January 22, 2017

I guess what could be called a January thaw is upon us. Perhaps a more fitting name for it would be sloppy muddy mess. It is perhaps a little more enjoyable to be working in 40 degree weather rather than in single digits, but other than that, this weather has little impact on farm operations. Without a doubt,, though, the 2017 growing season has arrived. It may seem like nothing significant would be happening on a Wisconsin vegetable farm in the third week of January, but we are actually pretty busy right now.

The most obvious work that we do right now is repair all of our broken equipment, from tractors to hoes (and backs too). The season is long and difficult, and it can take a heavy toll on equipment. Moreover, we have new tools to make, like a dripline layer for the field or a new greenhouse to build. Lastly in this category of work, we need to perform standard maintenance work on our equipment. The next 60 days or so will be the only time we have to work on these projects. All of this, though, does not mean that we don’t have planting to do.

We have already planted our March and April greens, and they will soon be transplanted in our cold tunnels (greenhouses without heat). Presently, they are growing indoors under our grow light racks, and they will probably be moving outdoors within the next two weeks. In fact, they have to move out because we will be planting our main season onions, about 150,000 of them, and they will need to use the grow lights to mature enough to be moved out to one of the greenhouses. By mid-February, we will be starting to plant so much that we will have to convert one of our walk-in coolers to a germination chamber, an enclosed area for germinating seeds in soil where we can control temperature and humidity to ensure maximum germination.

The last item on our January/February list is creating our detailed planning document for the season. Rotations, planting schedules, hiring schedules, and planting successions must all be planned to ensure a successful season. With so many variables to consider, we cannot afford the luxury of a misstep. To quote Han Solo in the original Star Wars: Farming “…ain’t like dusting crops!” Actually I suspect dusting crops may be challenging, and Han Solo actually said that about flying through hyperspace, but I have digressed from my point!

The truth is that farming is as challenging as any other complex professional endeavor, with equally fiscal and operational challenges similar to any other business. The myth that farming is a simple profession where all one does is plant seeds and then harvest the yield is simply not true. Farming is a business where daily decisions are made with such small tolerances for error that the stress alone of making these decisions, can be more than most people would tolerate. It, of course, is rewarding too, and clearly, I would not trade places with anyone.

It is honest work where I can sleep well at the end of the day. I sleep well, not only because I am thoroughly exhausted, but also because I know that I am doing my best to honor a few simple principles of sustainability. Those principles center around doing as little harm as possible to others and to the earth. In return, I am privileged to enjoy and share the fruits of work that begins in the cold dark days of winter, and I can feel the satisfaction of growing food that nourishes my community and family.

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