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The tidy debate. Now, where did I put that wrench . . . ?

You drive into a farmyard for the first time and, if you are like me, you immediately start passing judgment. Implements lined up like new cars on a lot? Okay, this is a tidy farm. 

You walk into the barn. Manure forks are stored on hooks, baling twine hangs from a nail, no broken bales, no feed bags on the floor. This farm is organized. 

You check out the workshop. Screwdrivers in slots, wrenches hang from the wall on nails, the size of each written in clear writing in pencil for easy access. Things are probably well-maintained here. 

Then you look at the workbench — clean as an operating table, with containers of salvaged nails, all sorted by size lined up like soldiers . . .  wait a second, this farmer has too much time on his/her hands!

You can tell a lot by the way a farm is (or is not) organized, though what that means depends on whether you think tidiness is indicative of a very together sort of person or, as the saying goes, tidiness is for people who are just too lazy to look for things.

The upsides of an organized farm are compelling, if for nothing more than the not-so-honourable reason that a tidy farm looks so good. We all know that a good part of farming is managing chaos, so anyone who can achieve order with machinery and yard has my respect.

On a tidy farm, the tools are always accessible. The fitting for the compressor is on a shelf by the compressor, not pinballing from side to side on the dashboard of a farm truck. When you need something, it is easy to locate.

On a tidy farm, you can see when something is going amiss. You can spot the water leak on the floor sooner if the floor isn’t covered in junk, the deflating tire is easier to discern on short grass rather than tall weeds, the ailing sow can’t hide in a clear pen like she can in one filled with abandoned equipment. 

A tidy farm creates a culture that extends beyond easy access to tools. A well-organized shop suggests to anyone using it, but especially employees, that there is more to farming than just doing — there is preparation, follow up, method . . .  It isn’t a stretch to say that a tidy farm is probably a safer farm, and not only because there is less twine to snare yourself in, but because maintenance and access to the right equipment are likely to mean safety related tasks get done (think: expired fire extinguishers).

On the other hand, a tidy farm takes constant work to maintain. Sure, it feels great to march into the shop and put your hand on the pipe threader but if keeping the shop in top shape means time spent away from the fields in planting season . . . well, the benefits of a tidy shop become suspect.

Now, let’s consider a less-than-tidy farm (Interesting: the only words to describe poor organization are negatives — how unfair to slobs of the world!). 

Sure, it takes more time to find a tool on a messy farm than on a well organized one, but note that both types of farm take time — one to set up and maintain, the other to rummage about in. Also, what is one man’s mess can be another man’s order. The old farmer may know that the compressor fitting is on the dashboard of the farm truck because that is where it lives. Just because tools aren’t lined up in descending size doesn’t mean there isn’t a plan. Some types of order are harder to see than others.

   A less tidy farm will purchase more things, because things of all sorts aren’t always easy to find. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A few years ago I got so fed up with not being able to find a tape measure when I needed one that I went on a buying spree. Whenever I was in the building supply store and measuring tapes were on sale, I bought them. I bought and bought until a tape was always at hand.    

   In the years since that spree, I always have a tape, be it in the shop or truck or tractor tool box. No well organized farm could have quicker access to tapes than my farm. There is more than one way to get to efficiency!

Here’s what I tell my tidy-minded farming friends: Done is better than perfect. It may not always be true, but it sure messes them up.