In the fading light, I glare at Mary as she pulls a hunk of Lifeline cheese out of one of her many pockets and offers me a bite. She is trying to share some sustenance, as this represents the last ready-to-eat food on the farm right now, and we are only halfway through shoveling and spreading the seven yards of dairy compost she picked up in the truck and trailer. Though I might be hungry, I suddenly realize my intense thirst; all I want is something to drink. But I guess I hadn't mentioned that when she headed to the barn to get our headlamps.
I sigh, dive back into the shoveling, and then grumble: "I can't drink cheese."
Eventually, after all the shoveling was done and we'd had some sleep, it became funny. For days, and still, when one of us offers not quite the right kind of help, the other is likely to burst out with "You can't drink cheese!" and crack us both up.
It's that time of year, folks. Springtime rush, when many good ideas run up against a shortage of time (seven yards of compost on a Thursday evening with a market coming Saturday? We won't do that again.). Sometimes the resources we have are not quite the ones we need, and there we are, stuck trying to drink cheese. But believe it or not, we think we are slowly getting smarter.
This season marks our third year of full-time farming, and we have been thinking of our farm as a bit like a three-year-old. Still developing and learning, often awkward but becoming more defined, more determined, more coordinated, if also perhaps more stubborn and still very demanding.
This winter we heard an interview on our favorite farming podcast, in which the farmers agreed that year three is often when things can shift on a new farm. For a few years, you can skate by with iffy management of soil fertility and pests; you can keep yourself going on adrenaline and idealism, but only for so long. Year three is, it seemed in their conversation, the end of beginners luck. If you haven't been building up strong soil, nutrients will start to be depleted, plants more stressed, and pests and pathogens can break out with disastrous effects. And just like the soil, if the people haven't been cared for well, everything can start to fall apart. By year three, you've got to get things together, take some care of yourself and your relationships, build up your systems and efficiency, and generally clean up your act. The plus side, of course, is that it can also been when good systems start to pay off; time spent preventing weeds in past years, or adding to the soil health, or learning better time management, can begin to make things go a little bit smoother.
We may be a late-developing three year old farm, but we really are trying to do just that. This is the time of year when every time you come to the farm, or see us at market, we'll have something new. It may be large and visible, like a new high tunnel or a moveable chicken coop the size of a small house. But more likely it could be something you won't even see. Maintenance and upgrades on the walk-in cooler. An electric cable properly buried to bring power to the packing shed. An improved field map and planting schedule and record-keeping.
We are trying to be ever more lean and efficient--in part to produce more food for you all (thank you, by the way, for buying almost every single thing we brought to the first Hamilton Farmer's Market!). But part of the lean and efficiency is also to ensure that we have the time, the rest, and the space, to tend to ourselves in order to stay in it for the long haul. We are still so new to this, but we have also learned a lot in these last few years.
One of our lessons has been the importance of communication. that includes communication with each other but also with our supporters, colleagues, and farm members. If we, as a farm, don't let you know what we need, how will you know whether to offer us cheese or water?
As we get to know our farm and our community better, one of the key needs we find is the need for strong, committed, connection. Small farming is full of challenges and volatility, and no matter how skilled we become at production, some of that is out of our control. A smokey weekend can mean a 40% drop in farmers market sales. A change in management at a restaurant can mean an account equivalent to the whole year's payment on the tractor loan disappears almost instantly.
What buffers that volatility is commitment and connection. Farm memberships are almost sold out - we have 12 vegetable subscriptions available: either starting now or JUNE 9th. Help through our Eater-ship Fund is still available. The farm store is open around the clock now. Just drive up the barn and head on inside. If you want more of a visit with us, and to be pointed towards some places to wander on the farm, come on out on Tuesday, after 3pm (during member pickup time), and we'll have plenty of time to visit.