I am a long-time subscriber to Growing For Market, a monthly publication for folks selling produce and other farm products. Although 2001 was my last year to sell produce, I kept my subscription up-to-date because I was teaching market growing at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. I left that position in May 2010, but still maintain my subscription because I continue to find the information helpful. When I read ‘Lean’ Principles Applied to a Farm by Ben Hartman in the May 2013 issue, the wheels in my head couldn’t stop spinning, reminding me of all the things that I had experienced along that line that are helpful to me.
You could search “lean business principles” on the internet and come up with lots of background information. In his article, Hartman explains how taking stock of what was happening on his farm, in the light of “lean” principles, helped him have a more efficient and profitable business. I remember hearing Joel Salatin, many years ago, speak about the importance of regularly reading books about business if you are involved in the business of farming. I know–people don’t like to think of mixing business and the pleasure of farming and gardening–but this is a way of examining what you are doing and making it better. The end result, hopefully, is a more relaxed and enjoyable you.
I urge anyone wanting to sell produce from their farm someday to learn to grow as much as they can of their total food needs first, fine-tuning the timing and quantity to their family’s needs. With a good garden plan, you will know what to expect and when to expect it. You’ll also learn how much you can produce in the area you are working with. When you do decide to grow for more than your family, you will have an idea of how much area you will need, when things will be ready and how much you would have to sell. You can also anticipate if you will need to change methods or add equipment. Your garden plan is your business plan for the business of managing the food production for your household. My DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan can help you with that. You might also take a look at my blog posts Keeping Garden Records and Making a Garden Map.
The first suggestion in Hartman’s article is to get rid of anything not necessary for your operation. I remember when I was a market grower and made the decision to standardize my operation and only use wooden flats that I’d made from recycled wood to start seeds. I had been using a variety of recycled plastic containers to start seeds in. What I cleaned out of my shed filled half of my 8’ long pickup bed. My shed was cleaner and I loved using the wooden flats.
“A place for everything and everything in its place” is a common mantra for anyone becoming better organized. It’s also important for a lean operation, whether for your business or household. I keep my garden maps on a clipboard and have found that if I hang it up, rather than leave it around the house or on my desk, I can find it much easier. I keep it on a nail on the side of a cabinet that I store seeds and garden supplies in. Just below it I hang my sickle, so that I know where it is and for safety reasons because it is so sharp. When I get a garden shed built, the sickle will live there. Some people go so far as to outline their tools on the wall where they are hanging up. That way if something is missing, they readily know what it is and can begin looking for it. I have an old mailbox in my garden to hold trowels and small garden tools. As long as I make sure to put them back there, I can find them in an instant.
The article mentioned keeping work stations clean. Having a defined work station in the garden is something that is often late in coming. Gardeners are too used to picking, then hauling everything to the house. You will get some ideas for making a work station for cleaning your produce in your garden from my post Garden Washing Station. Having a garden washing station allows me to wash and prepare the produce and load it onto the screens that go directly into my solar dryers. That food never enters the house until it is ready to be put away in jars as dried food. Water, dirt and trimmings stay in the garden.
Having a standardize measurement to compare each part of your operation, in this case different crops, is the best way to know what is profitable (in $ or in time) and what is not. The basic measurement I use is pounds harvested per hundred square feet. To take that further would be to factor in the months it took to reach that harvest. If you are growing to fill canning jars, you might measure the harvest in how many quarts filled — or as a market grower, how much money you can make per hour of harvesting. Eventually you realize you can’t do everything and will make decisions about what to keep on with and what not to do anymore. In a market operation, the amount of money to be made comes in high on the priorities for making those decisions. In a household operation, matters of the heart might be higher on the priorities list than potential income.
Another suggestion in the article was to “level the load” — spread out tasks over time, so as not to be overwhelmed. If you are already overwhelmed with a family and a garden, just imagine how it would be if you added selling produce to the mix. Begin now to look at what you are doing in all aspects of your life to see how you could adjust your tasks for a more even flow of your personal energy. Rules we seem to establish for ourselves, for whatever reasons, are not so rigid that they can’t be changed. Sometimes it is only our minds that need changing — how we choose to perceive things.
I’m sure you’ve heard the story of putting a frog in a pot of water and slowly bringing it to a boil. The frog stays there until it is cooked because it doesn’t realize what is happening. If you drop the frog into water that is already boiling, it will jump out. If the waters of your life are heating up, jump back now and take a look at what is going on and make some adjustments in what you are doing. You will be happier and so will your family and friends. Of course, everything doesn’t always go as planned and complications are bound to pop up. Somewhere I came across this saying — Life is not about weathering the storm, but dancing in the rain. I hope to find you dancing.