This particular essay is about bearings, but more specifically, the experience of losing them.
Last year was a good year on the farm. I exceeded my revenue targets, and my crop quality was respectable. But for me, and I suspect I'm not alone, my business is a house in a state of constant renovation. The house might already look pretty good, sure, but I always think it could look even better.
Heading into 2015, the 'better' I was after was a healthier balance between work and leisure. Last year, there were too many days in which the last hour I worked, usually keeping me outside into the seven or eight o'clock range, was one hour too long to be able to hang up my hat in a good mood. Worse, those late punch-outs were preventing me from enjoying one of the best things about living on a farm: preparing and enjoying food you grew yourself with people you care about.
Last November, I set a goal: that in 2015, I'd knock off work by 6pm at least five days a week, and take at least half of Sunday off. I couldn't afford to sacrifice revenues to do so, though, so I knew I'd have to improve my efficiency in order to realize it. Over two months, I analyzed all my systems every which way, and concluded that I was growing too many unprofitable types of veggies, I was spending too much time distributing my harvest, and that my early-Spring and late-Fall crops weren't worth the effort to produce them.
Eliminating veggies from one's crop plan is the farmer equivalent of a dad deciding which of his children he prefers. Theoretically, he's not supposed to have an opinion. But c'mon, dad; we all know your son Skyler is kind of a shit. In my case, I had a few kids like that. Cabbage, broccoli, kale, all the brassicas, really; none were profitable, either because of their going price, or because of the many pests that love them as much as you do. I eliminated them all, and replaced them with more of the salad greens that always seemed to be in short supply last year.
An even harder decision was to eliminate my Westbank and Penticton home delivery routes in favour of sales elsewhere. It felt like I was letting down some loyal customers. Probably because I was. But those routes were serious time-sucks compared to some of my other options for selling my stuff.
So here's the problem: some renovations are so drastic that, right in the middle of them, you don't even recognize your house, and you're not sure you made the right choices. A week ago, a colleague asked me how my season was going, and I didn't know what to tell him, because I wasn't sure. With less early-Spring production, I had skipped the first few Penticton Farmers' Markets. That gave me some extra time off, much of which I spent fretting that I wouldn't make up the income in the main season.
So far, I've been knocking off work by 6pm most of the time. Mission accomplished, right? Except, well, no, maybe not. I won't truly know until the end of the year, when I can tally my gross sales. I still need to court some new restaurant customers, expand my home delivery program for Peachland, and, overall, find a home for all the crops I shifted from the shoulder seasons into the main one.
Which is why it feels like I've lost my bearings a bit. The farm I'm running is a lot different than the one that too frequently made me grumpy last year. And there's a very real possibility that, come Fall, I'll realize that all my extra free time hurt my bottom line. It's nerve-wracking.
But I've got to try. As Gandalf told Frodo, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." And I've decided that at six, I'd really like to enjoy a good meal and a glass of wine with my wife, rather than weed just one more bed.