June 14, 2007: The calendar may say it’s
just past spring, but it feels a lot like deep summer to me. Here
in southeastern Pennsylvania, the weather is hot and humid. We hadn’t
had any substantial amount of rainfall for weeks until we got a
series of thunderstorms, starting with one that dumped 3 inches
in an hour or so.
Not exactly what we ordered when we asked for rain. (Somehow the
request got confused in the communication pipeline.) And we certainly
didn’t order the hail that came along with the downpours.
It chopped up head lettuce that was going to be harvested last week
in the first CSA distribution of the season and dinged up some of
our apples. Fortunately, the corn was small enough to not be injured
and the soybeans weren’t out of the ground, so they were safe.
Besides unsettled weather and thunderstorms, summer brings with
it time to attend field days—those rare opportunities to get
off your own farm, leave your to-do list behind and visit research
farms, neighbors or other farmers who welcome you to “come
These are great times to learn and ask questions about new technologies,
techniques, enterprises and farm practices. From pasture walks to
marketing talks to scientific studies, there are literally dozens
of learning activities right outside your door.
I know what you’re thinking—“Who has time for
that?” I encourage you to take the time, find the time, or
make the time—but, by all means, go and learn.
How can you get the most out of your field day experience? Having
been on both ends of these activities, hosting and attending, I
can assure you they are a better venue than winter PowerPoint presentations
for getting first-hand information and to see the results of particular
operations for yourself, especially if you follow some key tips.
So here are my seven steps for field day fulfillment:
1. Choose carefully.
It is important to pick and choose events that focus specifically
on the interests, crops, livestock or marketing plan most relevant
to your own operation, or possibly to changes you are thinking
about incorporation into your operation. This way, you can maximize
your experience and get the most information for your time investment.
I specifically used the words “time investment” because
this truly should be thought of as an investment in the future
of your farm. In many cases the growth or success of your farm
depends on the adoption or adaptation of new technologies, equipment
or information into your operation.
2. Do your homework.
That’s right—plan your questions in advance. Taking
on this additional effort before you arrive will increase the
chances you will feel the day away was worth it on your way home.
Think through the relevant changes you’re considering. Weigh
the pro’s and con’s that you can imagine, determine
what pieces of information will help you make your decision and
explore the secondary impacts on the rest of your farm system.
Formulate the questions that will get at what you really need
As a presenter, I can tell you that well-thought-out questions
go a long way to steering the discussion in productive directions.
They actually aid me in knowing what information will help my
audience. By taking the discussion beyond the basics, everybody
has a “value added” experience.
3. Don’t be bashful.
Some folks don’t like speaking up in a crowd. Others may
feel that their question will seem foolish. Neither feeling should
keep you from speaking at a farm-centered event meant for learning.
If you have a question or comment, you can be certain someone
else has it as well—but is even more bashful than you are.
If you feel better working one-on-one, stay behind when the group
moves on, and discuss the issue further with the farmer or presenter.
Their goal is to get you the information you need, so pick their
brain while you have the chance. If lots of people linger and
you don’t get face time with the presenter, jot them a note
with your contact information for follow-up later.
Everybody has to apply what they see at the field day to their
own farm and future. Questions that help with this adaptation-and-imagination
process will help everybody.
4. Be a good listener.
It’s easy to miss comments, questions from the audience
or discussion points addressed on a chart. Be as attentive as
possible. This is your opportunity to gather the information you’ll
be putting to work down the road on your own farm. If you’ve
arrived at the start of a presentation and paid close attention,
you can be more confident that your questions will let the presenter
cover new ground.
5. Be prepared to be amazed.
Don’t be so focused on what you think you came to learn
that you miss out on some unexpected treasure. An open mind will
be a useful tool as you explore new ideas.
6. Make friends.
Farmers are all here to learn and to share; in fact, information
sharing in the sustainable agriculture community is a big deal.
New farmers who are willing to discuss “what they don’t
know” can nearly always find a veteran willing to honor
their effort with generous help and counsel. Livestock producers
exploring grass-based systems frequently form local grazier groups
that rotate hosting pasture walks to support one another in the
steep learning curves each is bound to encounter.
Go ready to engage people who asked the question you wanted to
ask, who live close to you or who just seem like the kind of person
you would enjoy keeping in touch with in your farming enterprises.
7. Take notes.
No matter how good your memory is (mine is terrible), you’ll
undoubtedly forget some details (seeding rates, a phone number,
material source, etc.), equipment manufacturer’s contact
information or another piece of vital data. Nothing fancy here;
a piece of paper and a pencil will do just fine.
Armed with these tools and a desire to learn, you’ll be able
to cash in on this “time investment” in the future months
and years. As we all learn together, see you at a field day!
From One Farm to Another.