As WWII raged across Europe, at his seaside farm in Maine E.B. White wrote lists. White was a sheep- and chicken farmer, as well as a columnist for the New Yorker. It’s hard to imagine the minutiae of life on a “saltwater farm” a day’s drive from the nation’s largest metropolis could hold any cosmopolitan reader’s attention, never mind get past the editorial red pen that would today bypass the trouble of redlining by simply scrawling “Rewrite” across the first page. And his list did run to pages. It ran to such lengths not only because White’s readers had decent attention spans, but because this list included every footstep, every nail and board, every intermediate errand White anticipated in accomplishing the noted tasks. Reading it took as long as accomplishing it might; writing undoubtedly must have taken longer (as his wife may have pointed out to White at the time).
That list is as comforting, and satisfying, to read today as it must have been to the throbbing, war-sore metroland of ’42 New York. Comfort comes, now as it did then, in the solidity of now, of What Today Requires for Tomorrow. The future today looks similarly murky to what it must have felt in those ‘42 days of foaming demagogues. My daughters tremble and chafe at the distinct possibility that all the hopeful, progressive changes they’ve witnessed as they and the new millennium have grown up together will be crushed in a few short executive orders. All I can offer them is this: Be kind. Keep questioning, thinking independently, and learning. Do all you can to make this world the world you wish it to be, starting with the day you have and the people you have around you. Because this is what I believe, my labors and my laundry list haven’t really changed. Getting the dog his rabies vaccine, keeping the fences in repair, painting the peeling red trim on the chicken house windows, remembering to turn the bread I set to rise beside the wood stove an hour ago… Lists order the day. They keep me calm as well as humble in a feet-out-of-bed, get-to-it way. There is less to juggle in my brain when it is down on paper. I wish I were even half the writer White was, so that my lists could be a gift to others as well. Still, so I feel less alone in this world, and so that you know the season still launches itself regardless of Washington, here is my own End-of-Winter, First-of-Flowers list of chores. So begins a second year of First-Flower Farm...
There will be business taxes to figure for the year past. This may be the one time when the paltriness of my pathetic earnings will be a positive, expressed as a (laughably small) sum called “earnings” and a positive as regards the financial impact from me to Uncle Sam. (I want all my money to go towards funding Obamacare.) To get ready for taxes, I’ll have to update last year’s bookkeeping through Dec. 31, including in these figures expenses that will not become at all profitable until much later this year (see “cyclical nature of farming” and “why CSA?”). There sit those 100 iris bulbs under a foot of fresh snow, the 100 tulips guarded by garlic nearby, the six peonies each marked with a stake (thank goodness I took my own advice and marked them, for a change, since I would have forgotten not only their placement but their very existence by now otherwise). There, now: the bookkeeping has given me something pleasant to daydream about.
There will be newer receipts, dated after Jan 1. Also, seed, paid for last year but to be planted in the coming months and arrived mid-January, so presumably that goes in this year’s expenses, despite the fact that to report that money spent last year when I spent it would give me $0 taxable income after expenses for 2016 and a farm-for-free by all accounts for this year. Hmm. Best to put last year in a shoebox marked 2016, despite the mobius strip that is farm accounting. Then I’ll need new spreadsheets for this year, populated with my in-the-red-so-far 2017 season. (Patience, Scotswoman—patience!) Receipts for this year’s seeds then go into a new binder in the file marked “seed starting/planting plans”, backed by last year’s records which continue to become more and more useful as I try to avoid making the same mistakes starting this year’s crops.
There’s less hustle to this year’s work of applying for farm markets and licenses. Since I’m already on mailing lists and not an end-of-March latecomer. Now those four markets are known quantities. Market managers have friendly familiar faces. I really look forward to seeing them again, and I’m not so nervous about exactly what insurance I need or how many ounces my tent weights should be. While it’s a bit of a dream-crusher, I also have a realistic idea how much I’ll sell, how much I can make at each market, and how long it will take to earn back my investment (October). If this season isn’t going to be a drag through the bitter truth, I’ll have to come up with some new schemes, and that means deciding how to tighten my focus. I’ve signed up for a $10 Marketing Class from local-foods advocate Berkshire Grown. I’ve sent flattering letters to new markets in hopes of tailoring my market appearances to a more appropriate customer population. And yes, I’ve perused the want ads and applied for a real job. I should do more of that.
|February 25, under the Japanese maple beside the porch|
Meanwhile, happily, I don’t have to take the serve-safe exam, the allergen awareness test, pay off the Pittsfield Board of Health, or freak out about the rigors of my annual home kitchen inspection, though I do need to schedule that despite the fact that my updated 2017 license already hangs from the inside of the cabinet over the stove. That means scour the kitchen. I’ll also have to renew insurance and board of health licenses, but this year I know who to call, how much it all costs, and (perhaps most importantly of all) that I really do have to do all this stuff but it isn’t, ultimately, too big a deal despite how official and scary it seemed at first. (Thank you, Lia, for loaning me your courage!) That reminds me: how I do rely on all my family! To have another year at all, I need to be a good mom and maintain my marriage to the Patient Spouse (who has already done more for First-Flower than I have by starting the burn pile and building a gate). Those interpersonal to-dos involve me remembering to enjoy life outside of canning, growing and sewing, so my stress doesn’t fill the family’s days and nights with its abiding overabundance. This may also involve planning in a three-week absence from markets and earnings for a trip to Wyoming, though the P.S. points out correctly that “a vacation shouldn’t be part of your list of jobs to accomplish.” Would that my mind operated with the calm seas of his own. Instead, I scramble in the frozen soil for a better year than last, ponder advertising (what?), reviving the blog, looking for sources to place paid ads and defining the business (already on the list) so I can expand in the right direction. It’s a good thing I like farming, huh? Next time: The Fun Column of The List, and Why I Get that Part Done First. (Hint: none of it involves money or happens at a desk.)
Bloom Where You Are Planted.