Work Rate Puts “Labor Saving” in Perspective

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

I have never been a big fan of labor saving devices. SPIN-Farming is labor intensive, with many farm tasks being done by hand, so it is certainly wise to find ways to work more efficiently, without having to hire workers. My go-to labor saving device is a rototiller, and the savings are pretty dramatic. It can reduce bed prep from hours to minutes. But it requires gas and maintenance.

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Although the tiller allows for quick work rates, in certain situations a tiller is not possible or even efficient. Prepping beds by hand can certainly seem like a daunting task. Turning over the soil with a spade is a farm technique that has been around forever, and for a reason. The tool required is inexpensive and universally available. It doesn’t need gas and rarely breaks down. It is also quiet, which can be an important consideration in an urban context. So hand digging in certain situations may be the wiser, or only, choice.

This labor saving device has caught the attention of SPIN farmers. It is a greens harvester, and at face value it looks pretty slick.

But for the volume amount being harvested, it looks like overkill. I can harvest 10 lbs. of greens in about five minutes with a knife. I don’t have to expend time and expense lugging around and maintaining a device. I have calculated work rates for all my farming tasks, from watering to plug tray production. Work rate is an important SPIN concept not yet widely applied, and it is useful beyond just evaluating what is truly labor saving, and what is not.

Knowing work rates allows you to schedule your weekly workflow, determine when it’s worthwhile to bring in outside workers, and how to evaluate whether you are getting the most of them. People have joked that I am the only farmer they know who takes a stopwatch into the field with them. But figuring out my work rates has left me lots more time for kicking back and enjoying a beer. I’ve been able to sample a fair number over
25 years.

Learn how you can calculate and use work rates so you have more time to drink beer or whatever else you’d like to do beyond just farming, here.