Weekly farm life

Now that market sales are ongoing (we’ve been at market about two months), our lives have settled into a form of weekly routine. I thought it might be interesting for customers and readers to consider what that routine looks like. Our week really centers around the Saturday farmers market, so that you could consider a new week to begin on Sunday, but often that day still ties back into the day before, so I’ll start here with Monday.

Every day I get up between 6 and 6:30, this time of year relying on just the sun. I tend to wake up naturally earlier than Joanna, who is always up by 7. One of us gets dressed and goes down to deal with morning animal chores, which include opening the goose & chicken sheds, refilling water and hay, and most mornings doing the milking. We’ll also usually open the gates to the nearest grazing paddock. Whoever isn’t handling the animals tends to make breakfast, usually a rotation between homemade granola, yogurt, eggs, oatmeal, scones, cornbread, and so on. I make a point of finding time to read multiple sources of online news and check email; staying educated and aware is something I take very seriously (we also get over ten magazines that we read at meals, bed, snatches of time).
We usually eat lunch around noon, and are working toward shifting to a summer meal schedule in which lunch is the main meal followed by a rest, to avoid the hottest part of the day. This allows us to have a quick meal of leftovers for dinner, so that we can maximize use of the cooler evening hours. During any given day we’ll be coming back to the house every few hours for water, snacks, tools, or whatever, and take a lot of mini-breaks to balance the long workday.
Evening chores including feeding grain, checking hay and water, and locking animals away for the night. Chickens go into their shed, mother geese and goslings go into theirs, and we usually lock the kids away in a separate compartment for the night to allow Garlic to accumulate milk for morning. Milking once a day eases the burden on us, and provides fresh milk while allowing the kids to nurse during the day. We try to shower and be in bed by 9:30 with sleep by 10. Both of us do far better with a full night of sleep.
Since late winter, I’ve been working one day a week at Goatsbeard Farm, the excellent dairy & cheesemaker about 11 miles west of us. We’ve had a good relationship with them for a while now; our goats came from there and we’ve bred with their buck. I wanted to gain more experience with commercial-scale dairying, goat management, and cheese making, and it’s helpful for them to have reliable workers. Any steady paycheck is nice these days as well. So every Monday morning I head over there by 8, and come home in the afternoon whenever they’re done with me. Meanwhile Joanna tends to use Mondays to really focus on produce tasks and organization, since she’s the primary architect of our plantings. Having me gone means she can devote all her attention to her primary interests, tasks, and planning.
These days are generally open for whatever needs to be done, including planting, weeding, infrastructure projects, moving the goats, and so on. This time of year, harvest is becoming a daily task for fast-ripening items like peas, and later for green beans, cherry tomatoes, and okra. Weather plays a large role in determining the daily work, as the temperature, wind, rain, and soil conditions really dictate what we can and should do. We’ll often end up planning a few days in advance based on the weather forecast, trying to maximize our efficiency with comfort. For example, we’ll try to reserve physical tasks for mornings or cloudy days, while targeting easier tasks for afternoons or hot days. There are always indoor tasks, like updating our records, office/business needs, cooking & preserving, and so on that we try to reserve for rainy or hot days.
This is our main harvest day for market, as we prefer our products to be as fresh as possible. We’ll usually start first thing in the morning, with a steady progression of harvesting product, washing, sorting, bundling, & packing it, then storing it in refrigerators. So far we’ve generally been finishing this around midday or early afternoon, after which I’ll pack the truck with all the non-produce market items (tents, tables, scale, etc) and try to have everything ready for Saturday morning. Most weeks we wash the truck out on Thursday, one of the many, many practices we keep records for as part of maintaining our organic certification. Whatever time is left on Friday when everything’s ready for market goes into the general labor pool of tasks.
I get up at 5 on Saturdays, which gives me enough time to load all the produce into the truck and eat a quick breakfast while skimming news. I leave by 6 in order to get to market by 6:30, and setting up the stand usually takes me until at least 7:30. Sales start at 8, and I’ll start packing up around noon. Right after market I go to bank to deposit the day’s take, and then do whatever errands we need around Columbia, including small grocery runs for things like butter and juice. I get home any time between 1 and 4, depending on errands, usually fully exhausted. The rest of the day and evening I tend to lie around; for some reason selling at market thoroughly drains me of energy.
Saturdays for Joanna follow a similar pattern to Mondays; a day in which she can focus on her primary interests and projects. Whenever I get home, we tend to take the rest of the afternoon/evening off, relaxing with magazines, watching a movie, taking a walk, or whatever.
Sunday tends to follow the same pattern as mid-week, a general work day that can be dedicated to whatever needs doing. I tend to still be moving slowly in the morning, so we often make a nicer breakfast and get off to a late start. Otherwise it functions as a kind of transition between weeks, as we unload and clean the truck and market containers (if we didn’t do it Saturday) while getting started on the next round of work.
Serving on two boards (CFM and SF&C) means that I generally have multiple evening meetings per month, as well as a fair amount of email and/or computer work to take care of, as I maintain both organization’s websites. I really don’t like being gone in the evenings, as I get home late and take a long time to settle down, but that’s the nature of the commitment. I fit the office work in wherever I can, often in snippets of time while I’m resting between outside chores.
Probably the largest chunk of non-farm time we spend relates to cooking. We don’t cut corners in our cooking; food is just too important to us. So I estimate we spend several hours a day preparing daily meals from scratch, plus the time we put in preserving food nearly year-round, making basics like bread, yogurt, and cheese, butchering meat for fresh consumption or storage, and so on. It sounds like a lot, but is still less time than the average American family spends watching TV, and is far more rewarding while saving us a lot of money.
Rarely do we take full days off; about once a month we’ll pick a day to stop everything and go do something fun, usually exploring some part of mid-Missouri by back road, foot, and/or canoe. We try to take shorter breaks here and there, like a few hours to fish in an evening or a half-day trip somewhere combined with farm needs like an auction or purchasing trip. We have far more flexibility in our daily schedule than most careers, such that we can take an hour or an afternoon here and there as needed to rest or recuperate, and that makes up for the otherwise 24/7 nature of the work.
And, of course, there’s writing this blog. I’ve developed a system that works pretty well for me, in which I sit down over the weekend (usually Sunday evening) and write up a series of posts that are pre-cued for the following week, a process which usually doesn’t take more than an hour. I don’t view this blog as a instant news source, just a steady diet of information, ideas, and updates that can be written ahead of time in most cases. I’ll often pre-stage ideas as saved outlines, then fill them out days to weeks later when I have a chance. Then on Thursday evening I’ll find a few minutes to write up the Market Plans post for Friday morning, which I’d like customers to start using for pre-market information. I’m consider shifting this to Thursday morning to give folks more heads-up on product, but I like being able to make last-minute decisions about what’s ready to harvest.
So that’s our weekly life in (somewhat) brief. It’s a busy and tiring schedule, as are all small businesses, but with all the benefits of independence and variety that make self-employment.

3 thoughts on “Weekly farm life

  1. She quit in late winter. We haven't really gotten around to making an official announcement or so on…we were actually wondering if anyone would catch that in this piece. We really do need to officially note that major transition in our lives.

  2. Major indeed – congratulations! I'm sure that was also a factor in you deciding to work at Goatsbeard – hard to believe you wouldn't need that day on the farm if Joanna were working.Must be nice having somebody to work with almost everyday. And also nice to have days apart so you don't drive each other totally nuts 😉