Dear Farm Journal,
Lately I have been thinking a lot about math, farmer math in particular. When I first started farming with Rufus I would see him periodically running calculations through his head or scratching math problems out on the chalkboard in the pack shed. I would joke that he was doing “farmer math” as I failed to follow exactly what he was figuring. Now, math has never been my strong suit, and I still get a little dizzy when I think about numbers too much. I was a straight A student and got my first and only D when I had to learn long division. I cried. I had to be stringently tutored to make A’s throughout high school math. In college, I steered clear of math classes and squeaked through the required credits by taking philosophy classes, which counted as “logic”. I had no idea how much math was involved in farming until I dove into the business full time this year. First, I feel like I am always counting, even when I don’t really need to or want to. It has become a habit. Secondly, in the course of planting, I find myself figuring how many bed feet of space is available to plant certain crops, how many rows per bed, calculating different spacing for different size plants, how long a crop cycle is at different stages of the season, how many bunches a half bed of cilantro will make, figuring how many trays to seed, taking into consideration to plant 20% over for the possibility of failed germination, and how many tomato plants we will need to provide for our summer CSA. There is always a wild card in each equation, whether it be weather, bug pressure, deer pressure, or something random. In caring for the chickens, I calculate how much time and money we spend on animal purchases, grain, and lime against how many eggs we get. Then there is the farmer math that can’t really be taught, but has to be experienced or felt with intuition. This is the constant guessing game of estimation for me. Rufus is much, much better at this than I am. When we harvest or pack vegetables, we are always estimating weight, space, and amounts. Rufus can easily know when he has harvested 4 lbs of watercress, while I hike back to the rhubarb patch 3 times because I thought I had 20 lbs the first 2 times I lugged the crate to the scale. Don’t even get me started on farmer budgeting because it makes absolutely no sense to me. Maybe one day I will get better at this, but for now I rely on Rufus and a calculator.