December office work keeps the farm going

Even a fundamentally outdoor, physical career like farming requires a fair bit of indoor work to maintain, and early winter is when this work really catches up to us. Every year December brings a tension between trying to work on outdoor offseason projects (such as logging, mulching, infrastructure repair/construction, meat butchering) and seasonal indoor needs of the business. Here’s a quick look at the projects and necessities that keep us tied to a computer or desk for much of this month, often competing for limited access to our single terminal.

Financial reconciliation
With our sales pretty much complete, we have to close the books before end of year. We go through invoices and bank deposits to ensure nothing is missing or unpaid, match earnings to deposits, and so on. There are always cases where we paid a business expense with personal funds, or vice versa, either through mistake or circumstance, and need to reconcile those situations in our accounts (determine which entity owes the other money and remit it). The farm also needs to pay us rent. With our fiscal year ending Dec 31, there are all sorts of these account issues to handle, which take time and concentration to get right.

Seed order planning
Seed orders for the following year need to be completed in early winter, as (a) the first seeds are started in early February, and (b) with the ever-rising demands for seed from small farms and gardeners, specific varieties sell out faster and faster (this is especially important for a certified organic farm which is supposed to use certified seeds, though there are various ways to wiggle out of that requirement). This year we set ourselves a goal of completing our seed order by Dec 31, which means a lot of time spent on planning documents and maps. In doing this, we’re juggling rotational considerations (keeping crops of the same family from following each other), CSA planning for the full year to keep distributions even and manageable, restaurant interests, workload balance throughout the year, predictions/hopes for weather, and more. Part of the challenge, too, is to maintain economic efficiency by not ordering more than we need or will use, thus saving money and waste. It’s a very complex process to plan for the almost 200 varieties of food plants we grow. Getting the order done early helps ensure we get the varieties and quantities of seed we want, and/or that we can substitute effectively from another source if something does vanish quickly. It also takes a weight off our shoulders in the new year when many other tasks come on quickly (like taxes, organic certification paperwork, and spring seedlings).

Website work
There are always website updates to make, but this year especially, we’ve taken on the project of completely rebuilding our farm website for CSA service. We built our original site to advertise a market farm, intending it to act primarily as a static online brochure where customers could learn about our methods and products and then seek us out at the market, with a separate blog to serve more actively interested folks. As we move into CSA, we’re far less interested in outright advertising to the general public, and far more interested in serving our paid members with useful content and features that relate directly to their CSA experience. Thus we’re redesigning the site with more dynamic content like recipe collections, member surveys, farm events calendar, indices of blog-postings on various relevant topics, and more. We’ll also be porting this blog itself over to WordPress (the platform on which we’re building the new site), so that all our online content is available in one place. Though our focus is on CSA, we do also want to build the site into a useful reference for others interested in our style of homestead farming, and will be working to build a very informative site that in part pays back all the online help we found when starting this place ourselves (and fills some gaps we couldn’t find). All this takes a lot of computer time on the programming and content-development end, and again this has to get done in the winter because we sure don’t have time once spring comes.

CSA planning
Though we’ve done much of the basic setup work, and have our membership complete, there is still a lot of background work to be done in getting the CSA truly ready to go, especially with our first distribution intended for mid-January. We sent out an initial member survey to capture information like delivery preferences & addresses, and are exploring different delivery routes that will serve us all most effectively (every member has both a preferred day and location to get their share). The January share will partly act as a test of this system, but we still want a sensible first draft to work from. We’ll also be working on planning out different farm events given interests expressed on the survey; so far workshops like cheesemaking and food preservation are high on folks’ requests.

Sharing tasks
Most of the work above falls into Joanna’s purview; I may be the face of the farm as its salesman and public voice, but she’s really the core engine at its heart. She does most of the seed planning, accounting, and computer programming that keep us running year-round. I tend to handle the writing and photography, which means I get the glory, but it should really only reflect off me from her. In return, as in most of the year, I handle much of the routine daily work like animal chores, housecleaning, cooking, laundry, and more to allow her the physical and mental freedom to focus on these important and time-consuming tasks. I also work on second-hand projects like house repairs, woodworking, firewood management, and as much logging as I can do within earshot of the house (for safety reasons). It’s an excellent partnership, but one that doesn’t always give her the credit she deserves.

Blog writing
What this means for the winter, especially, is that I get very little time on the computer and so blog-writing naturally suffers. I usually need a break by this point anyway; though I have lots of policy and farm-related topics in my head, I get a bit burned out on developing them all into unpaid content. Though we’re much more confident in the farm’s future and the value of our online presence than we were last year, there will still be a significant drop-off in blogging for the next month of two. For the rest of this month, we’d like to get to our remaining Food Preservation posts, and one on our hog-slaughter setup, but after that it will mostly be occasional light-duty updates, especially until the new site with integrated blog is up and running.

Happy winter
So our winters are not so much a time off, though we do work shorter hours than summer, but a time to focus on different work and recharge our outdoor farmer batteries for the all-too-soon return of the growing season. It’s generally a pleasant time, with Joanna doing comfortable computer work in a home office with natural lighting and a fire in the stove, and me puttering about comfortably on house & farm projects that I can do alone, including some especially interesting cooking now that I have time and a full set of food preserves that I can play with. May your winter be as enjoyable as ours usually is.

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