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March/April 2013 – Martha Stewart vs. Joe Goodenough

Is it worthwhile to do a job well?

Between the barnyard and the workshop on our farm there is a fence and in the fence is a people gate. It is probably the busiest gateway in the farm. I go through it at least three times a day on weekdays, and upwards of 10 times a day on weekends, for a total of 35 times/week, or 150 times/month, 1800 times/year.

Until last month, when our farmhand, James, replaced the old homemade wooden gate with a new metal one, the gate was latched by a broken horse-lead clip, which hooked into an eyebolt embedded in a post. It was a fumbly affair, even if you weren’t carrying feed buckets, or a tool kit, or a chainsaw. It was especially hard to do up when ewes and lambs were in the barnyard, as they were keen to burst into the ungrazed area around the tool shed. Several times each year the ewes were faster than the gate fumbler, with the result that they shot into the tool area. Only after much shouting, hysterics etc were they shunted back out.

With the old gate, traverse time through the gateway ranged from a minimum of 10 seconds to a maximum of 40 minutes.

The new gate that replaced the old gate came with a chain and built in clip. To traverse the gateway now we simply lift a loop of chain off a post and drop it back on when we’ve past through. It is a simple task, easily done with one hand.

Traverse time is now five seconds.

Even if we forget about the sheep-related delays and hysterics, the new gate saves five seconds per traverse. Based on my usage alone, that is 2.9 minutes per week, 12.5 minutes per month, or 2.5 hours per year.

Other people use the gate too. My wife, our daughters, hired help; they all pass through the gate, almost always on farm-related work. It is fair to say that all the other users combined go through the gate three times as much as I do, for a total overall time savings of as much as 10 hours per year.

How we value our time varies, but let’s say overall it is $12 per hour. The gate saving in one year is $120. The gate cost $63. Labour to install it was probably $30. Even if we round to $100 cost, the gate paid off in less than one year.

I call this sort of thinking Martha Stewart versus Joe Goodenough. Joe Goodenough thinking says the old homemade gate and the goofy latch were just fine. Martha Stewart thinking says the old gate was in fact very costly and the money spent to replace it with something better returned wonderfully.

I live with these two ways of thinking—Martha versus Joe—

all the time, at scales ranging from the wisdom of reusing a worn chainsaw file (worth $1.50 new) to the economics of replacing our old baler with a new one costing $25,000.

The example I have detailed with the gate is kind of a no-brainer. However, when I look at all the gates on our farm (50+) to say nothing of all the tools and machinery that could benefit from a Martha/Joe analysis, I get overwhelmed. We could go broke spending money wisely! How does that work?

I’d like to hear from readers who have ideas about this.

One other, semi-socialist thought: presuming that many of Canada’s 220,000 plus farms have wonky gates, would it not be an excellent use of federal government money to assist with this matter? I can see it now, a triple-chinned, deep-voiced Honorable Member rising in Parliament to table Bill C355, aka, The Fumbly Farm Gate Improvement Bill. . .