A major cause of marital discord, right behind financial differences, is a mismatch in the level of orderliness the partners prefer and/or require. One spouse leaves pistachio shells (or cigarette butts) on the coffee table, the other removes the oven knobs to clean behind them, and the two viewpoints, just like two objects, can’t occupy the same space.
Order and chaos—you can reduce many of life’s sticky quandaries to these two categories and the flower farmer steps into the same clumsy morass. Your ideas of an orderly shop, a clean cooler, a well-tended field most likely won’t mesh with those of partners and fellow workers, so prepare for some uncomfortable discussions or even divorce papers.
Others might be more fastidious (and thus, slower) than you, or they may be such slobs that you find yourself cleaning up behind them, checking and correcting their work, trying to teach them the standards you pay them to meet. Since they won’t want to change, they’ll fall back on the defense of opinions being just different and therefore equal, neither right nor wrong, while you, not wanting to change, may resort to the defense of the powerful: “It’s my farm.” Though both attitudes make for great drama, there’s a way to bypass the theatre if you just want to get things done.
Results of different methods are measurable in ways besides “right” and “wrong” or “yours” and “mine”. You might use profitability as a measure, or efficiency, or ease, or even just “pleasurable”. Submit to one or all of the above, or create your own standard of judgment, then submit not just others’ ways but your own to the measure. You might find just how self-centered your ideas are, or you might find you weren’t so dumb, after all. But don’t just assume order is always better and chaos is always worse, or that one always leads in one direction and the other heads the opposite way, as both order and chaos can result in the same thing.
You’ve probably been in a hoarder’s home, unable to find a place to sit (hesitant to use it if indeed you do spy one), barely able to negotiate a path between piles of magazines, clothes and the knickknacks of choice. It’s a nightmare! On the other hand, maybe your aunt keeps her house so precious that you fear breaking or even smudging that thousand dollar vase or dropping a crumb on the Persian rug (forget that glass of red wine you might spill—and which she probably wouldn’t offer you). Too much order can result, just as does too much chaos, in an uninhabitable home. But somewhere between the two extremes livability increases for all parties.
On a farm, where nature finds comfort in untidiness, how do you keep the chaos at bay to maintain a functioning business? And, on the other hand, how do you not get obsessed with categorizing, measuring, and perfection so tasks can be performed seamlessly, quickly, without thinking about how and why, without methods and rules getting in the way? Well, for starters, you need to realize the farm has different arenas and each may require a different approach. The field, the processing area, the shop, the delivery vans, all have their own context, while the most sensitive arenas of the flower farm, the intangible and difficult ones of on-the-farm personal relationships, off-the-farm business connections, and financial bookwork exist in an entirely different miasma where small mistakes can quickly morph into ones with long term repercussions.
Chaos in the field and chaos in the shop may be alike in one sense, but the field sloppiness creates more chaos in future years whereas a chaotic shop, since its objects don’t grow and go to seed, remains static, as reparable in a month as it is today. Leaving weeds, failing to prune and pinch, or using lackadaisical practices can result in exponential growth in chaos for years to come. As much as you might despise the old wisdom of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” it does hold here as a good rule of thumb to decide the importance of your methods.
A poorly maintained cooler space sets the stage for troubles in the future, troubles visited as disease problems from accumulated detritus or frost damage from poor maintenance, while a poorly organized cooler results in problems for those managing sales and delivery. Likewise, an improperly loaded delivery van makes trouble for sales today and quite possibly damaged relationships with buyers.
As the flower farmer you decide how clean your cooler will be, how weed-free your field is, how many insects you tolerate, and in a thousand different ways and places the degree of haphazardness you accept. Understand the results of your ideas and their implementation and act accordingly—if you’re willing to accept the consequences, by all means keep doing things improperly, even happily so, but don’t do so unwittingly by overcommitting to your ideas just because you want your way to be right.
Most people tend to stay in a particular spot of the chaos-order spectrum, treating all aspects of their lives from that position, but you can appear orderly without being so—we know people who dress pristinely but live in pigsties—and you can appear chaotic yet be quite orderly—a car salesman we know luckily helped a man his fellow salesmen ignored, a man who appeared nearly destitute, grizzle-faced and clad in a sweaty white t-shirt, and sold him a fleet of pickups. A farm likewise might express pristine cleanliness in some aspects, half-hearted efforts in others—ours does.
It’s not appearance that drives our philosophy (if you do agritourism, use a different template than ours)—we just want the farm to run more smoothly and take less work, so we make our decisions accordingly. Without rebar, duct tape, and zip ties our whole enterprise might fall apart, a habit that might drive the meticulous insane. On the other hand, we sell nearly perfect product, and don’t skimp on essential items like coolers, vans and tractors that, if broken, disrupt the entire business. We keep the cooler relatively, not overly, clean to avoid disease problems, and perhaps most importantly, demand a weed-free environment not because it looks better but because weeds impede harvest and, when not dealt with, create more work down the road. They’re like dirty dishes—it’s easier to clean them immediately after supper than to let food dry on them and wash them “when you feel like it.” It’s a problem that doesn’t go away, that delay just makes more difficult.
On the other hand, our irrigation system, having been added on to and changed several times over the last fifteen years, might be a mystery even to us. But while it appears haphazard it works perfectly well, though had we started knowing how large the farm would be we would have designed it differently. We limit leaks, attend to screens, always check to make sure it’s operating correctly. Leaks equal weeds, dirty screens equal decreases performance, and not taking care of problems as they occur just kicks the can down the road, creating more work.
Our greenhouse construction—well, it won’t appear on the cover of any DIY magazines, but those homemade doors still work after fifteen years, and though the walls aren’t straight they hold no matter how embarrassed Jeriann might be by their rough manner. The plants, it turns out, don’t mind, care not at all about aesthetics.
You can get away with imposing your philosophy on your farm since you reap the results your orderliness or chaos, but anywhere you meet the world outside the farm requires you to conform to others’ norms. Particularly in your financial dealings, perfect orderliness may be necessary. Accurate billing, timely payments, good records mean others can trust you, depend on you, and over time relationships build upon that trust. At business and relationship levels, others can’t tell the difference between slovenliness, indifference, and outright dishonesty—the results of innocent mistakes often don’t differ from the results of intentionally evil ones. To others, it’s a matter of the outcome—you don’t get points for meaning, but failing, to do right by them. And while we’re on financial dealings, just guess how the Internal Revenue Service reacts to a lack of proper documentation—be careful as you do your math, make legible, understandable notes, and you’ll not have to face chaos down the road.
Too much order can create disorder—in fact, one of the rules of entropy is that any order in a system merely expels disorder into another. The gas in our car makes our travel easier, but creates disorder in the atmosphere, and one employee often makes his task easier by exporting the problem to other workers. The story goes that an effective boss, when an employee enters his domain intending to put a monkey (a request, a problem) on his desk, somehow evades collecting that monkey and at the same time burdens the employee with more monkeys on his departure. But if an employee’s not bringing you monkeys, don’t feel you have to send him some—it’s not a zero sum game of one winner and one loser, so the fewer monkeys running around the better for all of you.