Keeping the Off-Season on Schedule – How the Farmers at Down2Earth Stay Warm by Staying Busy

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Remember being a kid having a great time during summer or winter break? And then somewhere deep inside you wish there was an occupation with built in extended vacations like that? There’s pro sports – but then there’s practice. There’s lifeguarding – and also indoors pools. What about farming? You only work when the plants grow, right? Heh, no. Honestly, I knew farmers had to stay busy during the rest of the year too, but until I talked to the people of Down2Earth Farms, I had no idea just how busy the off-season could be.

To have everything ready by April 1st, the People at Down2Earth have to complete a variety of objectives that I would roughly categorize as farming, caring for the land, planning, and putting the plan into action. Yes, the first category is farming. I know it’s January and technically any work pertaining to farming could be called farming, but Down2Earth still has plants growing and being harvested in their high tunnels and a few covered places in the field. In addition, seeding for the greenhouses begins in January. With seeding, tending, and harvesting still going on in January, ‘on-season’ work continues even in the ‘off-season.’

The second major component of off-season work is caring for the land, which includes both essentially putting the land away for winter as well as prepping it for spring. A key part of closing up the land for the season involves planting a cover crop. Ideally, the cover crop will not only protect the land from erosion and the like, but also be beneficial to the next crop in some way. To prepare the land for the coming season, the farmers already shape it into beds, best done before the earth gets too wet. Additionally, the green houses have to be prepared for spring in January as well. Like other aspects of farming, caring for the land in the offseason revolves around a lot of careful planning.

Which brings me to the very important third component – planning. But while back in the day people used to plan for winter, Down2Earth plans for spring. On the one hand, planning for the season involves determining what tasks have to be done by when and scheduling them accordingly. Getting the beds made before the ground gets wet, seeding in time for the plants to be ready to harvest when they need to be, having the greenhouses ready, and a myriad of other things. However, one of the most complicated and important tasks is ordering seeds. Ordering seeds actually involves a lot of variables, and the final seed purchase involves research, honing in on a few plants they enjoy growing, meeting with customers, determining a demand base among customers, determining quantities for each plant, evaluating the economics of each plant, and even accounting for time and the desired color of the crop. If that wasn’t complicated enough, there’s a catch. If the seeds aren’t ordered early enough in January, they’ll be on back order, throwing off all of the careful planning.

Finally, there’s putting the plans into action, or what I like to call, everything else. The category includes continuing research, catching up on projects, starting new projects, doing equipment maintenance, working on infrastructure, and everything else that has to be done to be ready by April 1st or didn’t get finished throughout the year. After talking to Cecelia Redding of Down2Earth, I’m beginning to think the offseason is as busy as the rest of the year. In fact, last Wednesday involved fixing the weeding equipment, having a meeting with Papa Spud’s that last a couple hours, doing an interview with me, and what I can only imagine was several other tasks. So, yes, offseason is really a misnomer. It’s really more of a differently-busy season. Thankfully though, in amongst the planning, the farmers of Down2Earth do get a little time to rest. But next time you’re enjoying some delicious produce, remember that a whole year of work went into growing it, no matter what season you actually eat it.

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