Sunday, July 6, 2014

Work Smarter, Not Harder

At my second farm apprenticeship experience, back in 2007, one of my supervisors was a very smart and generally grumpy and loving man who taught me a lot. Chris McNichols, spouse and co-farmer with Amy Johnson, managed the 6 acre Red Hill Farm in Aston, Pennsylvania, where a 120 family CSA had pick ups twice weekly throughout the long and balmy Pennsylvania growing season.

I worked 40-60 hours a week, with no car and no other employment. Walking, biking, bussing to get where I needed to go, I ended up sleeping in a friend's spare room and getting a ride in early morning with Amy. As sunrise spilled across the hollows, we pulled ourselves up and over hills in the surprisingly rickety canvas topped jeep, and worked morning and afternoon in greenhouses and fields growing all manner of vegetable.

Chris would come in for the afternoon shift, as Amy and he would split childcare with their two children to make their farm dream possible. He would get to sleep in with the kids and roll in around lunch. By afternoon, after I'de passed out on the floor of the farm office for 45 minutes before grabbing round 3 of coffee to motivate for weeding in the sun, Chris was the motivator and teacher I needed to get through the hump of fatigue and heat that was the norm for me.

Chris was never one to look at a problem and rush in. He would think, he would fiddle, and he would come up with the solution that made the most sense, often with the least amount of exertion.
Was this laziness? Indeed not. He taught me the saying he lived by-- Work smarter, not harder. And he lived it. And he impressed me no end with his forward thinking and effective planning.

In this incarnation of my farming life, I've taken on this saying with a vengeance. My partner and I talk. A lot. We talk about multiple solutions. We talk about myriad problems. We talk. And this means things slow down. We're sitting on the need to slaughter our first round of chickens because of all the complexity in getting the systems together. We're slowly working on finishing the high tunnel as we talk about the best ways to move forward with labor and resources. We talk.

Does this make us lazy? Sometimes, I think it does. I cannot tell you how many folks, when I share the vision for life on the land here, echo an interest and desire for the same life, saying, I've thought about that, I'de like to do that, too. My initial response, which I keep to myself, is fear. Fear that there is nowhere for the food to go, the market is saturated, my thoughts and desires are pedestrian and useless.

But then I realize that there is a fundamental difference between thinking a thing and doing it. In a society that so values the thought over the action, that values symbolic work over actual physical work, and that denies the basic reality that you cannot eat money, it's easy to get caught up in the thinking about the doing. Sometimes I feel pressure build in me, of the undone task, the project incomplete. I feel physically uncomfortable with the not-doing. Never mind the overwhelm, which I can handle a bit better than the pressure. And so, when the thing gets done-- the plants planted, the weeding started, the purchasing for the project done-- there is a relief, a release of energy into the world.

Are these actions the best solutions? I honestly can say I don't know. Sometimes the thinking about a thing can deaden it, can make any solution seem incomplete. Time will tell, and perfection in farming is both illusive and truly an inductive process. We try a thing. It works or it doesn't. We talk to other farmers. We talk to ourselves. We try another thing. It works or it doesn't. And on and on.

I got to help with haying for the first time the other week, and it was loads of fun, at the very fine Center Farm less than 5 miles from us-- neighbors, as rural standards go. I was one of a handful of grown-ups, and a number of teens. It felt exciting to be able to keep up even in the slightest with teenagers. At one point I mentioned to one of the farm boys-- maybe 17-- the saying Work smarter, not harder, and he had something to say about it. He said, Sometimes that's true, but sometimes the work is just hard. And you do it. And if you don't do it, it doesn't get done. Farming is hard work.

Smart kid.

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