The Art of Observation


A big part of the cooperative component of our operation is the dissemination of ownership and decision making, and I’ve tried to exercise this mentality by acting as the daily coordinator on Sundays: basically gaining an overview of the tasks at hand, and sending out the daily email to coordinate activities between members. Additionally, I signed up to open up at the Field Notes site on Sunday morning, which I’ve not yet done. I called Oren on Saturday night to get a rundown, and we talked through the details and priorities of the next day. He was explaining the order of operations at Field Notes, before finally making the suggestion. “How about if I just come with you?” I was more relieved than I care to admit, and at 7 am Sunday I was back at Oren’s, and we hit the road for a day of action and observation.


The brisk and frosty morning air met us as we stepped out of my Corolla and made our way down to the hoop houses, where we poked, peeked and prodded. I listened intently as Oren monologued his observations, examining the each of the plants and environments within. “Wow, these peas look great! We may only have to cover them for another night or two, if it drops below 39.” “Yeah, that lettuce should perk up, but we’ll wait a bit for the sun to warm everything before opening and watering this one.” “Let’s eat some spinach for breakfast, huh? This isn’t quite as tasty as it was two weeks ago…” His attention and enthusiasm for every plant and variety in those houses was inspirational, and I took a great deal of insight from the experience. Had I been alone, I would have cranked up the sides of the hoop houses in random order, watered a bit, and left, missing out on all of the essential information which Oren patiently took the time to gather before heading back to the greenhouse to transplant peppers.


I’ve been blessed to work with a number of farmers over the last few years, and one common characteristic between them is attention to detail, and true compassion for life. This was apparent in Oren’s first stride around the greenhouse, exploring and studying tray after tray, searching for answers about poor germination, or discrepancies between seed varieties. These inquisitions were peppered with the occasional lift of a sagging stem, or extra sprinkle of water to a dehydrated tomato. He walked me through the process of transplanting peppers: the contrast to tomato transplanting; the vitality of gentleness; and the acknowledgement of the traumatic nature of the process on the plant. I could easily perceive this activity as the simple process of moving something to a new container, but for the plant, it is a critical life transition- an absolute change in habitat. Success requires care, in what is truly a matter of life and death.

We ended our greenhouse stint with a thorough scan through our planting plans and logs, to gain an understanding of where we stand currently, and essential next steps. Complexity if increasing, and care for all of the plants requires acknowledgement of their needs in advance of the transition outside, based on their seeding dates and physical appearance. Thus, the mammoth spreadsheets are manifesting in physical and energetic form; in many ways every bit as impressive and enlightening as the planning documents themselves. The plans have been essential, but at this point observation is key. Peppers can only be transplanted when their roots are well established; spinach can only be seeded outside if the ground is worked, and peas require covering on unexpectedly cold nights.

It turns out that, on paper, we’re in pretty good shape. Most everything has been seeded to the appropriate levels in the appropriate time, and now we’re getting geared up for a mass exodus from the greenhouse into outside beds. This has come to fruition, to a large extent, in Oren’s absence, as he has been away most weeks at law school. The leadership and attention to detail by all RSO members to this point has transpired into a relatively successful adherence to plans and goals. As time has passed, individuals have stepped up critically into various roles, and developed knowledge and skills in pursuit of a successful farming season. My personal leadership journey is contingent on listening, watching, and learning how to pay attention. I’m grateful to Oren for showing me around on a Sunday, and deepening my reverence for the art of observation.