For the past few months, On Pasture has been working with two different organizations, both critical to the health and continued operation of On Pasture, and both having trouble providing the assistance we needed. The first was the hosting service for our website. The second was the folks who are supposed to distribute the funds for the grant that covers On Pasture’s operation costs. What both organizations have in common is that they are short-staffed for the jobs they are supposed to be doing. As a result, something that should have taken weeks took months. Another similarity is that neither organization told us short-staffing was the reason for the problem. The difference between them is that one is solving the problem by adding staff and technical capabilities, while the other is looking at an additional 37% cut in staff.
It’s easy to get frustrated with a service provider when you need help and you just don’t get it. I admit to calling the staff in charge of helping On Pasture migrate to our new servers “naked mole rats” because they worked in a room all by themselves, not communicating with anyone on the tech staff I was talking to. Then one day I spoke with Josh two times in a row. Between our first conversation, when I complained again about the naked mole rates making my life difficult, and the second, Josh had actually met one of these employees. He found out that there was a sudden uptick in migration requests that was way beyond the staff’s capacity to handle it and that they were hiring and training as fast as they could to solve the problem. I realized that they were actually busy beavers trying to stuff sticks in the dam to hold back a flood, and my whole attitude changed. It was easier to be patient, and remember to live by my motto, when I knew what was happening.
As I noted, the second organization is not adding staff, but further reducing. As Agriculture Secretary Perdue said in the media call announcing the proposed USDA budget, the department will respond to cuts in staff and dollars by “doing more with less.” It’s hard for me to understand how that might work after seeing the midnight time stamps of the emails I got from the person trying to help On Pasture, and after learning that the staff he was working on is less than half of what it used to be. I also know that other offices are having difficulties doing everything they need to do because of short staffs. But my picture is admittedly very small.
I certainly don’t have the answers to what is a very complicated topic. But it seems that we should be thinking and sharing ideas about what kind of support we want and need from the USDA and the effects of a 21% cut to an agency that supports the 2% of the population that feeds the other 98%. As a friend told me, this is an agency and these are programs that were born out of the Dust Bowl and our mutual interest in the soil and agriculture. If we can find solutions that work, hopefully we won’t have to learn the lessons of the Dust Bowl again. Can we suggest improvements to programs that need fixes? Can we talk about the kinds of support we need most? Let’s be constructive and share thoughts below. And remember my motto. 🙂
Thanks for reading and for all that you do!
Kathy and Rachel