Working in a Facebook-Free World

Photo: Carole Topalian

By Teresa Vanek

Given the degree to which farming requires complete selfimmersion, it’s not surprising that a small farm reflects the idiosyncrasies of its owner-operators. Red Tail Farm is something of a techno-phobe enterprise. Neither Brent nor I have ever had more than a barely functional relationship with computers and we fell into farming in part because we are a couple of old-school generalists. We have farmer friends that are thorough planners and analysts, others that are highly specialized in just a few products—but all are in love with being a slice of the agricultural pie.

Ours is a simple scheme. Dog-eared journals of hand-written notes contain the history of Red Tail Farm. In one book we keep track of what we planted and when and whether it flourished or faded. Another journal reminds us if specific veggies were wildly popular, merely solid or just unsold yet well-travelled chicken feed that I heaved at my hens at the end of the market day.

I have to confess that even after 12 years into this gig we still collect paper receipts and tally them by hand before our annual
meeting with the tax-preparer. At the first meeting with our current preparer we brought our collection of financial records along not in a shoebox, but a diaper box.

It’s not that we don’t want to go digital with our bookkeeping—it’s more the scarcity of time and energy that keeps us from sitting at a keyboard when the garlic rows are calling for attention.

I actually bought a fancy accounting program at the beginning of last season but the concrete demands of nurturing plant-life and
baby rearing have prevented me from making friends with it. Every year we refine our growing choices based on the successes and failures we scribbled down until our curiosity for new varieties blows that all apart and keeps us expanding in new directions.

It’s not the super-hero approach of matrices and spreadsheets that allows other farmers to focus laser-like attention on certain aspects of their operation in their endless hopes to improve profitability. Some of our farm development has been dictated simply by looking around for underserved niches to fill.

This season we made steps towards selling to that great, hungry metropolis to the southeast of here. Every time I pack another case of delicious and gorgeously crooked carrots for our urban customers I imagine that they welcome these small-farm ambassadors in part because they express something antithetical to a sleek, digital world.

Although our farm relies heavily on the relationship-marketing paradigm, we function without a webpage, Facebook account or Twitter feed. The relationships we rely on are tactile, literal things. We survived our early farming years because there were enough friendly faces in our hometown market that wanted to support our farming adventure. It makes me happy that our three-year old can already perfectly grasp what it is we do for a living: we grow vegetables and sell them.

I am a little bit concerned that it is already apparent to him that we work very hard—it’s also already apparent that he is as stubborn and hard
working as any three year old could be. Our challenge as farmer-parents will be to communicate the enjoyment and even the
lighthearted side of what we do.

Teresa Vanek is a native Ithacan who started Red Tail Farm with her husband Brent Welch in 2000 in Jacksonville. The farm’s name later changed to Bright Raven Apiary, which focuses on producing local, raw, varietal honey with more than 80 hives.

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