Conventional wisdom has it that winter is a time of rest for farmers. When it comes to physical labor, this is certainly true. When it comes to mental labor, the truth is light years away. Planning a season is serious business—what you don’t get right in January will come back to haunt you in June.
Our winter planning can be grouped into two categories. First, there is straight-forward numbers-crunching. How much seed will it take to plant how many beds to harvest how many pounds to feed how many people? It’s not calculus, but it does take patience and time. If you have records to reference, decisions can be quick and well-informed. Without records, you’re either chained to the calculator or shooting from the hip. I made the ultimate reference last month, when I asked our seed suppliers if I could simply hit “repeat” on the 2021 order. The annual order is our biggest number crunching job, and I normally save it for late January, when holidays are in the rearview, kids are back at school, and there are uninterrupted chunks of time to compare varieties, quantities, and prices. That was before the pandemic. Last year I was caught completely off guard by a deluge of backorders and out-of-stock items. With no indication that this year would be any different—supply chain issues are still a thing—I decided to trade precision for peace of mind. In the grand scheme of things, less than 10% of our order changes from year to year, so hitting “repeat” seemed like a safe bet. The boxes arrived Christmas eve, and they are still sitting in my basement, unopened, waiting for their turn at the top of the winter to-do list.
After the numbers comes the colorful, creative side. Which projects to pursue? Which people to hire? Which investments to make? There’s no formula to guarantee success, but there is a framework to guide the decision-making process. Do we have the money and/or talent for the proposed project? Will a new hire work well with our existing crew? Does the investment support our long-term vision? Not every idea meets every criterion, and we shelve more ideas than we pursue, but just because an idea gets shelved doesn’t mean it’s totally dead. Dan has talked about installing solar panels on the Tin House since 2013, when the foundation was laid; this might be the year he finally makes it happen. I’ve wanted to reintroduce arts since 2015, when we shuttered an overly-ambitious program that left us burned out; this year I’ve hired Jackie Ford to spearhead a manageable calendar of events. When it comes to creative elements, our experience is slow and steady wins the race.
If winter was all planning and no doing we’d probably go bonkers, which is why we’ve upped the ante on winter markets. Yesterday we hosted a CSA pickup/ farm stand that started at 15° and never made it higher than 25°. Our crew stayed warm by constantly swapping crates from the walk-in cooler to the tables and back—not only did the exercise keep blood flowing, it kept the produce from freezing. Welcome to the Long Island tundra! The frigid day was yet another vindication of the CSA model. Without the impetus to collect what they already paid for, today’s winter share members might have stayed home. Instead, they layered up and braved the cold, and we applaud them for that. We also applaud the many farm stand customers who had no such impetus, but who ventured out anyway. There was even a dude in shorts! Dude, I don’t know who you are, but the mother in me wants to yell at you then feed you soup.
To keep the blood flowing, we have another season of Sundaywinter walks in store. There’s no agenda beyond fresh air and good conversation. I don’t think anything will compare to last year’s walk, when a Cessna plane crashed before our very eyes, but even without aeronautic stunts, the fields have plenty to offer. The walks are free to the public, no registration required. We’d love to have you join us.
Thanks for reading, and hope to see you at the farm soon.