Admin Times: The Cat and the Compost Toilet

One of the primary recurring surprises of farming is, in my opinion, how often it isn’t actually farming. Not in the conventionally-imagined sense, at least. Sure, there are idyllic sunset walks through crop fields, and the occasional cow-wrangling session in the pasture, but the constant in-between is administrative. So much so, in fact, I’m beginning to feel that an honest farm tour should consist of an office segment, demonstrating the reality of the expansive realm of bookwork in farming.

Office is, however, a subjective term, and Monday morning found me at Zest Coffeehouse behind my computer – Blue Parrot trucker headset flashing blue on me ear, for hands-free function and overall legitimacy of appearance. I was taking care of business, obviously; making my third call of the morning.

“Yeah, hi. So I’m looking to move a lot of compost from New London to Stevens Point, and hoping to rent a tractor/trailer, and something to load it with.”

“Hmm, what’s that you’re moving again? Oh, compost? Sure. We don’t have tractor/trailers, unfortunately, but we could do the loader. For a job like that, you’re looking at a Cat 926-M. It’s got about a 3-yard bucket, and the reach capacity for loading a full trailer. So, you have somebody that can operate it?”


By now I’d brought up a picture of the impressive beast – swiveling chassis and all.

Holy shit, they would actually let us operate this thing?

“…Oh yeah, we could operate it.”

“Okay, so that would be $610 for the day; $1820 for the week; or $5450 for a month, and the delivery both directions, if you need, would be $230. Besides that, we would just require proof of insurance, demonstrating a policy of at least $1M.”

“No problem; thanks for the information, and we’ll stay in touch!”

Now, highly inspired by visions of myself behind the controls of the Cat 926-M, I called Oren and started prattling.

“…Yeah dude, so we’ll just rent the Cat, use one of Bartnik Trucking’s tractors and borrow a trailer from one of the bigger farmers around there – we know a bunch of guys – and the only real cost will be the Cat. And with as much compost as we could move in one trip…”

“Wait,” he interrupted me. “What kind of trailer are you thinking?”

From there, he systematically deflated my dreams, and I watched as my Cat 926-M drove off into the sunset without me. Never reaching the point of absolute concession, however, I was sure to get in the last word. “Yeah, well if there really is that much compost, we should at least think about doing it this way. For efficiency.”

With that, I hit my 8:30 dentist appointment, where the extra-chatty dental tech interrupted my plans for a quick reclined snooze while she filed the X-rays. Okay, I thought, She wants to chat; I’ll sell her a CSA. “So yeah, my wife and I are actually co-owners of an organic vegetable farm, which is really awesome. Do you shop at the Farmers’ Market at all? Yeah, that’s awesome! We also have this really cool program where we…”

By the end of it, we were talking juicy tomatoes and tiny children, and I’d gotten her email and sent an informational info with the link. On my way back to the Greenhouse, I fired up the headset and called Kim Beckham to try to recruit her for a lunch-cooking CSA share. All in the name of Monday morning farming.

These administrative functions are especially enlightening and entertaining at the collective level. At our last BOD meeting, for example, Oren and Kelly entered the ring and went toe-to-toe over the packaging of our greens at the Stevens Point Area Coop. It was an impressive battle, with Kelly standing strong over the argument that plastic bags are technically recyclable, and less resource-intensive to begin with, and Oren drawing primarily on the economic benefit of the display in plastic clamshells — generally peppering his argument with other irrelevant and logically questionable points.

He eventually wore her down, however, and she conceded; under the stipulation that we make a concentrated push for increased awareness of the issue, offer to clean and reuse clamshells, and push for promotion of local recycling of clamshell plastics. From there, we moved on to the business of doing business, and flew into a heated discussion over the logistics of a compost toilet.

“But if you have a composting toilet on a trailer, you don’t have a composting toilet; you just have a trailer!..”

“So, you poop in one and pee in the other, right?..

     “Pee in the woods!”

                                                                        “No, you can do both in the same one…”

About halfway through the madness, two young children had entered the Idea Center and peeked sheepishly around the corner, watching us while they waited for their father. You could almost hear the gears turning as they eyed us with increasing curiosity.

What are these grownups talking about?

“… My favorite composting toilet was an open concept, with one side…”

Finally, their dad arrived and whisked them on into the curious maze that is the Idea Center. We just carried on; business as usual. Farming, as they say, is farming. Unless it’s not.