On Being a Planner

I have always been a reader of books, a collector of facts, and a maker of lists. A quick look through the detritus of my desk in college would reveal crumpled half-sheets of paper filled with to-do lists partially crossed off. When staring hundreds of pages of reading and hundreds of words to write, I would always start by making a list. Often, I start a to-do list with things I have already finished, just to be able to cross a few things off. Evidence of recent productivity seems to assure me that future productivity is possible. On a larger scale, planning comforts me. When Caroline and I would fight when we were little, often we would make up during a weekly forest preserve hike, walking a ahead of our parents and planning grand things for our shared room that never came to any fruition. It didn't matter that these excitedly discussed plans never materialized - the planning of it was enough to bring about a sisterly cease-fire. When I was living in Chicago after college, working two jobs and saving every penny, list-making kept me sane. Every night, I would count the cash I had brought home from my waitressing job and stash it in my bank (the cigar box under my bed), noting the total in a ledger. In another small notebook, I kept careful track of my weekly spending, taking any overspending out of next week's allowance. Every few weeks, I would check and see whether I was on track with my saving - my planned budget for weeks spent in Florence and Bologna providing incentive for the late nights and early mornings all summer.

Now, some of those habits have solidified, and I have fought against other inclinations. I still keep careful track of all of my monthly spending and saving. I keep a list of books I've been meaning to read, possible topics for future blog posts, things I should look up next time I have internet. On the other hand, because I am at heart someone who wants all of the information possible before I commit to something, I have started to force myself to not have plans occasionally. Visiting a new place without having looked up everything to see and do there has been a new experience for me recently. Taking a long bike ride without a route planned out beforehand. Passing a Sunday without a to-do list. Getting in a car with friends and without plans.

Last week, the first of our periodical visits to other farms in the area through the CRAFT program caused me to reflect on my penchant for planning anew. The topic was cover crops and compost, and the farmer whose farm we were visiting (Paul) was describing the different pairs of cover crops he uses, focusing on two sets in particular. Both (ideally) get planted around Labor Day. The oats and peas grow all fall, but are "winter kill," meaning that the cold weather kills them off completely. Winter rye and vetch sprout in the fall, then lay dormant all winter, before rapid growth in the spring. If you till rye in too early, it will keep growing where it can, becoming a nuisance. Therefore, where you plan to cut in early spring crops, like onions, early brassicas, or potatoes, the winter-kill combo makes much more sense. That way, you're getting the full benefit of a cover crop without having to fight with it throughout the growing season. This requires knowing where all your crops are going next year before Labor Day every year, which requires quite a bit of planning. Dan doesn't follow a strict crop rotation schedule, preferring to decide on the spot where to plant each crop, relying on his memory to make sure, for example, that the onions are far enough away from last year's onion field or that brassicas are similarly more mobile than the flea beetles. He seeds each field in winter rye as the harvest finishes, choosing to battle the rye as necessary in the early plantings in order to grow as much new organic matter as possible. Paul, on the other hand, knows a full six months ahead of his first tilling what he's going to put where and sows his cover crops accordingly. Of course, Paul's farm is very different that Dan's in a few significant ways, such as a wildly different soil type and levels of mechanization. Paul's menagerie of tractor implements makes his style of cover cropping feasible.

Soil types and equipment aside, this discussion of cover crops has made me reflect on what kind of farmer I will be in this respect. All signs point to an abundance of planning! I think my list-making transposes directly to the daily chore-list of farming, my personal budgeting becomes enterprise budgets, and my compulsive reading becomes continuing education. My penchant (with Caroline) for rearranging furniture will no doubt become a love of planning crop rotations, cover crop timing, and seeding schedules. Dan's ability to improvise and think on the fly is admirable, but so is Paul's ability to create systems and stick with them. The farm fits the farmer, and judging by my track record so far, my farm might skew a bit more towards Paul's. I doubt I'll stop planning anytime soon, and I have a few years of daydream-planning ahead of me when it comes to my future farm. Now if only I could get into the habit of keeping my room neat and tidy . . .