Odd as it may seem, half of our Rising Sand membership is on the cusp of heading back to school for the fall: Monica, Logan and Corrina to finish up their undergrads in Stevens Point; Oren back to Madison for law-school year 2, and Dan McDougle to some Midwestern no-man’s-land for law-school year 1. Though I wish them all the best, I can’t say that I’m at all envious. “Higher” education now behind me, I can’t help but feel that the highest of education comes only from experience in the field, and 8-months into the Rising Sand project, we’ve certainly learned our share of lessons, personally and collectively.
Among the foremost lessons of Season 1 is realism in planning. Between the 10 of us, our wintertime energy and expectation got a bit out of control, leading us to some foolishly excessive planting decisions. I remember those early conversations well: “Who’s going to take care of all of those tomatoes?” “I will; that’s no problem…” “We’ve got X thousand onions to seed this week…” We were overzealous back then, and now receive constant reminders as we gaze upon our jungly beds of weeds that, having long since gone to seed, tower over rows of onions and carrots, swaying tauntingly in the breeze. Lesson learned: next year, plant a fraction of the veggies, maintain them adequately, and hopefully yield nearly as much food for the effort.
Also implicated in our planning were the lessons we learned on personal time commitments. These came the hard way, through constantly recurring, awkward, and often painful discussions on expectations through the course of the season. Next year, I have little doubt we will all be much more realistic in our personal time commitments, and plan our crops more accordingly as a result.
Communication is always key, and we’ve had to work through many lessons regarding harvest, wholesale and CSA packing communication. As a recipient of wholesale orders through my role at Mission Coffee, I can personally attest to frustration at having my orders botched, and not receiving what I need. It’s an odd feeling to be mad at your own farm, but as I’m not able to be present on packing day, I try to keep my frustrations in check, and trust that issues will be worked through and corrected in time.
Though there was little choice in the matter for this season, we’ve learned lessons on the inefficiency of being split between locations. Though it’s only a few miles, a few miles a few times a day for a few weeks equals a lot of time, fuel and sanity spent. So we continue the seemingly endless process of transitioning procedures over to Rising Sand, and though every step completed seems to reveal three additional steps, we continue, one small step at a time.
Lessons on animal husbandry have presented themselves as well, with two white cows roaming the pastures as they wish, making the more-than-occasional escape, and reminding us always that we need to figure out a more powerful and adequate fence for next season. Lotus the dog has thus received lessons in cowherding, in addition to an unfortunate lesson about the necessity of respecting motor vehicles, parked or otherwise. The kittens continue to face near-death lessons – whether from bone-crushing coolers or the head-chewing puppy – but, true to the 9-lives theory, they’re all still with us; climbing and grooming to become the rodent-killing machines of their destiny.
The most vital lessons thus far, however, have been of an interpersonal nature. Now, after 8 months of board meetings, we sit together as friends and colleagues rather than strangers — appreciating and accepting the quirks and characteristics each individual brings to the table. For the ten of us to have worked together so intimately for the last 8 months without any apparent blood-boiling resentments may be the greatest indicator of our success. We work through troubles and misunderstandings continuously as they arise, gearing ourselves up hopefully for a successful conclusion of Season 1, and inception of Season 2.
Paradoxical as it may seem, the inefficiencies, mistakes and lessons are most exciting to me as I look forward to the future of Rising Sand Organics. Imperfect as it has been, if we can make due with a newly-formed team of largely inexperienced farmers, what could the future hold? For my part I know that, given the experience gained this season, I will be much more valuable next year, and each of us most certainly feels the same. As we continue to grow and gel as a team, our capacity will multiply, and I’m excited to see and experience the future of Rising Sand Organics, and all of the lessons yet to be learned.