Friday, March 1, 2013

Paperwork Season

Winter is supposed to be a season of rest for the farmer, right? Just sitting by the fire spinning, or reading, or what-not?

Actually, this winter has really brought home to me the real winter occupation of this farmer, at least: Paperwork.

A farmer wears many hats: amateur veterinarian, geneticist, entomologist, marketing specialist, carpenter, electrician, plumber, mechanic, etc. And also: bookkeeper, lawyer, regulatory policy analyst, real estate developer, community planner, etc.

An awful lot of these involve paperwork. A lot of this paperwork happens in the winter, for three reasons: first, that's when we need to do crop-related planning for the coming vegetable production season; second, it's the only time I'm likely to have time to fill out paperwork; and third, everyone in farm-related businesses realizes this is the best time to get farmers to actually fill out paperwork.

And attend meetings. Trainings. Workshops. Seminars. Conferences. Etc. Each of which supplies the farmer with yet more paper, more paperwork, and copious notes.

This winter's calendar included: Great Plains Vegetable Growers Conference (in St. Joseph, MO; we went 2 of 3 days); Wholesale Marketing Workshop (KCKS); Kaw Drainage District meetings; Grow Lawrence Annual Meeting; Food Policy Council meetings; Kaw Valley Seed Fair; Downtown Lawrence Farmers Market Annual Meeting; WIC Vendor Program Meeting. And more to come. This is only the ones we actually attended; there have been all kinds of farm shows, seminars, webinars, and workshops that we were just too busy to attend.

A few events still loom ahead--including one of the funnest, the annual scale certification party at Pendleton's Country Market where the farmers get to stand around and visit and eat donuts while waiting for our scales to be inspected and--glory hallelujah!--someone ELSE fills out the paperwork, in return for us writing checks!

Forms to fill out, fees to send in (farmers markets, WIC, etc.). Renewals (meat wholesaler, live plant dealer). Memberships (Grow Lawrence). Checking to be sure we aren't planning anything new for the year that will require yet another registration/certification/training/fee. Checking to be sure no regulations have changed that will require yet another registration/certification/training/fee.

Then there's the paperwork we make up for others to fill out, like surveys and sign-up forms for our CSAs. We'll be doing two CSAs at day care centers this year, as well as one that will bring people to the farm to pick up their weekly bags of produce.

Garden planning. Seed orders. Bed maps. Rotations. Succession plantings.

That's the routine stuff, some of it stuff we've been doing every year for more than 15 years.

Then there's the big stuff. This year the big stuff has been mostly related to the new Douglas County Agritourism regulations, approved at last (after 3 years' work) on January 2, 2013. Many of our dreams for the farm have been hogtied for years--more than a decade in some cases--because County regulations just didn't accommodate the notion that people could, would, and should want to do things on farms like hike, picnic, buy farm-related products, etc. Picture those dreams as a string of racehorses fidgeting in the starting gate for 10 years, and now the gates have finally opened. They're off and running....

But wait! No! First there must be paperwork! And everyone has been so busy trying to get the regulation passed that no one has had time to design the forms to implement the regulation! County staff bent over backwards to get the forms done so we could submit our application in time for them to have a meeting to review our application and then another meeting with me to give us their approval...leaving maybe like 4 waking hours to prepare all of our promotional materials to hand out at the Seed Fair the next day. I was literally proofreading the County's draft forms a page at a time as the administrative assistant was printing them out!

Thus we became the first Agritourism site registered with the County--a status which allows you, whoever you are reading this, to walk on our farm without intent to do agriculture, and allows us to sell you items that we've made that aren't agricultural products (for example, drop spindles that we might make if we weren't so busy with paperwork), and allows us to invite other farmers to come sell things at our farm. We can offer workshops that aren't specifically about agricultural skills (for example, how to fill out agricultural paperwork).

But only if there are 100 of you or less at a time. Under the new regulations, if 101 people might show up for our Sheep Shearing Open Farm Day (March 16, 10 a.m.), we need to go through another layer of County registration which includes filling out another, more specific, application form; gaining the approval of the Board of County Commissioners; etc. Counting backwards from the scheduled sheep shearing day to the day the County would need to have our application left the County with about 3 days to create the form and get the form approved, giving us to put together a lengthy packet (including site plans) overnight.

If anyone wonders why I am not a university professor of something, it's because I hate working on deadline projects with acres of typewritten narratives, like grant applications...or Agritourism registrations. But, we got through it. Co-Farmer Matt saved the day with stellar mapping skills gained from his former Cubicleville engineering job. I, of course, gained a lot of application narrative writing experience at the environmental consulting firm where I worked for 7 years. Odd backgrounds for farming, but surprisingly handy.

We're making progress. The County Commission will decide on our ">100" application on March 13, 3 days before the event. With those applications behind us, we've moved on to getting the CSAs properly paperworked. Today was our second "info booth" event for more to go.

Somewhere in there, we knocked out the application for the permit (and $250 fee) for our new well, and met with the Health Dept. to get approval for the well site. That will be a phased project, but at some point we'll need to fill out forms for the "Ag Use Exemption from Building Permit" for the well house to keep the pump from freezing. Last time we went through this exemption process, it took a lot longer to get the exemption from the permit than it would have taken to get a permit. Things have changed for the better at the County, and so I trust this process has been improved as well.

So, it's time to pull out the next big project...a new washhouse. In addition to actually deciding where to put it and how to build it, we have to get an Ag Use Exemption for it, too. Yay, more paperwork!

The new on-farm farmers' market doesn't need much paperwork other than the Agritourism Registration, but has been the subject of many long conversations with the County to work out details of parking, paving, sanitation, etc.

Weaving through all of these projects and plans is a constant thread of sanitation. People poop, and we need to plan for that and make sure they wash their hands. Animals poop, and we need to plan to keep it off our veggies and stuff. Pretty much sums it up. The Federal Food Safety Modernization Act dictates how these things need to be done--and, of course, documented. In between the doing and the documenting lie signage and standard  operating procedures--written, of course. The self-assessment survey form that will guide us in knowing what paperwork we need to write and what we need to write it about is more than 30--THIRTY!--pages long.

I'm looking forward to spring, when we can rest from the hard work of winter paperwork by working in the garden!

1 comment:

Serge said...

This I think would also be a great time to prepare for everything you need for the handiwork that you'll do at the farm for the rest of the year.