A Best Practice Leads to Burnout

The market for local food had been gathering momentum long before the pandemic showed the advantages of a shorter food supply chain. Freshness was one of local’s main selling points. To deliver on that, many farmers believe they have to harvest and prep most, or all, of their produce the day before, or even the day of, market. That means hectic, if not frantic, work flows, late nights before market, poor sleep and burnout. Those who follow this practice end the season with a strong inclination to avoid another year of logistical misery. It does not have to be this way, but it does mean sacrificing an ideal to practicality.

Harvesting and prepping are the most stressful tasks in any farm operation, and you need to have sustainable workflows right from the beginning. The key to this that not many new farmers think about is refrigeration. Investing in a cooler as soon as you can will help ensure your success.

Here’s how a very simple workflow happens on the high road at a SPIN farm for a Friday night market:
— Tuesday morning 
- 2 crops harvested: salad greens and dill; sell unwashed, so no prep was needed stored in cooler
— Wednesday morning
2 crops harvested, prepped and bagged/bundled: green onion and rhubarb; stored in the cooler
— Thursday morning
- 1 crop harvested, washed and bagged: early new potatoes; stored them at room temperature
— Thursday afternoon
bagged up the salad greens and dill; stored back in the cooler
— Friday afternoon
loaded up the van and hit the road to market

Notice that this workflow leaves plenty of time for other tasks throughout the week, like planting, weeding and watering. It also provides more flexibility to work with or around the weather. Doing many, scheduled tasks throughout the day in 2 to 3 hour work sessions is less stressful and provides varied physical movement so there is less wear and tear on the body.

Every business owner needs to burn the midnight oil every once in a while, and farming is no different. But it’s not a best practice. What is is a five- day-a-week harvesting protocol. It’s what I preach because from my perspective, sustainable workflow is the key to success. That, in turn, relies on having good cooling capacity. Besides providing the stamina to make it through the long haul of establishing a business, there is an economic reason for incorporating a cooler into your operation. I’ll explain what that is as well as my go-to cooler in the next post. It’s low-cost and not DIY.