At the Organic Farm School, actually at any farm this time of year, there is no time to waste, no time for new things, no time for things to break, no time to get them fixed…with so much in progress there just is no time for one more thing.
Which is precisely the time to be asking questions like:
What’s NOT working?
What can we stop doing?
What do we have to, absolutely have to, start doing right now?
What can we do differently?
Who do we need to be talking to?
Who needs to know what we’re doing and how do we connect with them?
What do we need to change for next year?
Because if we don’t ask such questions right now, we might be missing opportunities, making life harder than it needs to be, losing money on ventures that are poorly timed, etc.
Such reflective practice may seem more appropriate for businesses with doors that close, phones that can be put on mute, and staff that can take notes. Can small scale farms really afford such a luxury?
Only if they want to continue to be in the business of growing food!
Which is why last week, when our students were showing signs of frustration, overwhelm, and fatigue we sat down to ask all of those questions. From a farming perspective, the conversation was rock solid. From a teaching perspective, it was nothing short of phenomenal.
Students were able to identify time sinks, consider possible alternatives, question if such changes would be fair to customers, ask if they would genuinely free up time for other work or just make tasks harder. They were able to daylight problems without blame, instead focusing of the diversity of solutions. They kept the conversation going and yet on track. They decided on a couple of experimental changes in how we get CSA shares to Seattle, worked through possibilities for covering gaps in the Redmond market schedule, brainstormed thoughts on expanding our work with local restaurants, and more. They balanced the diversity of thoughts with the demands of planned work, noting what might be negatively impacted in pursuit of improvement. They also decided to leave some things alone and just keep on keepin’ on.
These same students started their farming career track just about 4 months ago! It’s not that we tossed them out in the field without instruction, as they spend 10 hours a week on average in the classroom as well as with instruction in the midst of the crops — but it is that we don’t teach the easy stuff at the OFS. We teach to and with the complexities of growing food as a livelihood. We acknowledge that there are some hurdles that routinely and persistently arise, and others that may come up once in a farming lifetime. To succeed over the long term, you need to be ready to wrestle with both kinds and everything in between. Sometimes you’ll have help, other times you’ll face the moments on your own. Four months in, they’re getting it.
As frustrating as it can be at times to engage in experiential learning, when there are few clear answers and even fewer absolutes, our students have taken on the robust spectrum of critical thinking exercises involved in managing a farm. Last month, they successfully ran production and harvest without supervision. This month, they are taking on more responsibility for equipment and site management. They’re also jumping head first into the creation of their personal business plans.
They are learning that when you don’t have time to ask questions, that is precisely when you need to ask them.