The Inefficient Knockout 12/22/23

The Inefficient Knockout 12/22/23

Posted by Mandy + Steve O'Shea on

   Happy Friday and welcome back to the light!  Yesterday was the winter solstice, so the days will only get lighter and longer from here and we welcome as much light into this world as possible at all times, except when I'm sleeping.
  So, In a move that's out of character, I just started taking the occasional boxing class.  I’m not the right age for it and I have no desire to ever use it, but new skills expand the brain and it can’t hurt to know how to defend yourself, so I signed up.  The reason I mention it is that I’m only 3 lessons in and I’m feeling a bit like a baby deer out there…like I just found myself in this body and I’m learning how to drive it for the first time.  I had no idea there were so many counterintuitive details that needed to be just right in order to throw a good punch.

   The other day the coach told me, “You’ve got speed and you’ve got power, but we need to improve your movements.  Effort is worthless without efficiency.”  That second sentence summed up in 5 words, our whole experience of farming.  Our first 3 years out here we literally worked 105 hour weeks year round and in that first year, we made negative income. The next two years we kept the lights on, but didn’t pay ourselves anything.

   We weren’t puttering about either, we stayed in 5th gear, often running from one task to the next, growing and making every product we could and building our physical and digital infrastructure in the evenings.  We’d work til 2:30 a.m. making frozen fruit pops and prepping for markets, get up at 4:15 a.m. to pack up and leave, get back to the farm in the afternoon and unload the market gear and load up the vehicles again to go do flowers for a wedding.  Wrung out, skinny, unhealthy, broke, dumpster diving for food (because we couldn’t afford to eat our own crops and we collected compostable waste that was sometimes edible from a local store), squeezed dry of adrenaline, and really scared was how we moved through the world for some time.  All the while people kept telling us we were living their dream or that they were so happy that we were so successful. 

   We both have unpleasant visceral responses to just talking or thinking about those years.  I’m feeling nauseous as I write this.  

   Like many folks, we’re willing to work really hard for a good stretch of time to achieve a set of goals we believe in, but when it isn’t clear that your work will do anything but ruin your health and possibly the bulk of all you care about, it starts to become a very thin and desperate existence.  

   The industry we chose (market farming) is one of the worst you can pick from a financial perspective.  Even the very best and most knowledgeable growers we know frequently fail to make their farm a successful business, because the margins are tiny and the obstacles are unpredictable and numerous.  Location, effort and luck definitely play a role, but so does the ability to get out of your own way.  We worked as hard as anyone I know, but that wasn’t enough.  We were still really attached to our early ideas and the notion that we could do everything by hand, without a tractor or any help, while adding multiple layers of self imposed difficulties to every process.  

   It took years before we really prioritized becoming as expert at efficiency as possible in every process.  As we identified more and more layers of our lives that we could alter to be more effective and efficient, we started to see the books get better and the future be more hopeful and it reaffirmed our desire to always re-evaluate not only ourselves, but what we are doing and how and why we are doing it.  We learned to get out of our own way.

   So, my advice to all you beginning growers is to have conviction in your attempts, but to be really observant and mindful and to frequently step back and look at both the big picture, and the little pictures.  Emphasize this grand self reflection at every season change and every years end.
   We were fruit farmers, popsicle makers, beekeeping honey producers, a preserve business, producers of syrups, herbal infused sugars, and savory seasonings, veggie farmers, a mushroom business, floral designers, wreath makers, flower wholesalers, etc…Each iteration lead to either a dead end, or an outcome that didn’t suit us. Don’t just keep following the same carrot around year after year.  You’ll wear out before you ever catch it.

The Many Phases of 3 Porch Farm

   Additionally, don’t beat yourself up if you’re floundering and every other farmer on Instagram seems to be crushing it.  That’s Instagram.  Every farmer is struggling now, or has struggled a ton on the way to now.  You can’t sell kale on IG if you’re complaining all the time about how hard it is to make a living selling kale, so you smile for the camera and other people think your life is perfect and compare themselves perhaps unfairly.

   Talk to other farmers, join groups like GA Organics, ASCFG, CNG and other farmer groups like Floret's Workshop where you can connect, learn and find support.  Find help with not only the field, but the business side of your farm (check out Lennie Larkin's new book!) and don’t be shy to reinvent your approach multiple times.  Lord knows we have.  

   And so ends the musings, farm tips, and motivational speech section of today’s newsletter.

   I know a lot of y'all spend the holidays planning for next year's plantings, so if you are feeling too full and fat to get in the fields, but wanna make some forward motion, check out our seed selection.  We have restocked some of our seed supplies and you can find them here.

   For those looking for holiday gifts, we have gift cards, flower subscriptions, a wreath making video, and the farm store is open today and Saturday.

   For you flower fanatics, do note that we just added a poppy subscription to the spring offerings.  A lot of people responded to our survey last year saying that they would love to get poppies every week in the mail, so we made it happen and you can find it here.

   The store will be closed after that for the next few months until we re-open for the plant sale in March.

   If you are looking to donate to both do good and offset some tax burdens, check out this list of organizations we have compiled and see if any of them float yer boat.

   As for the farm, our crew will be taking the next couple of weeks off to observe their respective holidays and to appreciate time with friends and family and to just rest and digest. Mandy and I will be tending the farm, opening and closing tunnels each day and night, watering, doing pest control, fixing things, building out and wiring up the nursery, ordering supplies for the new year, catching up on administration, and spending a few days in between all that with her family for Christmas.  She also has designs on finishing the kitchen remodel I started in the summer.  I’m relaxed already.

   If you place an order after today, do note that there will be a slight delay in normal shipping as our staff will be gone and our hands will be full.  We might be able to get your order out in the next 2 weeks, but our expedient shipping of products will officially begin again on January 8th.  Thanks for your understanding and have a wonderful holiday break whatever you celebrate!