One of the biggest challenges to starting a farm is working reasonable hours. So often, farmers find themselves laboring away from dawn to dusk, from spring to fall, which can quickly be exhausting and lead to burnout.
There are several simple things you can do to reduce your work hours, though, and open up more time to pursue other hobbies, spend time with the family or just rest. All of those things are important to having a long, happy career in farming. So let’s look at a few ways to rein in your work hours and free up some time.
1. Level the Load
Farmers generally have seasons, and those seasons can be overwhelmingly busy. “Leveling the load” simply involves removing some of the pressure from those busiest times of the year to find other times or actvities to make up for any lost income. This might involve doing some season extension and getting a high tunnel or caterpillar tunnel so you can have some income in the colder months and rely less on the summer. Or it might mean starting a winter mushroom business, or growing a crop whose main work is not in the summer. In other words, add only those enterprises where the bulk of the new labor does not coincide with your busiest time. Is July crazy and February dead? What can you do to make July easier and February more productive?
2. Plan Well
A big part of making farming easier is just having a good plan for the year. Football teams go into games with a game plan, so too should farmers. The analogy holds up because, like football teams, farmers never quite know what the defense will throw at them, or how circumstances might change. But it’s good to have a general plan for what to do and when so you don’t spend time flipping from project to project without specific focuses.
3. Define Your Work Hours
The easy thing to do in farming is simply start working at sunrise and stop at sunset. But by giving yourself specific hours that you are allowed to work, you will find you get a lot more done. You will rush to accomplish what’s needed before “quitting time” arrives. Then you can enjoy more evenings and relax a little.
The temptation, especially with new farmers, is to grow everything. But it is better and a lot easier to grow a few things really well than to try growing all the things you can. Chefs and restaurants particularly like when a farmer does a few crops really well so they can depend on those farmers for those crops. Having a variety of projects is still a good thing (see above about leveling the load), but doing a few of them well can be a great way to ease the work load.
5. Bring It Closer to Home
One mistake farmers make is growing outward too quickly. I believe you should always grow inward until you absolutely can’t anymore, then grow out. Try and stay close to home to cut down on travel time. If your gardens or animals are right outside and you don’t have to get into a car to tend them, you will find you get a lot more done. So once you’ve filled up the space nearest to your house, you can start slowly working away. Obviously, everyone’s property and goals are different, but an intensive farmer will find it’s a lot harder to fill all the growing space he or she has around the house than it might seem. Are you double cropping beds? Have you built a high tunnel—or perhaps a tunnel with grow lights? Have you ever thought about bees or mushrooms? These can all reduce the amount of space you need and bring in more income.