Key Pillar of an efficient and effective farm: The Information Flow System

Alright! Let’s loop back to continue the discussion of the third leg of the 3S triangle.

I’ve always loved planning. The problem is that these ideas aren’t worth shit if they stay stuck in my head!

What I realised when I started the farm, was that no matter how clear the ideas and plans were in my head, I needed to be able to communicate them effectively to my wife for us to work as a team. This challenge was only exacerbated when we started having employees and the farm crew grew and took on more and more tasks that I had been doing intuitively.

I’m not saying anything new here…. we all know the importance of good planning, effective communication, and record keeping.

The thing is…the time has come for us to consider the flow of information as a cohesive and crucial farm system.

The information flow system is connected to all of the other farm systems. With a well functioning information flow, the farmers and farm staff knows at all times what needs to be done, where, when. In addition they have the means of recording for and communicating this information to the other members of the team. The recorded information serves to get all the staff on the same page, meets Organic or GAP Certification standards, and serves to refine the following year’s planning.

The information flow system is a cycle involving: planning, communication/implementation, record keeping, and data analysis/feedback loop.

Planning:

This is where you get the ideas and information out of your head and onto paper. Key elements are: Crop plan, 2-3 year business plan, financial plan/cash-flow forecasts, fertilisation plan, clear and labeled farm map, and standard operating procedures for common farm tasks.

The idea is to shift some of the work from the busy summer months to the winter. The better our season is planned out during the winter, the more we can focus on the actual implementation during the summer

Communication/Implementation:

Now that you’ve go these plans onto paper… how are the people in the field going to access the information when they need it?

The key is to have the necessary information available right where it will be used. So…plastified charts taped to the wall in workstations, dedicated binders in the greenhouse, in the direct seeding action pack, on the tractor, etc. We need to be able to access it immediately, not have to go up to the barn/packshed to get it from a central binder…. or even worse.. running after the farmer to get some important detail out of her head.

The other element of communication regular crew meetings, and the use of written task lists rather than oral instructions.

Record Keeping:

Do not gather excess data! Record keeping takes time and excess data reduces the chances that any of the data will ever actually get used.

What questions are you seeking to answer?
What data do you need to gather in order to answer those questions?
What data are you required to gather for fiscal or third party certification processes?

Data that will be processed goes directly into a cloud based spreadsheet whenever possible to eliminate the need for data entry (which is a tremendous barrier to the data ever actually being used).

Record keeping materials (computer or paper) located directly where the activity takes place.

Keep a pen tethered to all paper based record keeping locations (a pen taped to a piece of baler twine and stapled to the wall does a great job).

Allocate time in the day for staff to keep records up to date: record keeping takes time and this time is profitable.

Data analysis

Ok.. so you’ve got all these records.. now what?

Records exist mainly to inform future decision making processes. To facilitate this we need to reduce the manual data processing as much as possible. Structure your spreadsheet based record keeping systems to automatically process data whenever possible. (Ex: Automatically calculate yields as you record harvest). Also, Structure your spreadsheets to be able to easily filter the data so as to be able to find the needed information for different purposes.

So… what next?

I invite you to get out a piece of paper and map out the flow of information through your farm systems.

Where are the bottlenecks?

Would the farm crew have all the necessary information to function without you for a week?

What would you love to do during your mid-summers vacation week? 😉

What is your farm for?

No.. seriously, what is your farm for?

It’s not for feeding people that’s for sure (come on… let’s face it, if it costs $0.12/lb to ship vegetables from california…. local farms are not actually about producing food to feed people).

So… what does your farm produce and why do the people who consume that value it?

I’m not just talking about physical, tangible products here….

I’m talking about what’s really going on.

Small local farms produce: happiness, fulfilling lifestyles, vibrant children, un-excelled flavours, textures, and smells (no not the farmer’s armpit), freshness and prolonged shelf life, connection and understanding, a sence of environmental responsibility and stewardship, freindship, laughter, status and status symbols, nutrients, vitamins, beauty, diversity (both in terms of rural cultural diversity and in terms of biodiversity).

Even the food that the farm produces for a client is not just food… the client is buying a story… a story that we tell them, and a story that they tell themselves; and that story certainly includes several of the element mentioned above.

Some of these products are for the clients, and some of these products are for the farmers themselves.

So… your turn now! Leave us your answer in the comments section below: What is your farm for? What does your farm produce and why do those who consume that value it?

Write it up into a farm vison statement! Post it on your wall, in the wash station, in your office…. Advertising works; advertise your own vision to your self!

Savouring the experience of the moment

I personally have never been one for perfectionism and have always embraced the motto « Good enough is perfect ». This is not to say I aspire to poor quality work, but rather that ‘done’ work is way better than ‘perfect’ or ‘excellent’ work… I might even go so far as to say the ‘done’ work is better than ‘good’ work. The fear of producing mediocre work is too often a break, preventing people from even getting started on the creative process. The standards we set for ourselves of what would constitute ‘good’ work are often so high that we barely even dare start upon the journey, lest we break ourselves against our ideals.

I use « Good enough is Perfect » all the time as a tool to accomplish more. It has been my method of kicking ass… or as I recently heard, of ‘barrel assing’ my way through life. Build it and move on the to next project, barely taking time to acknowledge myself for my accomplishment and always hyper aware of how it could have been better and how the next iteration will be an improved version.. It’s like standing before a beautiful field of vegetable you have grown, and only focusing on the 10 weeds present.

What if there were another way of seeing « Good enough is perfect » ? What would if be like to look at a piece of work or a project, be satisfied with it’s condition, and actually acknowledge ourselves. As in « wow! This is good enough, let me savour this moment of accomplishment. » What a sweet experience that would be!

So, to all me fellow  « ass kickers », let’s slow it down a notch. We have nothing to loose but our angst! Let us enjoy ourselves and savour the present moment all while kicking ass and bringing our creative visions into reality!

 

Letting go of dreams while going for them 100%

Clearly defining our dreams, visions, and goal is a tremendously powerful action towards living the life we want.

But there is a nuance here! Don’t let your dreams ruin your life.

When I was 21 years old, Jolianne (my spouse and business partner) and I developed and articulated a very clear vision of what our dream farm was going to be like. It was going to be 100 acres of hay, pasture, grain, and vegetables all in rotation. There was going to be animals too: draft horses to do the farm work, pigs, cows, sheep, chickens… and with 3 wild naked children running around, playing in the mud and getting into all sorts of mischief.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I love this dream! What happened though is that as the years went by, I did not allow myself the flexibility to adapt this dream. We launched our farm straight out of university and commenced to build a business that would allow us to buy this dream farm. Thankfully, we were able to launch our business using a rented farm. Along the way, I realised that 100 acre farms in our area weren’t selling for 350K$ anymore…they were selling for 5, 6, or 700K$. Add on the cost of the needed infrastructure and it was clear this was going to be a million dollar project at the very least.

Did this make me hesitate.. not in the slightest! When the going gets tough, the tough get going… and I was going to be both tough and smart, so this would be no problem! And so, I kept on building the business that could sustain this anticipated debt load.

We several time came very close to buying such a farm… I am so grateful that I somehow realised that this debt load would absolutely not contribute to the quality of life I valued and had envisioned!

The thing is …. I had grown attached to the HOW of my vision which had out shadowed the WHY. There was obviously some deeply valued life’s intention that led me to dream up that vision of my dream farm in the first place. I was more focused to how I thought I was going to live out that life’s intention in physical reality than focused on the life’s intention itself. That are many ways to skin a cat (as the saying goes) just as there are many outcomes that can satisfy a given life’s intention.

I am so grateful that I was able to see this in time! Is a privilege to be able to put this experience to the benefit of others via my coaching practice! (The wild thing is that i have since acquired several tools via my coach training that are exquisitely useful for this type of situation).

What is it you want to create?

Now… WHY do you want to create it?

Yes! That’s the important part!

Write it down somewhere and check in periodically to be sure that the goal you are pursuing is still in alignment with the life’s intention you were seeking to fulfill.

Soils, Sales, and Systems: Part 2

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we’ll dive deeper into each of the legs of the 3S pyramid on our quest for the triple bottom line: People, Profits, and Planet.

Soils:

Soils and soil ecosystems are the foundation of human life as we know it. The operation of a profitable and sustainable farm business is contingent on the presence of healthy, vibrant, and fertile soil ecosystems. I won’t go into detail here about soils as the organic movement is already full of knowlege on this topic. I encourage you to seek out and learn from the wealth of books and teachers out there.

I would like to highlight that there is a hierarchy of soil health factors…. that as long as the lower tiers of the soil pyramid are not solid, efforts to impact the higher tiers shall be in vain. So… don’t waste your time with microbiological activators or biodynamic preparations if your drainage is the limiting factor. Focus on addressing the weak link and a solid soil pyramid, tier by tier.

Sales:

The second leg of the triangle is sales.

Ultimately, what is important is profits. However, profits does not start with an S… just kidding. With healthy sales, profits will occur naturally when the two other legs of the triangle are sturdy. That is to say: in a farm environment with healthy soils and optimized management systems, the key elements for profitability are in place.. if and only if the necessary sales are generated.

Our businesses can only grow as far as our imaginations can reach. There is a tendency within the small farm movement to limit what we think is possible; to not dream big enough. At what ever scale you are opperating, aim to be at the upper limit of that scale without unintentionally stepping into the next scale up. To take an example from the boxing world, it is better to be a heavy light-weight boxer than a light heavy-weight boxer. Another way of seeing this is that we must seek to maximize sales for a given set of fixed costs. Your greenhouse cost $25K to build regardless of whether you manage to sell 10 000$ or 30 000$ or 50 000$ of product per year from that greenhouse. The greenhouse doesn’t give a f*** if you underperform!

Basically, what I am saying is that many farmers sell them selves short (literally) simply because they aim too low. If you’re farming 1 or 2 acres bio-intensively, you could be aiming for $150-200K in sales. If your farming in the extensive model with 5 or 6 acres in production, you could be aiming for $200-300K in sales.

Systems:

The third leg of the triangle is farm systems. A system refers to the coherent organisation of a number of components, tools, and procedures to achieve a defined outcome. When carried out in a systematic manner, the outcome of the actions in a system is greater than the sum of the parts ie. When combined in a systematic fashion, the final impact of the actions and tool is greater than what they would have achieved in an individual or haphazard manner.

Systems are both an organizational tool and an analytical tool.

Systems can often be broken down into a number of smaller systems. The farm as a whole is a system composed of a number of smaller interconnected systems

The key farm systems are:

  • Information flow (planning, communication of that plan to the field, record keeping, analysis, financial planning and monitoring)
  • Marketing and PR
  • Pre-planting Prep (Tillage, fertilisation, drainage, field layout, crop rotation design)
  • Crop Establishment (seedling production, transplanting, direct seeding)
  • Crop Maintenance (Irrigation, pest + disease management, trellising, pruning)
  • Weed Management (strategies, cultivation, physical barriers)
  • Harvest
  • Post-Harvest
  • Distribution
  • Maintenance and repair
  • Humans (wellbeing, training, accountability, growth and developement)(farm owners, employees, interns, volunteers, managers)

In order for the whole farm to function to its full potential, each of the farm systems must be optimized and the various systems must be integrated (logically linked so as to create synergies between the various systems). For example, it is clear to see that the Weed Management system and the harvest system and linked. When the weed management system is functioning properly, harvest will be way easier than if you had to search through waist high weeds just to find your crop.

Lightbulbs, Fireworks, Rockets, and Lasers!

The mere fact of crafting a goal is a powerful step towards manifesting this outcome in our life.

The more clearly and precisely we can define the outcome we wish to produce, the more we are able to act and live in a conscious manner rather than a reactive manner.

Powerfully crafted goals are SMART:

S: Specific (be as clear and well defined as possible)
M: Measurable (did it happen or not)
A: Attainable (enough of a stretch to get you out of your comfort zone, but not so far as to be discouraging)
R: Relevant to your life’s intentions
T: Time Based (specific due date)

Think of fireworks. The energy shoots out in all directions and wizzes and bangs about. Now, if all that energy were channeled in a focused manner…. it it would be a rocket (to the moon)! Or, think of a light bulb, shining in all directions. When that light is focused, it becomes a laser!

Well crafted goals are that laser… focusing our attention and energy in a clear and precise manner.

So, what to you choose to be: fireworks or a rocket to the moon?

The 3S pyramid : Soils, Sales, and Systems

Let’s build farms and lives that we love; that nurture and sustain us, the environment, and the communities we seek to serve.

Now that’s what I would call a truly sustainable farm ….. environmental, human, social, financial, and spiritual sustainability  (ie does the farm nourish and sustain my soul)!

So, how do we put this into practice? To assist in the construction of truly sustainable farms: I propose the 3S framework: Soils, Sales, and Systems.

 

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we’ll dive deeper into each of the legs of the 3S pyramid on our quest for the triple bottom line: People, Profits, and Planet.

Enjoy the ride!  😉

 

Plan for the future. LIVE Today.

I love planning… I mean REALLY love it! I love envisioning new systems, I love crunching numbers and running through various scenarios, I love monitoring results and adjusting the plan as we go, I love getting feedback… I love everything about planning.

But I have come to understand that the idea of living in the present moment is not merely some hippy bullshit. In approximately year 5 of our farm (2015), I became aware of how much anxiety I was harbouring regarding the future. Specifically whether we were going to be able to buy a farm on the time frame I had in mind… I had planned it all out and we were on track as far as the plan was concerned…. but I realised that the more I focused on the future and whether or not we were going to be able to find a farm that suited our needs and be able to afford it, the more I was paralyzed by fear in my daily life.

It was actually getting in the way of me doing the things I needed to be doing!

So plan for the future but live today! Planning is essential, but getting emotionally investing in your plan is optional (and painful). There is a certain form of faith which is required so as to simultaneously be 100% committed and invested in your vision and at the very same time be 100% detached from the outcome and confident in the flow of life and our innate ability to adapt and thrive.

So lets hold these 2 seemingly paradoxical mantras at the same time:

“If you fail to plan… you plan to fail”

“One Day at a Time!”

 

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PS: I have recently totally redone the main section of the website. Take a minute to check it out.

www.organicfarmercoach.com

7 tools to make the most out of every precious day!!

Time is fleeting and sooner or later each of us is going to leave this physical body through the process of death…. so let’s make every day count!

Here are 7 concepts and tools that I have found most useful in managing my time on a daily basis

  1. Plan your day from a space of clarity and focus: As discussed in last week’s blog, it is critical to be calm and centred on who you are fundamentally and what your mission is before planning out the day.
  2. Consider your various roles: This will flow naturally from the morning routine proposed last week. My roles are: father, husband, son, brother, farmer, life and business coach, Yogi/spiritual seeker, athlete, dancer, visionary leader. I need to be sure that each week I am nurturing each of those roles through ACTIONS here in physical reality.
  3. Urgent vs. Important: Originally developed by Stephen Covey in “7 habits of highly effective people” (put it on your required reading list), this concept was a game changer for me
  4. 80/20 principle (Pareto Principle): 80% of your outcome is coming from 20% of your effort. 80% of your profits are coming from 20% of your clients. 80% of your headaches are coming from 20% of your crops. Figure out what actions are going to produce the greater leverage today and make them your top priority.
  5. 3/10/20 daily time management method
    1. 3 major actions: 1 MIA (Most Important Action) plus two priority actions: These are those high leverage actions that get you the greatest results in terms of your goals. These get do in the day NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS!
    2. 10 other “minor” actions
    3. Portion out your time in 20 minute bubbles…. 15-20 time bubbles per day. Major actions take more than 1 time bubble and minor actions can be accomplished in less than 20 minutes. Plan on using a number of time bubbles that is both realistic and a slight stretch at the same time. It is such a relief to realise that so often we are simply planning too much (or too little) stuff for our day.
  6. O.P.A. is a quick little tool from Tony Robbins that I find quite useful.
    1. Outcome: What do I want to achieve with this day/week/year/decade.
    2. Purpose: Why!!! Having a clear why is essential is keeping us connected to our vision and to provide us with the energy and courage to power though those inevitable moments of trial and doubt.
    3. Action: The proof is in the pudding; so let’s dive into the pudding.
  7. Measure your time: What we don’t measure, we can’t manage. Look back on your day and reflect on how much time you are spending in each of the 4 quadrants.

Most importantly, we must stay grounded in our dreams and visions though out the day. Remember that every little action is a building block for our vision.

When ever we are agitated or doubtful, let’s pause and bring ourselves back to that mental space of clarity, focus, ease, and grace that we had during our morning routine.

To infinity and beyond (one day at a time)!

 

Morning Routine for Clarity and Focus

A key element of living and working with intention, is keeping those intentions and goals pertinent and active in our daily lives. The clarity and the passion associated to the goals is of supreme importance, but that energy is lost if on a daily basis we do not take authentic actions towards out goals.

The morning routine serves just that purpose. Called by some the Boot-Up Sequence, the morning routine is a practice that is common to most high performing individuals (be it in business, the arts, athletics, the military, etc). Through the practice of a morning routine, we are able to start off our day on the right track… to center ourselves and reconnect with who we truly are and what we truly want.

I encourage you to find a routine that works for you. The idea here is to start your day off with clarity and focus, rather than jumping right into the To-Do list…. and FOR GOODNESS SAKES, do not check your social media or emails before having finished your morning routine!!

Personally, my morning routine includes:

  • Wake up an hour before the rest of my family.
  • 15 minutes of yoga.
  • 15 minutes of meditation.
  • 15 minutes inspirational reading.
  • Then (with a cup of rooibos tea) I set about gaining a clear vision of my day. Like a captain of a ship, I seek to clear away the fog and see the path forward with clarity and focus.
  • I choose what qualities of being I am willing to call forth and contribute to this day. Who am I willing to be in order to produce an extraordinary result out of this interaction?
  • I read over my personal mission statement and the list of medium and long term goals that I am striving to manifest in my life.
  • Once my mind is clear, and I am grounded in who I am and where I seek to go, I can now go about the business of planning my day.
  • I plan out my day using the 3-10-20 method (to be discussed further in a future blog post.)
    • 3 major actions (these are high leverage actions that I am committed to competing no matter what happens in my day)
    • 10 minor actions (less than 20 minutes each)
    • Time is allocated to the different actions in 20 minute time bubbles (15-20 time bubbles per day max).

We have a choice: Dive right into action like a chicken with it’s head cut off, or soar into our day with clarity and focus like an eagle on the wind.

You choose….what’s it gonna be?