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Lesson 2: You can’t make supper tomorrow

For camp cooks, or farmers, there’s no such thing as a last-minute vacation day

The mess tent looking relatively tidy in the afternoon — the calm before the treeplanter storm.

In my last column I talked about the need for rest, even idleness as a tree planting cook. I needed to rest because I needed to be on top of my game every single day. I was the backstop in the kitchen and as the cook you end up feeling like a vital backstop for the whole operation that is tree planting. If planters aren’t fed, nobody’s going to be happy.

Fortunately, I never had to learn what would’ve happened if I had been out of commission for a day. I was pretty lucky that I never got sick during my planting seasons. I do remember a couple of summers when I got desperately sick when it was all over (Raise your hand if you’re a farmer who’s gotten sick as soon as you went on holidays or harvest was over). There were a few days when supper came screaming hot out of the oven as the trucks pulled in the yard, but it was always ready. I didn’t have a choice.

In farming, our cycle is 365 days with a few weeks to complete vital tasks like seeding, spraying and harvest. In tree planting camp, my cycle was one day with a few hours allotted to make breakfast or supper before the next deadline loomed.

Work like this has a bracing effect, probably the adrenaline. I did have days where I felt lethargic, but I realized that even when I didn’t feel like working hard, I couldn’t put off making supper until tomorrow. Cooking taught me that the job had very little to do with how I felt about it. I could make meals just as well grumpy and overtired as I could joyful and rested. I much prefer the latter, but if faced with the former, I realized that I could soldier through, and, if I got a good night’s sleep or relaxed with a beer around the campfire after supper, I would likely feel better the next day. And I would feel infinitely better for having completed my work, than choosing the path of seemingly less resistance and ignoring my day’s responsibility, only to face an unforgiving pack of hungry, spade-armed men and women at the end of the day.

In farming, we can’t put off planting this year’s crop or spraying it or harvesting it either. I think spraying season is where I truly realized the importance of not giving a rip about how I felt about the job. I may not want to get up at 4:30 a.m. one more morning in June. I probably didn’t want to do one more total sprayer clean-out that day so I could switch to a different crop type. But weeds don’t wait to be sprayed and the wind may blow tomorrow. When the job is done, no matter how I feel doing it, the reward of completion is worth it.

Thirty miles up a logging road I had 50 people relying on me. Now it’s mostly me counting on me. Neither cooking for planters nor farming is drudgery for me. They never felt like jobs in the way my first desk job felt like a job. They feel like something I was born to do and that underlying current of satisfaction keeps me going even if I have a to face a particularly unpleasant task or I feel unmotivated. So does the feeling that I only have one crack to make this crop the best crop it can be. I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to wake up with a start at 4:30 a.m. and head to the kitchen with my day’s purpose clear and unambiguous. I seek to keep that sense of purpose ever-present in my mind as I take on my role as a farmer.

About the author


Sarah Hoffmann

Sarah Hoffman, formerly Sarah Weigum, grows pedigreed seed and writes at Three Hills, Alta. Follow her on Twitter: @sweigum.

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