Having existed within RSO since inception, I’m quite eager to get an outsider’s view when I can — picking the brains of our first-year employee, Asher, our old guy, Red, and our work shares. Out in the field with work shares, I’ll pick around, seeking an honest assessment of who we are and how we appear from the outside. The results have been unnervingly and hilariously consistent.
“Well, I think that you guys try to be organized, but… you’re only in your second season, so that’s understandable, I guess…”
“Yeah, I just feel like things will get a lot easier for you all once you have some consistent systems in place…”
“Well… I guess it just seems like a lot of people trying to communicate and make decisions, and that’s gotta be difficult…”
Sometimes, when you seek the truth, the truth is exactly what you get.
The hilarious thing is that, unbeknownst to these tangential participants, we try to be systematic! We have monthly board meetings to orient ourselves around the same principles. We’re having three formal feedback sessions over the course of this season, to identify individual blindspots and keep us moving in a productive direction together. We have weekly field planning meetings, setting clear expectations for the work of the week ahead. At times, it seems like we’ve got nothing except systems.
Sometimes, though, it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes, you have a whole planting log system in place, straight with columns for every imaginable variable – date first seeded; date stepped up into pots; crate number; date planted out; plot and bed number. What seemed so clear in the spring, however, has become hieroglyphics by the fall. “Wait, I’m pretty sure we started counting beds from the south side on this plot…” “Hold on, is that a one or two? I’m pretty sure two thirds of this bed are Conservor, the one third is Matador…” Sometimes, you just decide to pick an arbitrary cutoff point between shallot varieties, hedging your bets that the chances of a market customer callout are slim.
Sometimes you spend half of a board meeting laying out a caricaturistic parody of structure that would make the government jealous (“Wait, so if Danny is sending out the Daily email on Monday, maybe Monica and Lee could be Workflow Coordinators for Tuesday…” ), only to realize weeks later that the system crumbled upon completion, and from the very date of that meeting, the regular Daily email all but died.
Sometimes you lay out a perfectly timed hay raking and baling plan for a Saturday afternoon, finally edging that illusive reality of a well-managed hay field. The hay is down; the people are in place; the machinery is ready to go, and the rain is expected to hold off until evening. Sometimes the guy responsible ends up putting gas in the diesel tractor, rendering the machine temporarily immobile, and the dry hay succumbs to an overnight downpour.
Sometimes the bunk diesel/gas mixture is drained from the tractor back into your regular red gas tanks, and, as this information went uncommunicated for the better part of a week, run through your BCS tractor — one of the keystone machines of your farm – compromising the vehicle, and all of its necessary farm functions.
Sometimes you make an ad-hoc decision to add questionable cider apples to a CSA box – neglecting the 70 pounds of extra tomatoes on the table — only to receive feedback from numerous members that they were soft, scabby and less-than-desirable.
Sometimes you spend the better part of the morning installing a “step” into your packshed, where before existed only a random scattering of large stones and spikes. Sometimes the first workshare, in their first entrance on the very next day, sprains their ankle on the very step you’ve just installed, and spends the better part of the morning in elevation and ice mode.
Sometimes you realize, for the fourth week in a row, that critical thinking of any kind is simply not a realistic expectation at 5 am on a Saturday morning, in spite of the best intentions of the crew. You wait behind your Appleton market stand for the characteristic call from Oren around 7:30. “You guys forgot the order for the Free Market…” “Why didn’t you take your tomatoes..?” “How come there are so many beans left in the cooler..?” It troubles you every week, and every week you ask yourself, “Why haven’t I made that checklist yet?”
Sometimes this all bothers you, and sometimes you just have to shrug and say, “Shit… what can we do?”