What I am learning: Tenacity

(Reposted from my post to the National Young Farmers Bootstrap Blogger Series, here: http://www.youngfarmers.org/news/2012/06/07/what-i-am-learning-tenacity/)


I was so busy with spring farming tasks, I didn’t notice that it was May until May 19th.  That day I realized it was considerably past time to flip to the next page on my Nikki McClure calendar.  This local artist (she’s from Olympia, Washington) pairs each lovely paper-cutting image in her calendars with a single word.  Sometimes the word is clearly related to the picture; sometimes it takes a little bit of thinking to make the connection.

On May 19, seeing this word and this image made me stop and catch my breath.

“Persist” is a good word to keep in mind as a new farmer.  My mid-May had been full of ups and downs with our new multi-plot urban farming business, City Grown Seattle.  Half of the time I was on cloud nine, wallowing in the beauty of healthy growing plants and a new farm enterprise with a high potential for success.  But the other half of the time I was feeling extraordinarily stressed out by things going wrong, and by the feeling that I was making many mistakes.

For example, the summer squash starts I had so lovingly raised from seed got transplanted out at exactly the right moment: just when the weather was ready for them to be planted out, they had reached that perfect stage of two true leaves and a root system that was visible but not overgrown when I popped one out of the tray to take a peek.  My heart felt happy as I nestled them into newly-tilled soil and looked back over the straight rows.

When I returned to the plot a couple days later, I was dismayed to find the squash plants wilted and dying.  I had left them under a blanket of floating row cover, thinking it would provide them a comfortable enclosure for their first few days.  Instead I had left my carefully tended seedlings to bake and smother in the captured heat of a too-insulated environment.

That same week of unexpectedly hot, dry weather (where’s the Seattle rain this year?), combined with our inability to get around to all of our plots to water often enough, resulted in poor germination on the spinach, carrot, and lettuce seeds we had sown at the beginning of May.  Arriving at a plot to discover that seeds are sprouting is a glorious thing.  Arriving to find a bed only half-germinated and spotted with weeds where spinach should be leads to dismal thoughts of lost sales and missing items in the expected farmstand offerings next month.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the negative.  Instead of seeing all the plants that are growing beautifully with no problems, I can focus only on the bits that are struggling.

Who was it that said, “the perfect is the enemy of the good”?  There is always going to be something less than perfect; on the farm there are so many ways that things can go wrong.  But it turns out that there are many ways that things can go right, and many ways to make things right.  This is what we have to do as new farmers: learn to make lemonade of lemons and persist in finding ways to overcome mistakes, failures, acts of God, surprises, and challenges.  It is important to have a good plan, but it may be more important to be able to accept and adapt to divergences from that plan.

We replanted the fried squash (only maybe seven out of the 36 actually died).  Luckily we had sown more seed than the number of transplants we actually needed, so we had extras to plant in their place.  As I poked more spinach seed into the ground to fill in the gaps in those beds, I realized that now I am doing two successions in one, and perhaps this staggered sowing will enable me to get a longer harvest from the same bed.  Since we are farming on such a small scale, with space at a premium, this seems like a fairly smart way to make the best out of it.

So let us persist in overcoming each challenge as it arrives, and also let us persist in an ability to see the bigger picture and all the good that is happening in spite of the challenges.

June second will mark our first day of farmstand for City Grown’s 2012 season.  June sixth will be our first farmers’ market.  I am feeling excited, and also nervous, worrying about all the little details and hoping that our first day goes well.  But as I finished up writing this post and realized that it is almost June, I peeked forward one more page in the Nikki McClure calendar to get a little preview of what next month has in store:

Planting squash at our Community Center plot
My farm partner Noe harvesting salad