By Jay Ross
As two people who work out at a gym almost every day, Robin and I often discuss what we feel is the physical side of our farming business. This physical training side of the business is what we have come to call “Farm Strong”. Farm Strong training, as opposed to Ironman training. I have done both.
In training for an Ironman competition, you plan out your training months in advance. You look at every aspect of the event and plan your workout accordingly. Swimming, biking, running and even nutrition and rest are essential factors. You evaluate, guess, project and plan on where you should be physically, ever ready to make adjustments based on injuries or changes you cannot plan for. The same is true for a small farm like ours, where the only workout the tractor gets is turning the compost piles or cutting the grass. All other work is done on foot and by hand or hand tools. You plan when to plant, what to plant, where to plant, when to pick, and who will pick, ever ready to make adjustments due to weather changes, pest pressure, or changes due to factors unimaginable.
For the Ironman, you go to your daily plan, see what is in the plan and execute such, even if this is after your regular job. Then when work and workout are done, you are done. A day well spent. You have accomplished everything today you needed to accomplish. For the farm, you go to your daily plan, see what is in the plan and execute such. This is not in addition to your regular job, this is your job. You check this field, work on the weeds, rake this line, compost this line and then till it, retrieve the seeder and plant the line, go to the other field and work on the weeds, then straw the lines to keep the weeds down. You pick the produce in that field, tear out the line of crops that are now past, compost the line, till the line, plant the line. The crops you tore out get dumped to the chickens. Best fed chickens around. Pick the raspberries, make sure all of the produce picked gets into the cold room as soon as possible. The asparagus needs weeding every week or the weeds will take over. This is true even though the asparagus quit producing months ago. You also have to plan for next year. Oh, wait, it has not rained for a week! Put out or turn on the irrigation. There are caterpillars eating the tomatoes. As you pick tomatoes, be sure to pick off all the tomato horn worms you can find. Don’t forget to feed, water and retrieve the chicken eggs. And so it goes….
Toward the end of my training for the Ironman competition, I was working out almost twenty five hours a week in addition to my job. In Ironman training, it is essential you taper your training before competition. With advice from the more experienced, I planned a three week taper. This is where the last three weeks before the competition your training gets tapered back until the week of competition, when you are doing very light workouts. Then the day of competition arrives! It is all excitement and adrenaline. You are victorious, you succeed, Hurray! Then you crash. You can then take all the time you want or need to recover. You have done it! You are an Ironman! Everyone wants to hear those words as you cross the finish line.
On the farm, there is no finish line. You rise early, work hard all day, and at the end of the day you realize you have not done all you needed to do. There are more weeds that need to be pulled. There are more crops that need to be removed, composted, land tilled, then reseeded. But the day is done, so you head inside to eat dinner. Then you start thinking about what to do next. Do I change my plan? What seeds do I need to order for the coming season? Is the weather working out for the crops I have out? Is it too hot? Is it too cold? I need to communicate with my customers. The tiller broke down today. How and when am I going to get it repaired? I need to sit down and pay the bills. What new products would my customers like? What new varieties of produce should I try and will they work in this zone? Who has better seeds? Should I use transplants?
In contrast, a regular job and twenty five hours of workout a week and you are done. Compete and then you can relax. The farm is your job, no, your life. You work all day and think on into the evening. This is never ending. You need to earn year round income to make the farm work. There is no finish line, no taper, no “I am done and can now relax for a couple of weeks”. This workout plan we so smugly termed “Farm Strong” is not accurate. What it really is, is the Farm Grind. It will grind you down until you are a greasy spot in the driveway. I have lived both, done both. With that knowledge and perspective, I can honestly say farming is more challenging. Farm Grind vs Ironman? Ironman is a walk in the park! Farm Grind, few survive.
With that said, you might ask “why would you do it?”. Why people choose the difficult job of farming is hard to describe. It might have something to do with a certain sense of independence. Possibly it is a connection with nature. Maybe it is just that I love great healthy food! But most likely the reason I farm is an indescribable sense of admiration and gratitude at the beauty of the farm, the satisfaction of a great crop, the amazing smell of nature, the birds, the snakes, the butterflies, and the old lab that follows me around everywhere. Yes it is hard but I promise; it is worth it.
Come see me on the farm.