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Toban Dyck: Systems for our farm

I’m taking on the workshop, farmyard and waste management

Of all things to steal my attention during this current lockdown period, conceiving of and implementing on-farm systems have begun ranking quite high.

You could say I’ve become infatuated with this.

Since my wife and I moved into the farm house and took over the maintenance and oversight of the farmyard and all of its buildings, I would routinely and proudly proclaim my intention of cleaning up both the yard and the workshop. The mere mention of this was enough to garner praise from my wife, my siblings and my parents, all of whom recognized that it would be a valuable exercise.

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Years and years went by and while my intention never changed and statements of intent never stopped, nothing actually happened.

I hadn’t yet developed a picture for what I wanted the shop/yard to look like. How is a large workshop best organized? Should I separate the space into zones — metal work, woodwork, automotive and recreation? These questions dogged me for years and my inability to arrive at a decision surrounding them led to this protracted period of inactivity.

But that has changed. I’m developing a picture and I’m in the throes of realizing it.

Conceiving of systems is difficult and conceiving of systems that don’t have blind spots is even more difficult. It’s one thing to say I want this area to be for woodworking, but what about the tools that intersect with metal work? Where do those tools go?

I want the shop organization system I implement to predict as many questions and hurdles as possible and have solutions for each or most of them. I want it to be as easy as possible to keep the shop organized and that means making sure tool storage is intuitive. I want to have a good sense of our shop’s parts inventory at any given time, so that I don’t hop in my truck and drive to town to pick up a half-inch plumbing elbow when somewhere in the back of a cabinet there is a bag full of them from a previous project.

I would not be able to accurately tell you how many times I have either bought a part I didn’t know I already had or I just bought the part knowing that it would be easier to purchase again than to try to find it.

Everything needs a home and that home needs to be visible. These are two requirements of a system that is to be effective for me. If I don’t see it, there’s a good chance I won’t think about it.

To this end, and with the help of the ag community on Twitter, I decided to categorize and then store many of the things that were loose on shelves in clear containers.

I asked #agtwitter for workshop storage advice/pictures and I got some great responses and enough engagement to suggest that my desire to implement effective systems on the farm is shared by many others. I received recommendations from oil storage tips to advice on pallet racking in heated spaces versus unheated spaces. This was vindicating and genuinely helpful.

It makes sense, though. Most of us have workshops and so many of us struggle with how to organize them. While I know lots of farmers, I can’t say that I’ve been in many of their workspaces. And when I have been in someone else’s shop, I forget to take note of how it’s organized. Sharing pics and ideas in a Twitter thread focused on shop organization was an easy way to get ideas and establish that systems are a priority for more that just me.

Cleaning up has naturally led to questions of waste management. This is a tricky subject and one few feel comfortable talking openly about. I will. I have always burned most of our household and shop garbage, believing that to be no better or worse than having my trash sit in a landfill.

I won’t comment on the science behind either position, but I’ve come to realize that burning garbage as a waste management plan has a few weaknesses. When the garbage barrel would fill up with soot and unburnables, I would just empty it into the bush and then repeat this process until the steel would start to disintegrate, at which time, it, too, would get tossed in the bush.

I’m not a prude when it comes to such practices and I understand that many farms have been doing such things for generations, but I, personally, don’t like doing things I don’t feel I have a strong justification for. Tossing scrap into the bush because it’s then out of sight and because I don’t know what else to do with it is a systemic weakness in my farm’s waste management plan.

We decided to utilize a dumpster service and we’re happy we did. We don’t burn garbage anymore. We fill an on-farm dumpster, which we rent for a nominal fee from a company that will empty it once called. The science and long-term effects of burning versus landfill notwithstanding, I draw value from knowing that, at the very least, landfills are managed and regulated spaces.

We’ve felt able to purge more things. That broken stepladder we kept because we didn’t want to toss it into the bush and it didn’t fit in our burning barrel does fit into the garbage dumpster.

My plan is to build disposal bins for recycling, scrap metal, oil and rinsed out pesticide containers and general garbage.

It feels good to have systems in place and I fear I’ve only just begun.

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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