A mountain of decisions

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Tiny Farm Duluth will occupy a mere seventh of an acre in 2017, but this year’s farm plan has me planting and harvesting approximately 270 beds throughout a 30-week season. The sheer volume of decisions required for such an ambitious plan — one that has me shooting for a $14,000 profit — is shocking. Paralysis by analysis is a real danger. The air is thick with the future.

Today I top myself off with a quart of the past, in an effort to help me move forward while remaining firmly in the present. This comes in the form of a green smoothie, partially made from the products of last year’s photosynthesis: kale, beets and some beet greens. Perhaps this year I might even shepherd 20,000 or so bees in order to produce the honey used as sweetener.

Just one thing about farming has caught me completely off guard. It isn’t the endless work or all-consuming lifestyle. Rather, it’s the dizzying array of choices that every farmer confronts every single day. Sometimes these are educated guesses or even coin flips. More often than not, hundreds of decisions are made after enduring pain-staking thought, exhaustive research and consultation with others.

What type of irrigation system should I use? What specific products should be purchased to support this choice? How should the city lot I am leasing be carved up to yield as many garden beds as possible?

After a long period of deliberation, which included numerous mistakes and inefficiencies last season, I have settled on a standard bed size: 30 inches wide by 25 feet long. Several hours spent with graph paper, a pencil and ruler has shown that I can fit 60 of these beds onto the land I’ve been graciously allowed to farm (often separated by a mere 6 inches of walkway between them!). These will be managed biointensively (a fancy word for a style of organic farming that focuses on achieving maximum yields with a small land base) and turned over numerous times throughout the season.

It sounds crazy to somehow cram a crop plan that has me planting 270 individual plantings into just 60 physical beds. All this abundance through successive planting. Something I’m completely new at …

It all comes down to the plan, a massive spreadsheet containing an impressive amount of data: specific crops, proposed prices for each, weekly sales goals by crop throughout a 30-week season, days to maturity from seed, average yield per bed for each crop and much more.

So many decisions to make! What to plant, when to plant it (as many as 26 times throughout the season for some crops) and where.

With all these choices directed at a relative amateur, numerous failures are inevitable. It might even be my chief crop!

These failures will be the seeds of wisdom. Hopefully they fall upon fertile ground. Fear of failure prevents too many of us from getting started in the first place. We desperately need more people actively doing what they love.

And so I implore you to get started today. Don’t spend the next quarter-century reading about your passion, vainly attempting to become an expert before broadcasting any real seed. Think of all the teachers you have known who said they knew nothing about their profession prior to their student teaching assignment. Read just one book, preferably next week, and get started on a small scale as soon as possible.

With automation and outsourcing looming on the horizon of nearly every industry, you simply must prepare yourself. Even if your job lasts you through the decades, you’ll have enriched yourself while honing a hobby that could potentially provide a side income in retirement. At the very least, it’ll help keep your mind active and engaged. It also has the potential to keep you plugged into your community in a more meaningful way.

Think of this as your parachute, one that you may or may not hope to use someday. Believe me, and I speak from experience here, you’ll be sorely glad you have one if you ever need it. Layoffs generally occur without notice and when you least expect it. Begin preparing today!