Optimizing the flow of value through your farm business

There are very few actions on the farm that actually generate value.

What are people actually paying you to do?

How is value created on your farm? 

How does value flow through your farm business?

Given the nearly infinite number of farm tasks you could be working on, it is essential that you prioritize your time and energy so that you maximize value creation and flow through the farm business system. 

There are 2 frameworks I would like to draw upon today to examine this question: LEAN manufacturing (the Toyota Production System), and Holistic Management.

According to the LEAN approach, value is purely defined as what the client is willing to pay for. Through this lens, we see that there are certain critical moments when value is created in the farm system. If we take a seed and grow it into a carrot, we have added value. Someone would theoretically be willing to come and harvest the carrot and pay you more than you would get if you just sold the seed. If you actually harvest and wash that carrot, you once again add value. You can sell a harvested and washed carrot for more than you can sell a u-pick carrot in the field. Finally, if you actually go to market with that carrot, you will once again be able to charge more, which is the indicator that value has been added. 

Anything other than planting, harvesting, and marketing is waste. Some of this waste is a necessary waste (which we seek to minimize) and some of this waste is pure waste (which we seek to eliminate). But either way, it remains waste (Muda in Japanese). For example, while irrigation is essential to growing a successful crop, no one is actually paying you to irrigate. Irrigation is a form of waste… necessary waste, but waste never the less. 

This concept maps on well to the 3-link Value Chain from Holistic Management. In this framework the 3 links are:

  1. The conversion of CO2 into plant matter via photosynthesis;
  2. The conversion of plant matter into a marketable product via harvest, washing, etc;
  3. The conversion of the marketable product into money via sale.

At any given point in time, there is a single one of these links that is the weak link. Are you able to sell everything you currently produce via your marketing outlets… or could you sell more if you had more? If you increased production by 50%, what would be the limiting factor: harvest or marketing?

Of course, all these elements are interlinked, but it is important to make sure you are aware of and addressing the weak link in your system, your efforts on other elements are not as effective!

Which link is currently the weak link on your farm?

What actions are necessary to remove that bottleneck?

Once that is addressed, what weak link do you see coming down the pipe?

2 + 2 = 10: Building a farm culture for synergy and employee retention

What is it that distinguishes good teams from GREAT teams? Why is it that sometimes 2 plus 2 is 3 while other times 2 plus 2 equals 10? What are the key elements that bring out the best in us and allow us to synergize towards a common goal?

How do you go about creating a farm culture where employees thrive and flourish; a farm culture that attracts and retains awesome employees? 

In today’s blog, I’d like to present 3 key pillars of high-performance team cultures as defined by Daniel Coyle in “The Culture Code”

Coyle spent 4 years studying high-performance teams from a wide array of contexts: Pixar, SEAL team 6, a ring of thieves, an inner-city school, an improv comedy troupe to name a few. The three 3 key steps that all these teams use to build a high-capacity team environment are:

  1. Build Safety and Belonging
  2. Share Vulnerability
  3. Establish Purpose

One last thing before we get into these three points: what is team culture and why should we care about it? 

The Oxford dictionary defines culture as “the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group.” Coyle offers us this notion: “Culture is a set of living relationships working towards a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”

Cultivating a powerful farm team culture is actually one of the most powerful tools for small scale farms to attract and retain high-quality staff…. Let’s face it, people aren’t coming to your farm for the great pay or the stable, year-round employment… they’re coming because there’s something deeper that is motivating them… a desire for their lives to be a contribution to a higher purpose, a desire to escape from the rat race, and a desire to do good honest work in a fun environment. 

Safety and belonging

Above all, your employees are humans. What is it that humans need more than anything (assuming the basic physiological needs of food, water, shelter, and homeostasis are    Maybe leave out homeostasis? met)? Safety and Belonging!  This need stems from the very foundation of human evolution. At a very deep level, our primal brain needs to know that we are safe and that our tribe isn’t going to kick us out of the cave to be eaten by the saber tooth tigers! Interestingly enough, this finding is absolutely in line with Maslow’s pyramid of needs.

To create a strong team culture on your farm, your people need to know they are safe, that they aren’t going to be fired, yelled at, humiliated. They need to know that they are part of a team, a crew, a tribe of people who stick together through the epic journey of a farming season. Here are a couple of actionable suggestions both from the book and from my farm experience: 

  • Take the time to nurture personal relationships, both between you and your staff and amongst the staff.
    • Take the extra minute to build relationship one-on-one with each team member through regular, little interactions, and 1-on-1 meetings
    • Remember that connection is nurtured by in-person interactions. As humans, we respond to physical touch. A handshake, a hug, a high five, a touch of the elbow. Or course, remember to be respectful of each person’s comfort level; when in doubt, just ask. 
    • Create opportunities for interactions: working as a group, eating lunch together, having a beer together at the end of the week.
  • Pay attention to Threshold Moments.
    • Threshold moments are times of transition when people are most tenter what does tenter mean ? for belonging. 
    • This is when they are first joining your team. 
    • I know that this can be a challenge in the spring when there’s so much to be done that it’s tempting to blow off the onboarding and training process… but the investment of time and energy with pay off 100 times over! 
  • Never shame, blame, humiliate, or dismiss feedback.

The bottom line is that as members of a team, our number one job here is to take care of each other. 

Share vulnerability

Every individual has a gift to contribute to the team. The full synergy of the team can never be unleashed until an environment of trusting cooperation has been created. This is where pillar 2 comes in: Share vulnerability with your team. 

Trust is not a precondition to vulnerability… the act of being vulnerable actually creates the bond of trust amongst those who share the moment together. 

  • “Make sure the leader is vulnerable first and often”
    • This doesn’t mean to be self-deprecating and doubtful. This means that when you screw up, you admit it freely and without shame. When you don’t know the answer, you say so. By doing so, you set the standard that this is something we do at this farm…. People like us, do things like this… the creation of a sub-culture specific to your farm. 
  • Create time and space for candid communication and feedback. 
    • There’s a difference between being candid and being brutally honest. 
    • Welcome feedback and avoid the reflex to immediately respond, provide a solution, or justify. 
    • Have weekly team meetings. Instead of focusing on just what there is to do this week, take this time to reflect of your performance and dynamic as a team, using questions such as:
      • What were the intended results?
      • What were our actual results?
      • What caused our results?
      • What will we do the same next week?
      • What will we do differently?

Establish Purpose

Establishing purpose and vision is not an annual exercise for just the owners. It’s a critical element that must be part of the daily and weekly vocabulary of the farm team. Where are we at? Where are we going? Who are we?

  1. Create priorities:
    1. Be specific and precise
    2. Where are we at? Where are we going? Who are we?
  2. Name keystone behaviors that align with these priorities.
  3. Flood the environment with heuristics that link the two. Heuristics are short (often cheesy) phrases that are intended to embed the farm’s core values into the collective vocabulary.

Here’s a little brainstorm of to possible heuristics:

Elite farmers take care of their teammates

Good enough is perfect. 

We aren’t cavemen, we use wheals.

Work smarter, not harder.

Never go anywhere empty-handed.

Optimize every motion.

Never harvest slower than 150$/hrs gross sales.

We don’t have time NOT to communicate.

Quality, consistency, and cleanliness.

Clean, cold, and clearly labeled

A spot for every tool, and every tool in its spot.

The job’s not done ‘till everything is cleaned up and recorded. 

We’re data farmers.

People, planet, and profits.

Your turn!

What are you taking away from this blog post?

What are 1 or 2 actions that could contribute to building a synergistic business culture on your farm? 

How do these principles apply to creating a nurturing and loving culture in your family and home life?

Jonathan’s winter farm reading list

There’s nothing quite like settling down on a nice winter’s day with a great book!

Here are a couple of books I’d like to suggest if you’re looking for what to read this winter. 

The Culture Code

What is it that makes a great team? In this book, Coyle analyses some of the highest performing and most cohesive groups in the world and comes up with 3 key elements of what it takes to create such synergy… and it ain’t what you think!!! Check it out! (I’ll be posting a more in-depth blog on this topic once I’m done with the book). This topic is so pertinent especially in farming where employee retention is such an elusive goal.

Personal MBA

No time to go to business school? Not a problem. The Personal MBA breaks down key business concepts into bite-sized, easy to process sections. So many of us get into farming because we love farming… only to find out we’ve gotten ourselves into a business!! Here’s a great book to fill in some of the gaps!

How the farm pays

My all-time favorite farming book!!! This is a classic 1884 conversation between a highly successful vegetable grower and his dairy farming friend… captured and transcribed by a secretary and put into book format. This is an amazing source of pre-chemical ag. wisdom and practical knowledge. I particularly like the part where one of them says that the corn silage fad will never catch on and that forage beets will never be replaced… you gotta smile sometimes!!

Building a Storybrand

A fantastic marketing framework that allows us to tap into the power of story to convey our message in a clear and compelling way. After reading and doing the exercises in this book, you’ll have a complete brand framework that will support you to have a consistent manner to talk about your products in all your marketing and advertising outlets. The author also has a fantastic podcast and online course

Getting Things Done

If you’re one of those people whose brain likes spreadsheets…and if you’re looking for a way to free up your mind, be more creative, and be more productive, this book is for you!!!

The central lesson of this book is: Your mind is for having ideas, not storing them!

The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Humans love games. More than that, humans love winning! How do we create a team spirit where everyone is onboard and where everyone can know in an instant if our team is ‘winning’? Enter the 4DX framework! Check out this blog post of mine for a more complete discussion of this. 

The Books of Earthsea

And last but not least (lest you think all I do is geek out about business management)!!

Welcome to Earthsea! World of magic, of adventure, and of balance between light and dark. This exquisitely written series is a masterpiece of fantasy prose with a robust philosophical and moral message.  

Mastering your farm sales targets with ease and grace!!!

Ahhh.. the joys of marketing!! For many of us, we got into farming for the love of being outdoors, growing food, being our own boss, and contributing to building a better world. And yet… Money is a necessary form of energy available for us to use in the accomplishment of that which is most meaningful to us.

It’s easy to feel that we’re at the mercy of the markets. That marketing is some nebulous thing for soft handed office people. That making the money we’d love to make is a goal that is mostly dependent on luck, good weather, and keeping our nose to the grindstone. 

While there’s a certain truth to this, the fact of the matter is that there are some simple actions that can have a huge impact on reaching your financial goals. 

Profit = Sales – Expenses… remember?  Great! Let’s take a look at the “sales” portion of this equation today; we’ll dive into budgeting and expense in a future blog. 

Today I offer you two simple practices to focus your energy and bring a greater degree of intentionality to your farm business. 

  1. Setting clear, precise monthly sales targets.
  2. Reviewing those sales targets weekly with your team.

These two practices serve 3 main purposes.

Priming your brain 

The power of clear intentions is not to be underestimated.

Setting a clear sales target primes your conscious and subconscious minds to see and seize opportunities that will contribute to you attaining your sales targets. Your mind is like a supercomputer whose role is to collect evidence and find patterns…and yet we only use about 5% of our brain’s capacity on a regular basis. By giving your brain a clear search query to focus on, you unleash a powerful search engine (have you ever noticed that if you’re shopping for a certain car or truck… all of a sudden it’s like that model is everywhere but you just never noticed it.) 

The point is that hitting your sales target is accomplished through consistently taking actions that seize upon the available opportunities, moment by moment, day by day. With your brain primed to this, you will naturally be more inclined to see and act on such opportunities 

Aligning your team

The second piece of this is to tap into the collective creativity of your team (even if that’s just one other person!). To do so, I suggest you post the following chart in a prominent area of the farm…. Ideally next to your weekly planning board in your farm “control center”. The purpose of this chart is to clearly show progress towards your monthly sales target. Each week, the past week’s sales are added, thus creating a second line that represents the actual sales. 

Sample chart to review weekly progress to your farm’s monthly sales target.

Each week, take 5-10 minutes to review the chart with your team. They appreciate you giving them an insight into the big picture. They will feel more part of a team playing towards a goal. The desire to win is a powerful universal energy. As leaders, it is our role to tap into and channel this energy. You will be surprised at the ideas that you and your team will come up with, both by bringing in other opinions AND simply by getting it out of your head and being able to talk about this out loud. It’s amazing what we can see differently just by talking out loud about something.

Keeping you on track

Finally, this practice serves to keep you on track. The time to take action is in the present moment. By the time winter comes around and you finally get your bookkeeping all up to date… it’s TOO LATE to take action!! 

It is way easier to course-correct early on… Before things get out of hand. And, yes. It actually is amazing what an impact we can have on sales in those moments that they need a little (or big) boost.

Your turn

These simple practices have worked for me on my farm, for my clients on their farms (and other small businesses), and they can work for you!

  1. Set your annual sales targets per sales channel (based on last year’s sales, on projected growth rates, and on your profit goals for the year).
  2. Break them down on a monthly basis based on the normal monthly variation of sales.
  3. Inform your team of this new practice. 
  4. Start tracking sales RIGHT NOW!!! This is not only useful for market and wholesale, but also for tracking CSA sales in the coming months.

What would it be like to master the energy of money?

Ohh… and in case you hadn’t figured this out, I love this stuff!!! If you’re having any trouble implementing this, here’s a link to my calendar to book a free sample coaching session. Looking forward to meeting you!!

Mastering your weekly TimeFlow rhythm on the farm.

There are basically 3 types of roles on the farm: Producer, Manager, Captain/CEO/Leader.

Imagine that we’re a team cutting a trail through the jungle. The producers are those swinging the machetes, actually cutting the trail. Behind them are the managers; sharpening the machetes, setting up the work schedule, managing payroll, writing SOP’s etc. The captain’s role is leadership and vision. She’s the one who climbs the highest tree to see that the team is heading in the right direction, working towards a worthy goal. 

Day after day, week after week… there’s so much production work to do on the farm that it can be easy for time to fly by without taking the time to work on important but non-urgent administrative, management, and leadership actions. 

Enter the weekly rhythm!! This is an approach to scheduling your weekly workflow that has worked for many of my clients and allows for the inherent change and uncertainty that comes with running a farm. Whereas schedules are rigid and fixed, Rhythms are a flexible foundation upon which we can build. In the world of music, the rhythm is the foundation upon which the musicians can jam!

The purpose of establishing a weekly rhythm is to use your time in an intentional and focused manner so that you don’t put off important but non-urgent tasks until an emergency forces you to deal with it!

I suggest you split each day into 4 time-blocks, plus a 5th block that is the evening. Each block is approximately 2 hours. Next, dedicate specific time blocks to specific categories of actions. No need to be super specific right now about what each action is (which will change from week to week anyways), but at least block out time each week for the various roles (Production, Management, Leadership/Captain time) plus some dedicated time to your personal life. 

Then, each week, use this framework to dispatch the tasks for the week to the different categories. 

The bottom line is that if you want to take an action that is outside the usual range of urgent production activities… you need to set time aside for it. “I’ll do it when I have time” NEVER works!! If it’s not scheduled… it doesn’t exist!

So… what’s your flow? 

How would you love your week to be structured? 

What would become possible if you had time reserved each week for non-urgent actions?

Understanding farm leadership and problem-solving: The Cynefin Framework

“To she who holds a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” 

Have you noticed that your personal leadership style affects the way in which you frame problems and seek to solve them? 

Enter the Cynefin framework!! By creating a clear lens through which we can see challenges on the farm, the Cynefin framework is a powerful tool to make sure that we are using our energy optimally by applying the appropriate response to each problem. 

The framework is composed of a horizontal axis and a vertical axis. 

The horizontal axis describes the nature of the environment the problem is in: Predictable vs. Unpredictable. The predictable domain is to the right; this represents an environment where there is a high degree of cause and effect. To the left lies the unpredictable; the rules of cause and effect do not apply here. 

The vertical axis describes the nature of the response to the problem: Agile/flexible vs Fixed. Up top, we have the agile/flexible contexts; where the response to a problem is always different. Down below, we have the domain of fixed responses; where given problems always have the same solution.

Put this together and you get the following 4 quadrants. 

Here is the original Cynefin diagram where for whatever reason, they don’t explicitly name the horizontal and vertical axis. The dark area in the center represents the state of disorder. Disorder is the state of not knowing what kind of context you are in.

Let’s take a look at how each of these contexts shows up on your farm and what leadership style is most appropriate in each context. The discernment to accurately know what kind of context we are in is crucial and is the defining criteria to move from disorder to order (yes, even chaos is a form of an ordered system).

Obvious

This is the context when there is a cause and effect relationship in the environment (predictable environment) and where it is possible to know the best solution that will always apply to this problem (fixed response).

Examples of this in the farm setting would be:

  • How we seed a tray of seedlings;
  • How we wash and pack kale;
  • In what condition we leave the wash station when we’re done. (clean)

There’s basically one best way to do it… my way!! (just kidding). While we can recognize that we can always incrementally improve these processes, the fact is that we can determine the best practice for how we do this on our farm. It’s a total waste of time and energy to reinvent the wheel each time. This is the appropriate context to create and use SOPs (Standard Operating Procedure) and checklists. 

Complicated

This is the context where there is a high cause and effect relationship in the environment (predictable environment) and where we need to adapt our response based on the specificity of the problem (agile/flexible response).

Complicated problems show up a lot on the farm. In this context, there is a right answer but we first need to clarify the parameters of the problem. Examples of complicated contexts on the farm are:

  • Tillage and bed prep;
  • Irrigation; 
  • Weed control; 
  • Greenhouse management;
  • Watering seedlings in the GH.

The key point to retain here is that we know how to do these things well, but we need to be flexible in our response (be agile) based on environmental conditions. For example, we know how to control weeds, but our tactics will vary based on time of year, weed pressure, crop type, weed type, equipment, soil type, etc.

Complex

This is the context where there is a low or non-existent cause and effect relationship in the environment (unpredictable environment) and where we need to adapt our response based on the specificity of the problem (agile/flexible response).

Whereas in the Complicated context we know there is a right answer available once we clarify the parameters, this is not the case in a complex problem. The complex context is the domain of probing for emergent solutions, which usually brings up further questions given that the act of finding an emerging solution modifies the nature of the problem and requires us to attune ourselves to the new. 

Examples of complex problems on the farm are:

  • Marketing and Sales;
  • Employee management:
  • Research and development.

These are areas where we can’t be sure what impact our actions will have. The key here is to remember that the order of operations is: Probe-Sense-Respond. It is essential to keep an open mind and to remember that the goal in the complex domain is not to find the final solution; It is to be able to continue to pursue and respond to the ever-emerging and evolving solution. 

Chaotic

Last but not least is the chaotic context. This is actually the favorite paradigm for quite a few of us farmers. We just love the adrenaline rush of having to solve urgent problems on the fly!! But… let’s just say that is ain’t quite the most effective manner of constructing a profitable business that sustains us both economically and emotionally. 

The chaotic context is a context where there is a low or non-existent cause and effect relationship in the environment (unpredictable environment) but where the situation is so urgent (and consequent) that you have no time for an agile/flexible response… you just need to act NOW with a fixed response (usually an action that seems quite evident in the moment). 

If the barn is burning, there’s no time to sense or probe… you just have to act! Get people out! Try to contain the fire! Etc. When your caterpillar tunnel is about to blow away in the wind you just have to act NOW to try and avert disaster (weight it down, extra anchors, try and get it off in a controlled manner, etc).

Your turn:

The bottom line is to realize that at any one moment there are multiple contexts at play in different areas of the farm… and that you have a default problem-solving mode that may be tainting the way you can conceive of solutions. We need to be aware of our bias and be intentional in the way we seek to solve problems on the farm.

  • Which of these 4 contexts are you most comfortable in?
  • What is your default problem-solving mode (AKA leadership style)?
  • Which context is the most present on your farm?
  • Which challenges have you been trying to apply the wrong context to? (for example, treating a problem in the Obvious context as if it’s Complex rather than simply writing a Standard Operating Procedure (Farm SOP))

Let me know what you think of all this. I know that it’s a little heady, but once you wrap your head around it, it’s actually a powerful tool seeing current challenges from a different angle.

Here’s a short video with Cynefin’s inventor, Dave Snowden, that goes a little deeper into the subject.

If you want to chat about this and how it applies to your case, don’t hesitate to book a free discovery session with me. www.calendly.com/farmercoach/55min

Enjoy!!

2020 end of year review!

Amazing! Another year under the belt, one step closer to the grave! Way to go!

So, how’s the year going? What worked, what didn’t, what are you grateful for?

As we move into this new decade, let’s take the time to pause and reflect. Daily living can be so busy that we rarely take time to consider where we’re at on this journey of life. And yet… and yet, it is exactly this process of pausing and being aware that allows us to actually be present to our lives, to enjoy, to savor, to grieve, to learn … to fully experience what we are living. 

Step 1: Celebration

Whew!! What a year it’s been! I want to take a moment to acknowledge you (yes, you!!) for everything you’ve been up to this year. It’s so easy to get into a pattern of always seeking to improve while overlooking our successes

What are you willing to celebrate today?

What do you appreciate about yourself?

What is something that surprised you about yourself this year?

What are you grateful for this year? 

Step 2: Observation

This is the part where we get into the nitty-gritty details:

What worked this year? Where is there room for improvement?

What non-work activities did you do this year? 

Did you reach your financial goals this year? 

What crops works well, which didn’t, what needs to happen next year?

What was the best part of this year? What was the most challenging aspect of 2019?

What did you learn about yourself this year? 

Step 3: Vision 

This year we’re moving into a new decade! It’s time to look out at the horizon of time and envision where 

So often we overestimate what we can achieve in a year and underestimate what we can do in a decade. 

Imagine yourself in 10 years. Imagine that you could travel back in time to today. What would the 2030 version of you tell your current self? What will 2030 you wish you had started doing in 2020? What habits, routines, projects, and partnerships will you be so happy

What actions are you willing to take in 2020 to move towards this vision?

Step 4: Next step

Great work! Given what you’ve been reflecting on, what are the next small sweet steps to move towards this vision?

What are the 2-3 high leverage actions that will have the greatest impact in 2020? 

Here’s a short PDF guide I put together to help you identify these High Leverage Actions! 

As usual, I look forward to hearing what you’re seeing for yourself in all this!

No means Yes!

I know… that’s a provocative title.

The bottom line is NO means NO… AND …whenever you say NO to something, you are simultaneously saying YES to something else. In the context of sexual consent, saying NO to some form of sexual act is absolutely saying YES to something else; Yes to respect and integrity, Yes to personal boundaries and limits, Yes to clear communication, and possibly even Yes to exploring some other type of meaningful connection (or not!) 


Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

When it comes to farming, there can be such a tendency to say yes to every new project and idea… no wonder we are overwhelmed! I get it; there are so many exciting projects, plus,  saying no to a potential opportunity can be scary.

The key is to realize that you’re always saying yes to something.

Rather than thinking “what do I need to say NO to?”, I invite you to shift to a more empowering question: “What am I actually you saying YES to in my life?”

Saying No to the urge to grow 20 varieties of tomatoes is saying Yes to being focused on the 5-10 varieties you really want to trial (and actually getting some meaningful trial data!) Saying No to that new farmer’s market (or to that CSA drop-off that’s been stagnating for years) is saying Yes to putting the needed marketing efforts into your other outlets. Saying No hosting a farm tour for the local agricultural college, is say Yes to spending the evening with your kids… you get the idea.

Your turn:

What are you willing to say YES to in 2020?

————————————————————————————————–

PS: If you’re interested in the world of consent work, here’s a very interesting blog post on the topic by Zahava Griss, whom I’ve gotten to know through the life-coach training academy we’re part of. This blog is written in a very specific context of sexual exploration… but don’t be put off by this. The principles behind these 8 questions are so useful in creating meaningful, conscious, and empowering connections of all natures (sensual or otherwise). Incidentally, these principles apply equally to you whether you’re meeting someone new at a play party, OR, whether you’re talking with your spouse of 20 years (of course, certain of the specific questions are more or less applicable, but the principle of clear and open communication on these sometimes sensitive topics is 100% applicable.) Try it out… You may be amazed at what you learn about yourself and your partner in the process!!

I hesitated to share this link as it feels a little vulnerable to do so. I decided to share this because I think that consent is such an important topic in the post-Me-Too era. 

Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where everyone was conscious and empowered, knew about these important conversations, and respected each other!? 

Power to the people!!

Are you farming using your monkey brain?

You are the weak link in your business… and always will be!! (it’s normal). The problem is that you’re probably running your business with your monkey brain most of the time.


Enter life coaching…

But wait… Isn’t life coaching just a bunch of WooWoo BS for people from California? What the heck does life coaching have to do with farmers?  Well, actually, it turns out that farmers are people too!! 

Over the past 2 years, I’ve had the pleasure of coaching 29 clients: From California to Nova Scotia, from Yellowknife (North Pole) to Guadalajara… and in between. My clients have come from a wide range of farm and food-related businesses: solo-farmer micro-farms, semi-mechanized CSA/Market farms, local food restaurants and caterers, bio-intensive market gardens, sustainable forest engineers, wholesale vegetable farms, cannabis/cannabis seed producers (with licenses), life coaches, grain elevator executives, and cut flower farmers. 

The bottom line is that in all these businesses, the weak link is always the owner/manager. The process of addressing this and leveling up your business skills always starts by learning to use the brain in a more intentional manner. 

Your brain is 40 000 years old!

You basically have 3 types of brain (ok… if you’re a neuroscientist, do excuse the gross simplification here).

Your reptilian brain is in charge of the basic life functions: blinking eyes, beating hearts, breathing, organ function, etc… in other words the full gamut of the miracle of living in a physical body!! The reptilian brain is associated with the brainstem and the cerebellum.

Your monkey brain is in charge of keeping us alive, fed, and reproducing. It’s what we call the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response. It’s that little internal voice that goes from doubt to worry and back to worry again. It’s on the lookout for danger and is ready to react a moment’s notice in order to keep us alive (if you’ve ever narrowly dodged a deer on the highway, you have your monkey brain to thank!) The monkey mind is also known as the limbic brain and is associated with the hippocampus and the amygdala.

Your neocortex where the magic happens. This is where we hold the ability for creative thinking, innovation, love, advanced language. This is where your authentic voice of wisdom resides. The evolved human brain first evolved in primates and is associated with a larger neocortex.

Don’t believe everything you think

The thing is…. 

So often we’re acting from our monkey mind. The monkey mind hates risk. The monkey mind has no understanding of creativity, innovation, and nuance. The monkey mind makes no distinction between a stressful email and seeing a saber tooth tiger; the body responds in the same way. While the monkey mind is so useful for keeping us alive, it’s not adapted to modern life and it’s definitely not the best for running a successful business. 

It is so easy and normal for our neocortex to be hijacked by our amygdala, especially in times of stress or when we’re trying something new. 

This is the first purpose of life coaching; To support you to clearly see when you are acting from your Monkey Mind, and learn the tools and techniques to shift your attention back to thoughts actually worth thinking about. 

Your turn

Where is one area of your life or your farm where your monkey mind may be hindering your success? (Success is so personal. Personally, I love this definition: Doing what you said you would do with clarity focus ease and grace.)

What would become possible if you more consistently acted from your authentic voice of wisdom?

Supercharge your winter with these farmer routines

Image result for jon snow
Winter is coming!

What a great time to rest, recharge, reflect on the current farming season, plan for the future, and prepare for the coming growing season! This week we’re looking at how to use routines, habits, and rhythms to support you in accomplishing what is most important to you this winter.

Decision Fatigue

Will power is an amazing human ability, but the fact of the matter is that we are the products of our environment and our routines/habits. 

The power of routines and habits cannot be underestimated: they free up our brain for creative thinking by alleviating decision fatigue. 

Every decision we take requires energy. Whether that decision is what to have for breakfast, whether to join a new farmers market, where to put away the row cover for the winter, what to bring with you to market or what to wear today: all these decisions require the same amount to brain energy (glucose). Every day, we start off with a certain amount of decisional capacity which is used throughout the day.

The question is: how do you want to use your daily supply of decision making energy?

(this is why people like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg always wear the same clothes… one less useless decision to make.)

Your brain is for having ideas, not storing them.

It turns out that the human brain is really bad at trying to remember things, but really, really good at finding creative solutions to problems that are immediately in front of it. 

The issue is that the part of the brain that is in charge of remembering things has no sense of time. When you’re trying to remember to flame weed the carrots in 6-9 days from now, your mind thinks you need to be doing that all the time. You can see how this would create a low level of chronic stress. 

The Power of Routines

This is where routines and habits come in. Routines allow us to make certain recurring decisions once and not have to use precious brain energy on them every time. In addition, routines free up our brains from having to remember all the stuff we want to do. The purpose of routines is not to constrain you… quite the contrary. The purpose of routines is to free up your brain to focus on creativity and innovation.   

There are several types of routines, but the basic premise is the same: what recurring behavior would support you in taking your farm to the next level ? what pieces of information do you need to be reminded of ? and at which key moments in time?

Farm production systems, SOPs (standard operating procedures), and checklists are just codified versions of routines and habits. They are how routines and habits are expressed at an organizational level on your farm.

Rest and Recharge Routines

Soooo important! And so overlooked!!!

It’s easy to think that the solution to having too much to do is to work more. Unfortunately, this creates a negative feedback loop whereby the more you work, the less energy you have, and the poorer the decisions you make. 

The amazing thing is that a relatively small amount of time intentionally dedicated to rest and recharge can have a huge impact on energy levels. 

What 15-minute routine would allow you to rest and recharge? This can be in the morning to set the stage for the day or at the end of the day to transition out of work mode. 

What 1-hour weekly activity would feel great to you? A weekly bubble bath? Reading a book? Yoga class? Cooking?

The point here is that what matters more than the actual amount of time is that you are sending yourself a clear message: you are being intentional about carving out time for rest and recharge every day and every week!!

Finally, there’s the question of sleep… What time do you want to go to bed? Shut off your devices at least 1 hour before!!! I invite you to use the ScreenTime function on iOs or the Freedom app on android to literally lock yourself off your devices at a given time each night. Not only does this allow your mind to start to calm down, but in addition, it limits your exposure to the blue light of screens which messes with your circadian cycles (blue light = wake up, red light = sleep… think of the blue light of the pre-dawn moments and the red light of dusk).

Innovation and creativity routines

There are 3 roles on the farm: worker, manager, and captain.

Let’s imagine we’re cutting a trail through the jungle. The workers are the ones swinging the machetes. Behind them are the managers; measuring results, scheduling the shifts, determining the best machetes to use. 

Then there’s the captain. They’re the one who climbs up the tree to take a lookout at the horizon. And sometimes… they even realize they aren’t even in the right damn jungle!!! (to which, the managers usually reply “Nevermind! We’re making great progress.”

Unfortunately, while the role of the captain is the most important role, it’s not urgent… and so, so we push it off I’m too busy and “don’t have the time”  to stop and just think… sound familiar? The thing is, you don’t have the time not to take the time to stop and reflect. 

Take out your schedule, planner, calendar etc.

Now, block out 1 hour per week dedicated entirely to your role as captain. 

This is not the time to plan out your week. This is the time to look out at the horizon of your life and gain perspective. This is time to think creatively about your business. This is the time to see what is seeking to grow and emerge in your business. I suggest you have somewhere to take notes during the week that you want to focus on during this weekly captain’s hour.

This is a sacred, uninterrupted time. Remember, the purpose of this time is to help you stay focused on your most important transformational outcome that you are seeking to produce in the next 2-3 years.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!

Administrative routines

This is one area where having checklists of what needs to be done at what frequency is so useful!

What are the things you want to have done weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually? Here’s a link to a work-in-progress checklist of mine. 

The purpose here is truly to get things out of your head and free up that space for creative thinking while making sure you’re up to date on the admin tasks and nothing slips through the cracks. 

Some useful tools

Checklists: I love checklists! The key is to have the checklist posted in the right location where you will actually see it at the appropriate time: Admin checklist in the office, wash/pack checklist on the cold room door, CSA dropoff supplies checklist attached with a magnet on the  inside of the delivery van door.

Google keep: Create checklists and set up recurring notifications at the key time you need them (for instance: have a farmer’s market checklist that pops up every Saturday morning at 6:45 am or at whatever time you load your truck; have an end of season clean up checklist scheduled to pop up Oct 15, etc)

Todoist: A simple and easy to use task management app. I can get into this topic at a later date is this is something that interests you!

Implementation

I know this can be a bit overwhelming, but: Once again, less is more! 

The opportunity this fall and winter is to start experimenting with routines so that by next spring you’ve gotten in the habit of maintaining certain of these high-level routines. 

I invite you to start with a simple 15-20 minute morning routine. What are 2-3 actions you want to do each morning ?

What are 2-3 actions you want to do each week in a routine manner? Write them down, schedule them, and take notice of what impact the routine has on you.  

Have fun!!