Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lifehack: A Lesson in Frugality

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand 

I was feeling about as smart
as this little guy after a purchase this week!
I really thought I'd made a serious mistake last week.  We're planning to expand the blackberry trellises, as well as putting out a windbreak, so we invested in an auger for the tractor.  I found a used one on Craigslist, so we hitched up the trailer and took off on a two-hour drive.  It looked just like the picture, so we paid the folks, loaded it up, and headed home.

We only had about an hour of daylight left so we hurried to hook it up to the tractor.  The boom and yoke hooked up easily.  But when we went to attach the Power-Take-Off (PTO) shaft to the tractor, our problem became apparent.

It was too short.

No problem; we could just extend it.

It would not budge.  We pulled harder.  We tapped on it lightly with a hammer.  We tapped on it harder with the hammer.  Nothing.  Running out of daylight, we headed home, with me fearing I'd made a big mistake.  How could I have forgotten to check the telescoping joint on the PTO?  A new PTO would be really expensive if we could not make this one work.

Had my attempt at frugality been penny-wise and pound-foolish?

Too short by several feet!
The next day we did what any reasonable person would do:  we consulted every farmer in our church.  The consensus was to pour brake fluid down the slip joint and let it soak in.  We spent a while that evening hammering a small screwdriver into the telescoping joint, hoping to loosen any rust or grit, then dousing the shaft with brake fluid.  We let it marinate overnight with no success.

I was really worried.  I priced out really long PTO shafts.  Ouch.  We kept fiddling with it, with no success.

I was making plans to load the thing up onto a trailer and take it to the repair shop when, this morning at church, one of our farmer-consultants made one more suggestion.  I tried it this afternoon.


What a lovely hole!
Still one bolt to saw off, but I'm in business.  It's a good thing, too, since my trees are here and ready to be planted.

So, am I smarter than the earthworm?  Well, the jury's still out on that, but the lesson I learned this week is actually two lessons:

  1. Be alert in business.  Make sure you get a good value for your investment.  Be penny-wise and pound-wise, too.
  2. Persist in the face of trouble, but do not be afraid to ask for help.  Universally, the farmers both Jim and I consulted readily offered advice, and offered to help if we needed it.
So, it's been an educational week here on the farm; hopefully, next week's lessons will not be as, ahem, challenging . . .

What about you?  How are you living your Savory life?


Friday, March 7, 2014

Getting Down to Business: Developing a Business Plan

Moving from ignorance
to innovation!
“Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.” 
Founder of Spanx
World's Youngest Female Billionaire

There's a difference between innovation and ignorance.  Innovation refuses to be bound by convention while ignorance refuses to be educated by it.  I've been ignorant, sort of.

For years, I've been trying to get serious about converting my garden into a farming operation but, the truth is, I've not been serious enough.  I've been dabbling at it--taking Rodale's Organic Transition Course, auditing Will Hooker's Introduction to Permaculture course, but I've not done the hard work of transitioning from hobbyist to business person.

Businesses need good roots to grow!
Well, I've taken the first steps in changing that:  after all these years, I've begun a business plan for the farm.  You'd think, with a business degree, I'd be able to write a business plan in my sleep, but I've been stymied by this task.  I've started again and again, and given up each time until I discovered a handy course from the National Center for Appropriate Technology which was created through a grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture:  Getting Started in Farming:  An Introduction to Farm Business Planning.  Its eight lessons (and six case studies) are leading me through the entire process:
  • Goal Setting
  • Assessing Skills and Resources
  • Land Access
  • Marketing
  • Startup & Recordkeeping
  • Risk Management
  • Financing Your Farm
  • Business Plan
Strong roots
weather harsh conditions!
Each lesson has attached excellent supplemental readings, as well as a writing assignment which accomplishes that section of the business plan.  Some sections (recordkeeping, for example) I had already begun, although in too simple a form.  Land access was interesting, but we moved to the farm six years ago.  The skills assessment was eye-opening, though.  It forced me to take a hard look at myself, and my resources.  I still have a long way to go, but can, at least, get started.

The risk management section nearly derailed me, though, because, just as I was reading it, the Colorado cantaloupe farmers were sentenced in connection with a deadly listeria outbreak.  The possibility of sickening someone stopped me cold.  Could I--should I--face that risk?  I've thought about that for several weeks now, and I am going forward with my plan.  Sustainable, locally-produced fruits and vegetables can contribute to the physical and economic health of my community.  Contributing to my community, and putting land back into cultivation, is important to me.

careful planning!
At this point, I'm self-financing--I have a job in the city.  My goal for this year, which is actually my third year trying to "farm," is to clear enough to pay the property taxes.  I know that's a modest goal, but it's the logical next step and I need a little success this year!

Today is the day I will be slogging through my Farm Food Safety Plan 1.0.  While that might seem more daunting a task than writing a business plan (and it is!), the On-Farm Food Safety Project has a wonderful tool which will help me build it, section-by-section.  I think copious amounts of chocolate may be required.

Then, after putting all the documentation together, I'll review it as a whole and, before the heat sets in, do as much soil- and infrastructure-building as I can.  I think more chocolate may be required.  And compost.  And a post-hole digger.  And . . .

How are you working toward living your Savory life?