Lessons in Learning Spring 2023

Published on 14 June 2023 at 11:32

"We need to take the time to know what somebody can be great at...I remember him saying to me too, you don't have to do as much. Over time you'll start to realize that you carry your history with you...Stop moving, there's power in stillness." - Jake Gyllenhaal in an interview on the Armchair Expert podcast


I heard this interview where I hear most podcast interviews - working at the farm. Sometimes the calming sounds of nature are motivating. Sometimes actual music fills my ears. And sometimes, especially for work I don't enjoy or feel up for completing, I listen to a podcast. I think I was prepping areas for planting, proactively treating as many weeds as I could in the one hour and forty minutes I had before picking up Danny from preschool. This comment stopped me in my tracks: "You carry your history with you." What history was I carrying with me? How could this help or impact our planting preparation?


I studied chemical engineering, worked in research and development, and then settled into manufacturing. At first, I spent years in labs. While trying to find the best dish soap formula, I'd tweak one input at a time to determine its impact. I created a design of experiments (DOE) to modify one thing and hold all other factors constant. It was critical to know which component contributed to which property, so it could be replicated and scaled up in a manufacturing site. In spring planting this year, we did the opposite. The messiest, most uncertain DOE. We changed multiple things this year. The problem? Because we did this, we won't know which change or changes actually mattered. If our tree survival rate changes, is it because we bought older, transplanted trees? Is it the new nursery we tried? Could our planting strategy of digging holes with an auger instead of a dibble bar be impactful? What about stumping and protecting the planting areas against weeds? We're working to install a sand point well to increase our watering frequency - so watering more must be helpful, right? If we find ourselves more successful, which change was it? How do we know the most important factor?


My history would tell me it's critical to know which change was the biggest factor. But, ultimately, does it matter? All of the changes should theoretically improve our success rate. All of the changes could be done again. What if we improve first, then work our way back to the answer?


Perhaps carrying this history with me does not serve the farm. But then, when I stopped moving, I felt the power in the stillness. Another key history mantra: Nothing changes if nothing changes. My first chemical engineering professor said that as many of his students, me included, struggled in the class. I kept showing up and studying in the same way, and my grades weren't improving. Nothing changes if nothing changes. So I got a tutor. I changed how I studied. And, my results changed. 


Maybe at the farm this history lesson is more relevant. We need our survival rate to change if we want to continue providing a magical experience and Christmas for our customers. Nothing changes if nothing changes; let's change and control what we can for the better.


This year, we planted 2350 trees: 1550 Fraser firs, 100 black hill spruces, 100 white pines, 300 Norway spruces, and 300 balsam firs. For those interested in the layout, at the end of the blog we included an aerial view from the front of the farm with current and future plantings marked. Note: My artistic abilities are very limited; hopefully the rough sketch provides a good enough visual! We're definitely putting down our roots these first few years.


Now that the trees have been planted. Now that we have a plan for 2024. What should we do now for the trees (other than water them!)? Perhaps, we don't have to do as much. We carry our history and learnings with us. And while in some ways we challenged our history, in other ways we carried it. Hopefully, all lessons in learning what we can be great at.


Color key for photo:

Green = Fraser Firs

White = White Pines

Black = Black Hill Spruces

Yellow = Norway Spruces

Blue = Balsam Firs

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