Economy of Movement


Our work for the day: spreading manure.

Today we spent two hours spreading six tons of cured chicken manure over 1,200 square feet of field. In the midday sun. By hand. With the wind blowing it back in our faces.

Crazy, even by farming standards. But it’s work that had to get done: rain and storms were on the way.

Two things made accomplishing this task possible. And bearable.

The first is the quality of the field we were working on.

It’s a new field and it has the most beautiful soil I’ve ever seen. Black. Rich. Loamy. Beautiful. Jump on it and the whole ground shakes like a thick wet sponge. It simply begs to have seeds grown in it.


Beautiful soil.

The second thing is economy of movement.

Work like this can quickly deteriorate into flailing: just move the shovel as fast as you can and let the crap land where it may. But flailing wears you out, it makes the work take longer, and it doesn’t get you the results you want. You might as well leave the manure in piles if you don’t spread it right.

So you focus on one pile at a time. Make sure you have a comfortable grip on the shovel and a comfortable stance on the earth. Move just the right amount of manure with each motion. Apply only enough energy to send the manure as far as it’s needed, where it’s needed. Work to one side and then the other. Work with the wind when you can. Close your eyes when you can’t. Move on to the next pile.

Economy of movement is the trick to everything we do on the farm. And I have discovered where my own economy can improve.

Matthew and Pat raced by me when we were repotting at the greenhouse and planting in the main field. I felt slow finding the most efficient motions to accomplish these tasks.


Repotting a tomato seedling.

Carefully popping transplants from their cells. Staging them in three-inch pots. Massaging the new soil down around their roots while gently supporting the seedling. Cover to the right depth but don’t cover the crown. Set aside and move to the next pot.

Drive your trowel into the row. Pull the soil back. Drop the new transplant in. Push the soil back and pat down. A series of individual motions done in one fluid dance.

Once I found the motions and my rhythm, I was able to keep pace with Matthew and Pat. Almost.

Petra is the fastest of us all. A machine in speed and seamless motion. Petra is out of my league. For now.

The goal is to waste no effort but to spare no care. There is too much to do. Too much to do right.

“We’re living the good life,” Matthew announced from behind his cheap paper dust mask, after slinging manure in a well-placed arc.


The good life.

The sky was bright and blue. The sun was shining. Swallows skimmed over the field. We made short work of the piles and had time to sit beneath a tree at the end of the field. Talking of soil, stinging nettles, the wind turbines on the distant ridge, and old 80s pop culture. Reaping the benefits of our economy.

The good life, indeed.


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