Three changes that will transform your 2019 growing season.

Spring is almost here!! (or very much so if you aren’t in the great white north like myself.

Here are three high leverage shifts to put in place that will have huge impacts, both on your farm outcomes and your personal life!

1) Clearly defining work hours!

It really doesn’t matter what hours you choose, just pick something and stick with it. Having clear hours allow us to play full out/pedal to the metal knowing that when X o’clock rolls around you can shift to something else. It really is amazing how much more efficient we can be when we set clear hours.

Obviously, there are limits to this; you can’t say that you’ll complete a full days work in 10 minutes… but the difference between ‘I’ll work till I’m done’ and ‘I have until 5 pm to get this all done’ is HUGE!!! Take note of that time of the day when you are most productive and you are in your top performing shape and schedule the most challenging tasks needing attention and focus during these times.

2) Taking at least one day off per week and start the week fresh.

OMG!!! What would it be like for you to start off your week feeling fresh and rested after day of rest? What would become possible if you still had 90% of your brain function even in the height of summer?  🙂

Yes; certain things still need to get done on Sundays, but the key is to limit this to the bare minimum. The rest can either be delegated, automated, or eliminated. Can you have a rotating employee schedule non-negotiable tasks such as watering seedlings? Can you automate greenhouse climate control? Do you really need to harvest cucumbers and zucchinis? (Seriously, just harvest them extra small on friday and a little bigger on monday.

What small sweet actions recharge and regenerate you?

3) Ending each day by planning the next day.

Set an alarm and reserve 20 minutes at the end of each day to answer the 3 following questions:

  • What are three things that went well today? What am I grateful for?
  • What is everything I’d like to get done tomorrow? Get clear on which employee will be doing what tomorrow and prep your lists for them (if that’s your style).
  • What are tomorrow’s MIA’s (Most Important Actions)? These are 3 actions that if they were the only things you got done, you’d be happy with the day.

Then, relax and enjoy the evening! The great thing about this practice is that you are able to empty your mind of all the to-dos for tomorrow and be FULLY PRESENT for your family and yourself in the evening!

I know some of these might seem like a huge leap for you, but if you’re reading this blog, I know you can do it!

The key is to implement these practices today so that they become a solid habit by the time summer arrives, and you have a full crew at the farm.

Rock On!

Farming on the edge of chaos

Fear not the chaos– that space where we fall apart, where creativity flows. Where systems are deconstructed so that we may rise like the Phoenix from the ashes. Yes, it’s scary. Exploring our edges is fundamentally a source of discomfort. Discomfort at leaving the relative safety of that which is known, and the fear of what we may discover out beyond our current boundaries.

Alright… enough philosophizing! 🙂

Seriously, we’ve all experienced chaos on our farms, especially in the early years. In a certain sense, we almost thrive on it and love the adrenaline rush of crisis management. On top of it all, we’re actually really skilled at responding chaos and love the creativity and ‘freedom’ of it. While the ability to respond to chaos is super useful, we need to be mindful not to get stuck in a pattern of chaos on the farm.

Ultimately, we need to kick this addiction to chaos if we are to build a farm that is to more fully support the lifestyle we would love to live (while at the same time accepting that there are times when we’ll be called upon to embrace the chaos at certain moments!).

I’d like to share with you this interesting framework for understanding how organizational systems can shift and evolve: The Cynefin Framework.

There’s also a great chart on page 7 of this article that really lays out the differences between the 4 contexts, the roles of the leader in each context, and some common pitfalls to watch out for.

What I appreciate most about this framework is that it lays out the different roles of leaders depending on each of the 4 contexts: Complex, Complicated, Simple (aka Obvious), and Chaotic. One major shift in terms of farm leadership that I see emerging more and more on small scale organic farms is the shift from Command-and-Control (which is appropriate in a chaotic context) to a role of guidance and support for the farm’s crew (which is essential allow for the emergence and discovery of patterns in a complex context) while developing the clear protocols and systems for the areas of the farm where a simple context is appropriate.

The key is to realize that at any one moment there are multiple contexts at play in different areas of the farm… but the bottom line is that the time has come to shift away from the dominance of the chaotic context on small scale organic farms!

Your turn!!

  • Which context the most present on your farm?
  • What organizational shift is currently seeking to emerge?
  • What is required of you as a leader to take your farm to the next level?

What is your farming superpower??

It’s easy to think that you need to do it all on the farm! I mean, of course, you can do just about any job on the farm faster and better than any employee. However, the creation of a farm that fully supports the lifestyle you would love to live demands that you build a team and fully step into your role of captain and business owner.

Many of us make the shift from being employees to being self-employed… but the time has come to make the shift from self-employed to entrepreneur.

Find out what your superpower by asking the questions below. Remember to leverage your time by doing the one thing that only you can do that no one else can and yet produces or dictates the course of the farm. An example would be finding connections that would benefit the farm’s supply pipeline for raw materials or choosing the best applications that will fit your farm. Whatever it is, you have a superpower within you and each of your team member has their own superpowers too.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What do you do best on the farm?
  • What is your unique ability?
  • What do you love doing the most?
  • How can you use your time in the most leveraged manner possible?

Here is a chart you can fill out to help you reflect on which tasks would be easy to delegate, which tasks would be harder to delegate, and which tasks are really your superpower. It’s a google spreadsheet, so just click ‘save a copy in my drive’ under the ‘file’ menu and you can have your very own version to edit!

What would become possible in your life if you spent most of your time focusing on your superpower?

If all else stayed the same on the farm this year, which task could you delegate that would have the greatest impact on moving you towards the lifestyle you would love to live?

Building regenerative organic farming systems founded on true human sustainability!

As farming nerds, we love talking about crop rotations, low-till/no-till methods, cover crops, composting, community-based marketing systems, alternatives to agro-chemicals, mechanical weed control, irrigation, food hubs, cation balancing, locally adaptive seed varieties, composting, and so on. We can spend hours and hours just going through these exciting subjects.

But, have you ever considered that all this rests on the shoulders of humans? It’s all well and good to design the most awesome regenerative farming systems, but it’s all for naught if we’re exhausted and burned out. It breaks my heart to see so many great farmers burning the candle at both ends and experiencing burn-out, exhaustion, relationship breakdown/separation, and the feeling that the farm is running their lives. Not to mention, that all this doesn’t do much good to inspire the next generation to step in and continue building on all the great work that has been done up until now.

So let’s take a deeper look:

  1. ‘Certified Organic’ is no longer enough. While it’s a great baseline (and a huge improvement over traditional chemical farming), it’s time to set our sights on systems that are not only toxic-free but rather, on systems that regenerate the health and wellness of the ecosystems and overall well-being of the humans sustained by these ecosystems.
  2. Implementation is the key: In order for a regenerative system to be implemented, it requires a human (you and me) to do it.
  3. Building Sustainable Lifestyles. You and I are so much more effective when we are energized, well-rested, fulfilled, nurtured and stimulated by our lives.
  4. Building Sustainable Farming Practice. This requires our farm systems to not only regenerate the ecosystems but also to fully support a regenerative and expansive lifestyle for the farmer (that’s us). Rest, play, family, and time for your other interests are a key part in creating the internal conditions within you that are necessary for you to be in a state of peak performance when it comes to implementing

Questions for you today:

  • What are the key activities and routines that regenerate and re-energize you?
  • What is one such activity or routine that you are willing to integrate into your week in a non-negotiable manner?
  • What’s it like for you when you are in a state of peak performance… in the flow? What are the key elements that reliably get you into that state of being?

P.S: Have you heard of John Kempf? Originally from an Amish background, John is the founder of AEA and the host of the regenerative agriculture podcast. I met John while we were both taking the Marketing Seminar with Seth Godin. I was really impressed with John’s innovative and out-of-the-box approach to organic fertility management. It was a refreshing alternative, yet science-based, perspective to the organic NPK approach promoted by most of the organic agronomists up here in Quebec.

Number Crunching: The key to shifting towards a more profitable crop mix on your small scale organic vegetable farm!

If you’re reading this, you’re probably ready for a shift in your farming paradigm. The time has come to grow from within, to farm smarter (not harder), and to live the lifestyle you’d love to live on your farm. A key part of this is having the energy to actually enjoy and savor the farm, the experience of farming, and to nurture the other aspects of your life!

This is why I’d like to follow up on last week’s post on the importance of shifting towards a more profitable mix of crops over time. Here is a short Youtube video I made, and a google sheets spreadsheet to support you to crunch the numbers and see the path forward clearer.

I’m not saying we all need to grow just the top profitability crops. We do need to be intentional in our choices. It’s important to realize that we are always saying yes to something. If you choose to grow beans, you are saying yes to something. If you choose to not grow beans (or just the bare minimum), you are also saying yes to something else! We often hear that we need to learn to say no… wow, what a heavy idea, no wonder we don’t want to do this. Rather, forget about no, and focus on being super intentional about what you are saying yes to!

What are you saying yes to in your life?

What are you saying yes to by choosing to grow certain crops?

I’d love to hear from you! Save a copy of the spreadsheet for yourself, play with your actual numbers, and post a link to your spreadsheet and reflections in the comments below!

Live long and prosper!

Identifying the most profitable crops on a small scale organic vegetable farm!

There are two ways to make more money: increase your acreage; or grow from within by increasing your productivity and efficiency.

As you might imagine… I would highly recommend the latter. The cycle of increasing crop acreage in order to compensate for insufficient profit is all too familiar to me and is a great way to jeopardize the lifestyle we are seeking to create on our farm. This is not so say that there is not a time and place for scaling-up  but rather that this needs to be a conscious business decision, not a reaction to insufficient profits at your current scale.

A key element of growing from within is to shift more and more the mix of crops we are growing, towards the higher profitability crops while at the same time increasing our own productivity in terms of the income we generate each hour we work.

There’s no question about it: the best way to go about it is to have super accurate data on every aspect of our crop production and as a result, be able to create precise and accurate crop production budgets for each crop…. this is all well and good, but back here in in the real world, this is not always a feasible option nor is it necessarily a wise use of our time and energy.

So how do we go about determining which crops are the most financially beneficial for us in the absence of detailed crop by crop production budgets; and we have no way of knowing how much net income each crop actually is generating?

There are two key indicator parameters: Gross income per surface area and Gross income per hour worked.

Gross Revenue per Area

What actually counts is net income, AKA money in your pocket. However, in the absence of detailed crop budgets, what I have observed on my farm (and have confirmed with other farmers!) is that for small and medium scale farmers, there is a direct relationship between how much gross income it generates per area and how profitable that crop is. There are a couple of exceptions to this, but what we are looking at here is an indicator parameter, not a hard a fast rule.

  • First off, decide on a standard unit of area. For a bio-intensive farm, it might be a standard 100 ft bed. For a larger farm, it might be per standard 300 ft bed, per acre, or per linear bed foot. Whatever unit you choose, pick a unit that you can stick too and that is easy to visualize (this is why it is more useful to talk in terms of per bed, or per bed foot rather than per acre or hectare).

*For the sake of simplicity, for the rest of this blog post, I will be assuming that our standard unit of area is 1 bed.

  • Next, determine the yield either based on your own harvest records or based on a reference chart if you don’t have accurate yield data.
  • Not all crops take the same amount of time. Some crops (like tomatoes) take the whole season, while others take less time and open up the possibility for double cropping (or more!) We thus need to factor this in when we are calculating this indicator parameter. If the crop is harvested fast enough to get a second crop in, multiply by two. If you can get 3 crops per year, multiply by 3 etc.
  • To calculate this indicator parameter multiply the yield per bed x the average sales price x the number of crops possible per year. Here is a sample spreadsheet to calculate this. Make sure to adapt the numbers to fit your growing conditions and market realities.

Now that you know how much potential revenue each crop can generate per bed, we can use this parameter to make decisions. I’m not saying you have to overnight drop all the crops at the lower end of this scale. What I am suggesting is to take a look at these numbers and be sure you are making the decisions that are in line with your goals. I invite you to aim for grossing at least 40k$/ac in an extensive system and 100k$/ac in a bio-intensive system.

  • What are your overall gross revenue goals for the farm? Given this, what is the baseline gross revenue per bed? Which crops make the cut and which crops don’t? What would become possible if you didn’t grow those crops take fall below this threshold? (or at least minimize them)
  • One useful thing to look at is to compare the potential gross revenue per bed for each crop vs. the actual total gross revenue of that same crop on your farm. Are these two parameters pretty much proportional… or are you growing disproportionately large amounts of low revenue crops?
  • What could be changed to increase the gross revenue per bed of a certain crop so as to get it up above your farm’s baseline value? Can you increase the price and/or the yield? Can you find a way to reduce turn-over time so as to get a second or even a third crop planted in that same area?

Gross Revenue per hour worked

Once again, it is impractical for most of us to gather sufficiently accurate data in order to precisely know how much time we are spending on each crop. Again, we are looking for an indicator parameter that is easy to measure and practical to use in the decision-making process.

When we look at the production cycle, we see that harvesting is the step that takes the most time and is usually the bottleneck in terms of labor. Depending on the crop and the production system, harvest accounts for 20-33% of the total crop labor.

This is a great place to look for the key indicator of Gross Revenue of the crop harvested per hour.

Amount of a given crop can be harvested per person per hour X Sales price = $/hr harvest rate.

  • Make a chart and compare $/hr harvest rate to total gross revenue for each crop.
  • What do you notice?
  • How can you tweak the equation to increase this parameter? Increase in speed? Increase the price?
  • What is the minimum threshold for you? (if you want to earn 20K$ net per year in 20000 hrs worked per year and you’re net is 30% of your gross, you need to generate 33$ gross per hour worked. If the harvest is 25% of your total work, then you need to be harvesting 133$ worth of produce per hour worked.)
  • Are some of the crops you grow below the minimum threshold? What would become possible if you didn’t grow those crops? (or at least minimize them).

All right folks! That’s it. I know it’s been a math-y post. The key here is to remember that the farm is a tool to create a lifestyle we love to live…. And part of that is generating a sustainable net income with a sustainable workload. If this isn’t currently your experience: do you want to grow bigger or grow better… work harder or work smarter? The choice is yours 😉

Question: What would become possible if you cut the number of acres you crop by 25-50% while maintaining the same gross income?

Mitigating the risk of exhaustion and burnout on small-scale organic vegetable farms

It’s all well and good to use ecologically sustainable practices on our organic farms, but it pretty much does no good if we burn out.

Human/psychological/emotional/spiritual sustainability is therefore a key component of building a food system that is in harmony with nature and is well suited to the ongoing needs of the human race in the coming times of change.

The question is: How do we farm in a manner that allows us to remain energetic , enthusiastic and effectively mitigates against fatigue, exhaustion, and burnout?

I would like to offer you the following ideas resulting from examining fatigue, exhaustion, and burnout from an ‘engineering’ perspective.

Farming requires energy. There is the physical energy required  in doing farm work. There is also the mental/emotional energy used in managing and coordinating a complex system.

Stress in its purest sense is simply pressure or tension exerted on a material object.

“the distribution of stress is uniform across the bar”.’ When we perceive external stimuli and circumstances, this applies a stress to our inner being. The question is whether we bounce back or whether the stress remains within us in the form of anxiety and physical weariness.

Fatigue in a technical sense is ‘weakness in materials, especially metal, caused by repeated variations of stress. (as in “metal fatigue”).’ Fatigue is the accumulation of weariness or tiredness resulting from hard work, but most noticeably from the tensions or anxieties resulting from the stresses of the management of the farm.

Exhaustion is ‘the action or state of using something up or of being used up completely.

As in “the rapid exhaustion of fossil fuel reserves”.’  Exhaustion occurs when fatigue surpasses our ability to physically and emotionally ‘recharge our batteries’.

Burnout is ‘the failure of an electrical device or component through overheating. As in “an antistall mechanism prevents motor burnout” and just like machines, we are susceptible to burnout too. Burnout is a perfectly normal reaction to a situation where we have repeatedly exhausted our inner resources..

So when I take a  look at all these, here’s what stands out to me:

1)   We have got to be in good shape for farming, both mentally and physically. Just as elite athletes train, so should farmers. In practical terms this means three things: a flexibility routine every morning (and ideally evening too) during the summer; strength and flexibility routine during the winter; and some form of short meditation practice all year long.

2)   We need to mitigate fatigue by releasing the accumulation of stresses and tensions as we go. This means knowing what life-giving activities and routines we have in our tool box, and giving ourselves permission to take the time to actually do them! When we think ‘I don’t have time to do that’… the truth is you don’t have time NOT to do it! (Like thinking ‘I don’t have time to refuel my tractor.’) Again, we need to think both physically and mentally. I invite you to make a list of 50 life-giving activities. This exercise is great for getting our creative juices going and seeing which of these activities we can integrate into our daily lives.

3)  Exhaustion is not normal! It is a warning sign, similar to the ‘low fuel’ light in a car. The time has come to shift the farming culture away from thinking that feeling exhausted is a normal part of farming. If exhaustion is a regular experience for you, it’s time to listen to this red flag and make the choices necessary so that you won’t be in the same situation next year.

4)   Burnout is not failure. If you are experiencing burnout, there is nothing wrong with you. You are simply having a normal reaction to running on empty. In this day and age, it is now perfectly acceptable to talk about it and reach out for support both from our friends and family, but also from qualified professionals. The problem is never the problem… the problem is always an invitation to take a closer look as some element of our life.  

What about you?

  • What activities or practises do you find to be rejuvenating and re-energizing? What is one routine you could introduce to your summer schedule that would do you a world of good?
  • What 20% of your farm generates 80% of your stress? How might you go about reducing or eliminating some of these element?
  • What would is be like to ask for help when you need it? Would it be alright with you if life got a little easier?

Cultivating word of mouth advertising for direct marketing small scale organic farms

We all know the importance of word of mouth. Happy clients are our best ambassadors. When I had my farm, a full 60% of new clients came to us via word of mouth.

But did you know that there are actually things we can intentionally do to cultivate word of mouth… aka the talkablity of our farms.

Here is a podcast episode from the Building a Storybrand podcast that shifted my thinking on this and that I would like to share with you.


Discomfort: A perfectly normal human experience.

It has been a year since my first blog post! Wow! Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity to share my ideas with you while practicing and developing my writing skills.

However, to be quite frank… I have not been feeling very excited about the blog recently. It actually feels like a burden and I’m not sure I’m actually enjoying writing. No… to be truthful, I am not enjoying the process of writing as I am experiencing it currently.

The question then becomes– is this a good reason to stop blogging? Is it that I am currently experiencing some simple discomfort, or is it, in fact, a case of me wanting to use my time in some other way? It’s not that there is anything wrong with stopping something that is no longer aligned with our vision. However, it is important to determine if what we are experiencing is truly an indicator that we should stop, or if it is the natural discomfort we can experience as we leave our comfort zone.

When I take a good look at it, I see that what’s coming up for me is plain and simple discomfort. This is great, seeing as discomfort is a perfectly normal experience when we are up to something that is important to us and that is asking us to leave our comfort zone. Discomfort is not a problem but rather, a sign pointing to something for us to observe and shift. For me, the discomfort I have been experiencing recently around blogging is pointing to the lack of regularity in my writing practice: the fact that I have been waiting until the last minute to write a post (which is absolutely not a good way to enjoy an experience!)

What would it look like to enjoy blogging? I would do it regularly. I would savor the experience. I would experience a sense of growth and personal satisfaction from doing it. Rather than worrying about whether or not my blog was useful in terms of increasing my only visibility, I would be more interested in contributing to my readers while developing my ability to express myself in writing. I would take 20 minutes, 2-3 times per week to write and let a blog post emerge out of these writing sessions. There would be weeks where instead of writing a full blog post, I would instead share a video, an article, a podcast, or some other resource I think would be useful to you.

Boom! There we go! Here is my new vision for what my blogging experience will look like for the coming year!

Questions for you today:

  • What is an area of your life you are currently experiencing discomfort?
  • What is this discomfort pointing at for you to examine?
  • What shift is seeking to emerge in this situation for you?


Putting profits ‘first’ on small-scale organic vegetable farms

Relax! I’m not talking about prioritizing the pursuit of profits ahead of social and environmental considerations. I was just teasing you with that title 🙂

What I am referring to is how we view profit in our financial planning.

Is profit simply what is left over at the end of the year once all expenses are paid?

Building on the principle of Pillar 1, I propose we shift our paradigm and put profits first when we start working on our budgets for the coming year. The first step in crafting an empowering budget is to declare what profits (salary) you want for the coming year. In a certain sense, profit is the first ‘expense’ to be planned in a budget. 

Before: Income – Expenses = Profit
This year: Income – PROFIT = Expenses

There are two things that come out of this shift.

Firstly, we realize that we have a greater degree of flexibility in terms of our expenses (and our incomes, but we already tend to think about acting on income). This is a key element in moving towards greater financial mastery. It is easy to think we have no control over our expenses, but the reality is quite to the contrary. This flexibility exists both at the planning and the execution phase.

  • At the planning phase, the act of planning profits first opens the possibility to use our human creativity and ingenuity to see ways of modifying both our income and expenses in order to achieve our financial goals.
  • At the execution phase, we are able to keep our expenses in check by making conscious spending decisions by comparing each month how much we have spent in a particular category versus how much we had planned for. Given how passionate farmers are, it can be easy to spend too much when we don’t take a moment to pause and see how much money is actually left in that budgetary category.

FREE TOOL: Here is a spreadsheet that I have found useful on my own farm to track the evolution of my income and expenses on a monthly basis (using color coding to help me see the current situation of each expense category at a glance)

Secondly, this shift allows is to tap into the power of declaration. When we declare what net income we are willing to earn in the coming year, we set to work the immense power available to us when we focus our mind on a specific outcome. The mind is like a super-computer, it will work instantly to find answers to whatever questions we consciously or unconsciously ask it. If we want better answers, we need to ask better questions (aka, more conscious questions).

With the traditional way of seeing profit as what is left over, we are asking our mind to solve for the question ‘How can I have enough left over at the end of the year to scrape by and make it through another year?’. When we shift our thinking to ‘profits first’, we are asking our mind to solve a very specific question: ‘How can I manage my business so that I can pay myself an income of 30 000$ this year?’

The final element in this approach is to actually set up automatic monthly bank transfers from your farm bank account to your personal bank account. This way, you are actually paying yourself first. Start out at least with a baseline salary… 1000$ per month, 2000$ per month or whatever is authentic to you. The idea here is, once again, to prioritize and attribute your resources to what is most important to you first.

What do you see for yourself about this shift in mindsets?

What net income are you willing to earn in 2019?

By what date are you willing to complete an empowering ‘profits first’ budget for 2019?

Happy New Years! May health, prosperity and love reign in your life in  2019!