasons I love winter work. There’s nothing so cozy as seed catalogs and harvest records strewn across the table, a pot of tea on the counter, slippers and a wool sweater, and snow falling thick and fast outside. I love tramping outside in my tall boots to do the chickens chores, too. I love the constancy of it, knowing that I’ll be going out to collect eggs and refill the feeder no matter how many feet of snow there are. Spending most of my days outside makes me appreciate the little time I spent working inside, the blessings of a warm home and a good meal. Using my muscles hard and well all season long makes me appreciate the restfulness of office work. And the hours I do spend in front of the computer make me all the more grateful that it’s a 10%-90% kind of ratio and not the other way around. I love being a farmer because most of what I do is outside. The other part is icing on the cake.
It is flurrying a bit as I write this. The chickens ventured out of their coop this morning to eat, but they’ve all gone back in now, choosing to stay cozy in their house on this cold, grey, winter morning. Until they need me again around noon, I’m staying cozy in mine.