You’ve no doubt heard the saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” It’s sage advice for many aspects of life. For instance, it’s not a bad idea to arm yourself with different skill sets as you head off into the working world. That’s what I tell myself about the fact that I studied English, psychology and French in college: I was leaving doors open for different career options. It definitely wasn’t that I couldn’t make up my mind.

I like to think I’m fairly adept at “wielding my red pen of doom,” as my sister describes my work, but I do have some other skills up my sleeve. I’m an award-winning toilet scrubber. Seriously. One summer when I worked in a state park I received the Golden Toilet Brush Award for my dedication to clean bathrooms. The award was literally a toilet brush. It was even spray-painted gold. I still have it.

I was so committed to making those bathrooms sparkling clean that I made a couple of my co-workers redo their side of a facility one day because it wasn’t up to my standards. This doesn’t sound like much until you consider the fact that I wasn’t in a position of authority; I was a peon just like them. But they obeyed me anyway. You don’t argue with a Golden Toilet Brush Award recipient (not about whether a bathroom’s been cleaned correctly, anyway).

Another place diversification can be beneficial is the garden. If you have multiple crops, there’s less chance that you’ll lose an entire season’s worth of produce in one fell swoop. I’m finding that tomatoes are a vulnerable crop. Last year, they were invaded by hornworms. This year, they were hit with early blight. We’re still getting plenty of tomatoes – enough so that I tried my hand at making some soup from scratch. I only set the smoke alarm off twice.

We’ve had better luck with the rest of our veggies, aside from those little green worms that like to hide out in broccoli. There’s been plenty of zucchini and green beans, and I think we’re about to have cucumbers coming out our ears. (The latter got off to a slightly late start thanks to some seeds that didn’t want to germinate. Fortunately my dad, the cucumber whisperer, imparted the secret to making them sprout.)

While the early blight didn’t prevent us from having a tomato crop, those plants could easily have succumbed to another disease or pest that would have left us tomatoless. It’s always a good idea to minimize risk where you can, and diversifying your growing operation is one way you can do that. Diversification doesn’t have to mean growing more than one type of crop, either. There are a number of ways you can add new elements to your operation as a risk management strategy. Turn to page 4 to read more. And if you feel the need to brush up on your toilet-scrubbing skills, just know that I am here to help, and I wield my toilet brush as skillfully as I do my red pen.

Stephanie Peake