Setting prorities at the farm: The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing!

The ability to prioritize and focus on top priority actions first is key in making the difference between being successful and simply being busy.

One useful distinction I have found is the the concept of Urgent vs. Important as presented in Stephen Covey’s book ‘7 habits of highly effective people’.

Even just the awareness of how much time we are spending in each quadrant is already very useful. I suggest you try it for a day or two… carry a notepad and note down how much time you are spending in each quadrant. It can be quite surprising!

Once we have cultivated mindfulness of how much time we are spending in each quadrant, the next step is to ask:

  • What is it that has me continue to spend my time in quadrants 4 and 3?
  • How can I schedule time each week for actions that are important and not urgent (Quadrant 2)?

What I notice is that the more time I spend in quadrant 2 (Important, Not Urgent) the less urgent tasks I tend to have…. it’s a virtuous cycle! The more I think ahead and focus my time on important tasks, the less last minute emergencies seem to arise.

One objection to this the I have experienced both from my own ‘monkey mind’ and from my clients is this idea that ‘I’m more efficient when I’m rushing to do an urgent task’ or ‘I enjoy the adrenaline rush of doing things at the last minute’. The thing is, as with all good falecies, this is partially true. There are two things going on here:

  1. Addiction to that dopamin/adrenalin hit: We condition ourselves to perform under stress and our brain come to crave that hit.
  2. Focus! The only reason we are more ‘efficient’ when doing something at the last minute (aka something urgent) is that we are actually focused!

There is no such thing a multitasking. I repeat, There Is No Such Thing As Multitasking. Our brain can only actually focus our conscious attention on one thing at a time. Every time we switch our focus, there is a price to pay in terms of mental energy. When we ‘multitask’, what we are actually doing is just rapidly switching back and forth between tasks.

When we are rushing to finish a task at the last minute, we may be more efficient, but it has nothing to do with doing it last minute per se, and everything to do with focusing on one task at a time.

So… give it a try.

Just for a day, make yourself a list of 3-5 things you want to get done, place them in order of priority. To determine the order of priority, ask yourself: ‘If for some reason this was the only thing I actually got done today, would I be satisfied with my day?’

Focus on one task at a time and do not move on to the next task until it is done!

May the force be with you!

Focusing our time with intention: Urgent vs Important.

Have you ever had the experience of being busy without ever really getting anything significant done?  Me too! You are not alone. This is a very common experience when we are called to accomplish something meaningful in our lives.

Enter ‘Urgent vs Important’ ! (Tadah!!) This distinction has played such a role in helping me to act in a way that is consistent with my visions and goals… and so, I hereby dedicate a post entirely to this concept.

Some things are urgent… as in they are very time sensitive and demand to be done right away.

Somethings are important… as in these are actions that have a large impact in terms of moving you forward towards some goal or vision.

Combine these two concepts and you get the following matrix.

The key to living a more productive, fulfilling life is to shift more and more of our time into quadrant 2 (Important but not Urgent). In doing so, we are able to use our time in an increasingly intentional manner.

How of your time are you dedicating to each of these quadrants?

What would it be like to know you are focusing your time effectively on taking important actions that have the greatest return in terms of achieving your goals and dreams?

May the force be with you!


PS: Many thanks to the late Stephen Covey for introducing me to this idea via his fantastic book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. Absolutely a must read!!


5 pillars of organic weed control

Given that this time of year is a critical period in terms of weed management, I would love to dive into the subject together.

As humans, are we blessed and cursed with a super-computer brain. Give it a problem and it will find a solution. Give it a question, it will find an answer. If you think that organic farming just means that you have a lot of weeds, that there’s no way to win against the weeds…. then this is the question for which you are finding an answer. As in ‘How do I make this farm work despite the crazy weeds?’

So, the first step is the rearrange the way we think of weed in order to shift the outcomes that we come to expect. It is possible to have weed free vegetable fields! It is possible to manage weeds systematically on your farm in such a way that they are not an issue. It is possible to manage the weeds using very little hand weeding.

Jonathan’s 5 pillars of systematic weed management:

  1. Reduce the biological necessity of weeds by systematically using green manures in your cropping systems and having a balanced fertility regiment.
    1. Weeds are nature’s way to protecting and healing the soil. Make sure you are using green manures! (Humm..sounds like a good subject for a future blog post!)
  2. Eliminate the introduction of weed seed into your soil.
    1. Never let weeds go to seed… in a well weeded field it’s quick to just go through and pull the couple of weeds that were missed.
    2. Always use weed free, properly composted compost that has heated sufficiently to kill the weed seeds.
    3. Always use weed free inputs (straw mulch, vegetable and cover crop seed, etc)
  3. Kill the weeds when they are most vulnerable using scale appropriate equipment.
    1. The time to cultivate is when the weeds are at the white thread or cotyledon stage. At this stage they are easy to destroy using shallow cultivation.
    2. Scale appropriate equipment = Hoes, wheel hoes, cultivating tractors, tine weeders (tractor mounted and handheld), flame weeders, hilling discs (tractor and wheel hoe mounted), Finger weeders, Basket weeders, plastic and straw mulch) … just to name the main ones.
    3. Remember that there are 3 ways to kill weeds: Pull it out, cut it off from it’s root, or bury it! Many crops can be hilled which is a great way of getting the weed growing on the row
  4. Plant your crops into weed free beds!
    1. Stale seedbed: Prepare the beds far in advance and reduce the number of viable seeds in the top inch of soil by using shallow tillage to destroy emerging weeds when they are no larger that’s the cotyledon stage (approx. every 10 days.)
    2. Always eradicate perennial weeds prior to planting your crops
  5. Weed next year’s crop this year.
    1. Set aside a certain % of your fields to reduce the weed pressure for the following year (ideally for all your crops, but especially for the crops that are the hardest to weed.)
    2. After doing your deep tillage, mark out the beds and stale seedbed them (see above) during the time of year that you anticipate next years crop to be in the establishment phase (may/june for early crops, june/july for late crops)
    3. From this point on, do not till the soil deeply before your next crop so as to not bring up more weed seeds from deeper down. Ideally you can establish a green manure after the fallow period but make sure you are equipped to handle the residue without tilling too deep.
    4. Alternately this can be accomplished very effectively using silage tarps to occultate the beds on a bio-intensive production scale.

‘Weed the Soil, Not the Crop!’ (Eric and Anne Nordell, Trout Run Farm).. what a great read!

Ok!  To sum up this somewhat long winded discussion of weeds, here are the take always for this time of year:

Ok!  To sum up this somewhat long winded discussion of weeds, here are the take always for this time of year

  1. What are your beliefs regarding weeds? Write them all down on a scrap of paper… the good, the bad and the ugly! Take a good square look at these beliefs. Are they useful to you? If so, great, keep them. If not.. get rid of them! How can you re-frame the weeds question in a way that you would LOVE you super-computer brain to be working on solving
  2. Are you preparing next year’s fields right now? Now is the time to make sure that your are reducing the weed pressure in the beds where the most sensitive crops will be planted next year. I know this is easy to overlook at this time of year, but part of being a successful farmer is to be able to juggle both urgent and important but not urgent tasks simultaneously.
  3. Keep up the weeding! Within a couple of weeks the weeds will be slowing down thankfully… but now is not the time to slow down. If necessary, consider hiring temporary labor or calling a weeding party in order to stay on top of the weeds.

Go make a ruckus!!

Pure Farmer Hospitality

We’re on a trip… as you may know. We’re currently in Oregon, working our way north through Washington to BC. Along the way, we are connecting with local farmers, trading information, and forging friendships.

I have been completely humbled by the hospitality and generosity of the farmers we have been meeting along this trip. It is heartwarming to see the enthusiasm with which farmers welcome us into their homes…. and totally randomly, I just go online and look up the local farms and reach out via email… so far i have had 100% positive responses.

What I love about visiting farms (apart from geeking out with fellow farmers) is meeting people who think outside of the box and experiencing the paradigm shift of seeing something in a different light.

Here are three farms we visited last week that each have their own particular paradigm smashing perspective.

Valley Flora Farm: Langlois, Oregon

Located up a peaceful valley along the Pacific coast in southern Oregon, Valley Flora farm is a gem of beauty and unorthodox family farming.

The fact is, Valley Flora Farm is in reality three farms in one… one for each member of the family… a mother and her two grown daughters. Betsy settled here about 30 years ago and currently farms greenhouse on hoop house crops (Solanaceae and Cucurbits in summer. Greens in winter); Abby came back and settled on the farm in the early 2000’s and intensively grows top quality salad mix for the local restaurant and wholesale market (I mean.. really nice greens! (Probably about 1 acre); Last but not least Zoë came back to the farm in the late 2000’s and grows about 5 acres of mixed vegetables for a 100 member CSA, a thriving farm stand, a couple wholesale accounts, and ½ acre of you pick Strawberries; Zoë does most of her farming using draft horses though she also has a tractor for certain tasks.

What marked me the most was the unconventional family farm model that allows these three women to collaborate while at the same time do their own thing. The products are all marketed under the Valley Flora Farm brand, and Quickbooks just takes care of distributing the money to each business each month. Collective expenses are distributed proportionally to gross sales of each business.

Together and seperate… at the same time. And laughing, and loving.

Thank you for welcoming us!

A cool little rolling seat for cutting salad greens (Abby doesn’t take more than one cut so it doesn’t matter if she rolls on the beds)
Salad Greens harvester from Sutton Ag. A pretty cool tool as it allows for harvesting from a standing position (it was bought in anticipation of harvesting while pregnant)

Cully Neighborhood Farm/Slow Hand Farm: Portland, Oregon


Josh Volks is a veteran small farmer, author, teacher, consultant, innovator, and inventor…. and the owner of Slow Hand Farm.

We visited him at his latest farm right in the heart of a residential neighborhood in Portland…. ½ acre farm in partnership with Cully Neighborhood Farm.

Our visit coincided with on of their on farm CSA pick up days for their 65 member CSA. The thing is… everyday is a pickup day, since this farm is run 2 days per week… literally, I mean the farm only operates 2 days per week. In total the two owners and a handful of employees work the equivalent of 6 labor days per week. (Ie 48 person hours per week total labour input).

It is a nice example of how farms are here to serve us as tool to accomplish certain personal goals or life’s intentions. For some people this means full time, for some people this means part time so as to create space for other interests and goals.

Harvest cart with power assist from an electric wheal
Drip tape roller with very cute child (my son Milo!) 🙂
Easy to build row marker
Trellising of field cucumbers

Full Plate Farm: Ridgefield, Washington

Located just north of Portland Oregon, Full Plate Farm is another great example of taking a unconventional approach to using farming to build an incredible lifestyle… cause that’s ultimately what it’s about… putting in place the element to live the life of our dreams!

The farm is Danny’s business; Michelle is an artist and college professor. It is important to note that this is by choice and not be economic necessity. There is this ideal of working with our spouses, but this is only ideal if that is what both people want. (actually, this is something that all three of these farms have in common.

The next unconventional element of FPF is that they grow 3 acres of field vegetables and 2 high tunnels for a 90 member winter only CSA. The CSA starts in November and runs through the end of March. The delivery are every second week allowing Danny to have a week off in between for travel, family, and farm admin. Most of the crops are actually harvested directly from the field all winter long in this mild, rainy coastal climate… although he is moving more towards bulk harvesting carrots and storing them in the cold room to reduce field loss to rot. 

What I find interesting is the wisdom of choosing a winter CSA model rather than fighting with a fairly saturated summer CSA market and dealing with poorly draining fields in the spring.

Danny mostly does all the farm work with the help of a part time employee 1 or 2 days per week. Oh… and Danny only works 4 days per week so as to be able to spend time with his three children and take family trips… In fact when we were visiting, they were getting ready for a 1 week camping trip… in JULY!

The classic family chicken pose!
Automated watering of seedling trays in greenhouse using a timer

Filling you CSA membership using 1-on-1 follow up

Depending on where you farm, you may be one of many farms feeling the effects of CSA ‘market saturation’. There simply are more farms offering CSA shares than ever before (which is great!) The thing is, the population of consumers looking to buy CSA shares has not increased proportionally. So… we end up with situations where great farms, offering great products, are still 10-20% short of their registration targets.

There are plenty of strategies to mitigate this trend (that I would love to look into in future blogs posts), today I want to talk about the power of following up… and doing so personally (ie. not only through mass emails to our past membership lists.)

In today’s busy, modern world, your registering for a CSA share is not a priority for (the majority of) your clients… I’m sorry to break it to you, but it just isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, they love your CSA… it’s just that they are already inundated with email, facebook posts, etc and lead busy lives. They’re willing to eat your delicious veggies and support you farm, but they need support to getting there.

This is where following up in a personal manner comes in. Not to harass them with some lame offer like a telemarketer or a spammer… but to genuinely support them in the process to registering for a CSA share that they would love to recieve.

It turns out that 20-30% of non-renewed members will re register simply following a phone call (excluding the people who have moved away from the area).  Isn’t that wild!

The thing is… It is so much easier to ignore a mass message than a personal one. So, this follow up needs to be as personal as possible.

I suggest the following approach:

  1. In order to make the task more manageable, we need to try and eliminate people from list who have a legitimate reason for not renewing (they moved away, they got divorced, etc).
    1. I suggest starting with a reminder email to your list of non-renewals inviting them to register for the current season, and asking a quick survey question regarding why they have not yet renewed (multiple choice question, using a google form directly embedded in the email, with one of the answers being ‘I moved way’)
    2. Remove the people who have moved away from your list.
  2. Of the remaining people, start by identifying 20-30 people who are the most likely to renew and CALL THEM ON THE PHONE. If you are shy about this, email me and I would be happy to have a mini coaching session with you (bonus for you, my reader). Remember, you are not pestering them. You are being of service by supporting them to eat your top quality freshly harvested veggies!
  3. Send personal emails to the rest of the list… as in not a mass email… not something MailChimp just stuck their name on… really a 1 to 1 email. You can copy and past a template for the body of the email, but add a personalized opening.
  4. If you’re still short, start calling the rest of the list.

I know it can be intimidating to call people up, none of us like being rejected. But remember… It’s not personal, it’s just business!

One thing that becomes evident in all this, is the need for quality information of your clients. Whoever is interacting with your clients on a weekly basis at the CSA drop off needs to have a system for taking notes and rating people based on their perceived enthusiasm for your product. At the very least, during the last couple of weeks of the CSA season, notes need to help you the following year identify who is worth calling if they do not renew.  As with so much on the modern organic vegetable farm… it comes down to keeping great records!


Who are the 20-50 people on your list who are the most likely to renew?

Is there someone on your team or in your entourage that is enthusiastic and your would entrust with this task?

May the force be with you!