Farm paradigm shift: From Management to Leadership

Hi Folks!! I’m gonna keep it short and sweet this week.

First off, I just wanna acknowledge the heck out of you for taking the time to read this blog. I know how busy you are so I appreciate your readership. It’s what makes this work worth it for me… Thanks for being here!

I wanted to offer a couple of follow up thoughts on last week’s blog topic: The paradigm shift from efficiency to effectiveness.

Last week’s blog was very much focused on effectiveness from a management perspective.

Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things’

Both Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis

From a leadership perspective, effectiveness implies that your actions and goals are coherent with your vision for what is most important and meaningful to you. How heartbreaking it is to successfully reach your goal, only to realise that you sacrificed that which was most important to you along the way.

Your turn

What are those things that are most meaningful and important to you?

What are your core values?

Do your current goals and actions include and cultivate these elements in your life?

May the force be with you!

Effectiveness: A new paradigm to farm efficiency.

These days there seems to be nothing sexier in the local farm movement than efficiency (except maybe JM Fortier… he’s pretty dreamy) 😋

No, but seriously, efficiency is definitely a hot buzz word in the small farming community these days; with good reason too. Given the abundance of work to be done on a small scale organic farm it is obviously important to bring our attention to the best way of going about getting everything done in a timely manner. On top of this, labor is the greatest production cost in organic vegetable farming, accounting for anywhere from 25 to 40% of gross income (whether this is hired farm labor, or whether you are acting as your own source of labor, it’s still important to account for the work that goes into growing these delicious veggies!). Which means that producing more vegetables with the same or less labor is a great way to increase your profit margins and while money isn’t everything, it sure is a useful tool to use in accomplishing our goals and making a contribution in this world of ours!

What I want to bring to the conversation is that while efficiency is without a doubt important, what we’re really after is effectiveness. It’s important to understand this nuance.

Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re doing anything.

Just because you’re moving fast doesn’t mean you’re getting anywhere meaningful.

Effectiveness: Moving beyond the paradigm of farm efficiency

To effectively explain this nuance, I would like to draw on the teachings of the late Stephen Covey, one of the greatest thought leaders of our times in this matter (check out his book; 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

Covey teaches that in order to be effective, we have to act in a manner that nurtures both production (P) and production capacity (PC). To illustrate this idea, Covey evokes the story of the golden goose.

A farmer wakes up one morning to find that their goose has laid a golden egg. Elated, they rush off to sell the egg. The next morning, and every morning thereafter, another golden egg is laid. The farmer is rich beyond their wildest dreams! One day, the farmer gets greedy and decides to slaughter the goose and get all the golden eggs at once rather than wait. The their dismay, there are no golden eggs within and all they have done is destroy the source of their abundance.

The golden eggs represent production. The goose represents production capacity. Focus too much on production and the capacity to produce will decrease. Focus too much on nurturing production capacity and nothing gets done. It’s like using a tractor to prep your fields but never doing maintenance. Soon enough the tractor will be scrap. Conversely, if you spend all your time maintaining the tractor, nothing is ever going to get planted.

The key to effectiveness is to think in terms of P/PC balance. The most efficient method (the quickest) isn’t always the most effective. What we really want is to be effective as we move towards our goals one step at a time.

5 Principles of Farm Effectiveness

Alright folks… I’m not here to tell you what to do. Anyways, each farm and each farmer is so unique that it would be futile to try and do so!

Instead, I want to plant some seeds for thought. Let these ideas sprout and grow! I look forward to seeing how you implement this on your farm! Here are 5 principles of farm effectiveness that a client and I distilled during one of our coaching sessions.

Beautiful, Tidy, and Organized

This is the principle of total completion. A task isn’t done till everything is put away, cleaned up, the row cover is on and the irrigation is ready to go. The day’s not over till all the doors are shut, everything is back in it’s spot, the records are filled in, and the next day is planned. This applies equally to the end of the day as it does to lunch time. It’s not lunch time until the tools are back in their spot.. even if we think we’ll be using them again this afternoon.

What would it be like to start each day and each task with a clean slate?

Enjoyment, Joy, Comfort, and Play

This is the principle of ‘girls just wanna have fun!’ Just kidding… sort of. What’s the point of all this if we aren’t enjoying it? Beyond that, being happy, engaged, and joyous unleashes the full power of human creativity and motivation in both ourselves and our staff. It is critical to build in time for rest and relaxation into the work day… otherwise we (and our staff) just find ways of resting anyways (think mind-numbing Facebook binge, basically unnecessary back and forth to the patchshed in the pick-up truck to ‘get something’). Also important to consider here is the importance of working in an ergonomic manner.

What would it be like to unleash the energy of enjoyment on your farm?

Optimized travel

This is the principle of ‘never go anywhere with your hands empty’. Every trip on the farm should be done with the smallest (most appropriate) sized vehicle filled to capacity and preceded by foresightfull thought (where am I going, what tools, materials, and information do I need to bring with me). This applies to manual movements too. When harvesting beans, my hands never move to the bucket unless they are 100% full, when harvesting tomatoes my hands never move to the crate with less than 2-3 tomatoes. Don’t be fooled by short distances (for all you bio-intensive market gardeners) and motorized travel (for all you pick-up truck and gator junkies)…. idle travel is waste no matter what way you cut it!

What would it be like for each movement to be fully optimized?

Speed/Efficiency (Rapid Action/movement)

This is the principle of ‘it’s time to boogie!’ Faster movements = get there sooner. This applies to everything from the speed of hands during harvest to how we walk… and everything in between. How long is this task taking? How many kg per hour am I currently harvesting? How many $ per hour am I currently harvesting? How many beds per hour am I weeding? On my farm, everyone wears a wrist watch. Not a cellphone in the bottom of the pocket…. a really honest to goodness wrist-watch! Time awareness is a skill to be cultivated.

What would it be like to work with full mindfulness of your speed?

Clear and fluid information

This is the principle of having the right information at the right time. This also means that the information is not just in your brain and that your employees have all the necessary information available for them to do a great job! This means production plans, seeding schedules, field maps, harvest sheet… but also Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and checklists! This information needs to be readily available…not somewhere in a dusty binder. Do you and your staff know what the top priorities for the day are and that employees know what jobs they’ll be working on and in what order?  BEWARE of walkie-talkies. While the are soooo useful, they can lead to complacency in terms of both communicating all the important info and in terms of thinking of all the necessary tools and material before going somewhere (oh… I’ll just call on the walkie talkie if I need something). Check out this other blog post of mine for more discussion of information flow. Also, taking the time to slow down and fully plan and communicate may seem like less efficient, but these simple actions pay tremendous dividends in terms of working effectively as a team and having fun doing so!

What would it be like to create a little certainty on your farm?


What’s next? What do you see in this for yourself?

One thing that has been useful to some of the farmers I coach, is to print out these principles and post them at key locations around the farm (wash station, seedling greenhouse, next to the planning whiteboard).

I’ve prepared some bonus material for this blog post. Here’s a link to join the inner circle and get access to a printable ‘Effectiveness Cheatsheet’ I put together for you as well as a chart of typical harvest speeds that I thought might interest you.

Thanks for being here!

If you enjoyed this blog post, please share it with your friends and colleagues via email and social media.

Go forth and kick some ass!!

Cultivating a healthy relationship while farming with your spouse.

Farming with your partner or spouse can be such a rich and meaningfully experience. But it certainly comes with it’s a load of challenges as anyone who farms with their spouse knows.

Here are a couple of principles and tricks that I have observed to be useful both in my personal experience and from what I observe with my clients.

Have clearly delineated domains of responsibility

When I look at successful older farm couples, this is one thing that is pretty universal. Having clearly defined responsibilities means that each person has one area of the farm where they are the ‘boss’. This doesn’t mean that our partner doesn’t consult us when making major decisions, but it does mean that in daily operations we agree to let go and let them have their way in this area of the farm.

In fact, clearly delineated responsibilities is a good practice on any farm regardless of if we’re farming with our spouse. Let’s face it, there are simply too many elements for one person to juggle all by themselves effectively. Having clear areas of responsibility ensures that things don’t fall between the cracks.

When deciding on the distinct areas of responsibility, it is important to distribute the  different types of tasks intentionally between the partners to ensure that each person can have their share of fulfilling and interesting activity. In this way both the ‘fun’ and ‘tedious’ tasks are shared between partners. I encourage you to have an open and frank discussion about each of your interests, strengths, and learning edges rather than simply taking on traditional gender roles (that can be very detrimental to the long-term development and well-being of the partner who takes on the often more isolating, sometimes menial and difficult “family” or ‘office’ tasks.) A well-balanced partnership on the farm is a strength, so be open to creating the space for each partner to take on responsibilities that nourish and fulfill them, even if this means thinking outside the box or needing to learn a new skill set.

Structured times to discuss the farm business

It’s amazing how simple yet powerful weekly big-picture meetings and daily check in’s can be. This creates clear and specific times to discuss the business and opens up the possibility of having times that are not business related (ie. avoiding the classic ‘talking about the farm in bed as we fall asleep’).

While on the topic of communication, I want to highlight the importance of cultivating discernment regarding ‘Is this actually a business conversation or an emotional request or need?’

There are certain topics which at first glance may appear to be about the farm, when in fact they are are a request for some emotional need.

Take for example one of my clients. Her farm has been experiencing some rapid and highly successful growth over the last 2-3 years. Every now and then her husband will say ‘Geez, I wish it was just the two of us and that we didn’t have these damn employees to manage!’

Up until now she has been getting very annoyed with these comments because she was seeing them as a business conversation and going straight to solution finding mode and feeling resentful because they had worked so hard to build a viable business model and anyways, farming ‘just the 2 of them’ is not and never was a sustainable model. The breakthrough occurred when she shifted from seeing them as a business conversation and started seeing these comments and an expression of an emotional need. Her husband was not saying ‘I want to talk about downsizing our business’. Rather, he was expressing nostalgia and a need for connection and quality time together. When she was able to discern this, she was able to shift and engage in the conversation rather than just shutting him down for even bringing up such a topic of conversation (again).

The point is, don’t take things at face value. Make it a habit to ask yourself ‘Is this truly a business conversation, or is there an emotional need seeking to be expressed?’

Take time to nurture the relationship!

This is true of any relationship but is extra critical for people farming with their husband, wife, or partner. This includes regular time off to do an activity other than farming… and it doesn’t matter if this just means an hour walking in the woods or half an hour to go get ice cream. The important part is to demonstrate to ourselves and our partner that our relationship is important to us and that we are willing to dedicate some time just to nurture it. And don’t forget to have fun!!! Both while working and on your dates!

Your turn!!

  • What do you appreciate most about your spouse? What’s their superpower?
  • What time of the week would be best for your weekly business meeting? Post a paper in a visible location where discussion topics can be gathered during the week. Check out this post for more on effective meetings.
  • What are you willing to do this week to nurture your relationship?

PS: If any of you are hurting out there right now… I feel your pain. I know how hard it can be when there is strife in a farming relationship. You’re not alone! There is help out there. I strongly encourage you to reach out and get the support you need to take your relationship to the next level!! Send me an email and it would be my pleasure to support you to see what kind of support would be useful for you. (Most likely not coaching, probably something more like couples therapy.) There are many helpful resources and methods out there that I may be able to guide you towards.

We’re already there? Here?

We work so hard to get there. To that scale of production, that degree of excellence, that level of profitability, that quality of life, that work/life balance, that state of mind..

But, what if we’re already there?

The truth is that you will never get anywhere.

You will simply be more and more here (and now.)

What if we were already there?

PS: Here’s a podcast I enjoyed recently. As per usual, take some and leave some. While Amy Porterfield’s podcast is not about farming, it’s full of content that can be super useful to take our marketing skills to the next level.

Employee retention strategies for small scale organic vegetable farms.

While we sometimes wish we didn’t have to deal with managing people, the fact of the matter is that employees are the heart and soul of any business… including our small scale vegetable farms. Indeed, the most successful leaders have always been those who know how to surround themselves with great people and bring out the best in each of them.

The challenge (which you are most likely familiar with) is how to cultivate farm employee retention given that physical labor is definitely out of fashion, wages are low, farms are generally located in low population rural areas, and that most of the best employees actually want to start their own farm in the near future. The answer then is to focus on the three key needs of every employee: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

5 employee retention strategies for farmers

  1. Be an inspirational leader!
  2. Have a clear written employment agreement including an appendix with a list of expectations.
    • The first part is the contract: Wage, hours, start and end dates, etc.
    • The second part is where you get to state clear expectations: Smoking, weather appropriate clothing, water bottle, punctuality, communications, etc..   
  3. Regularly scheduled, structured team meetings. See previous blog post on this subject.
    • Seize any opportunity to help your employees understand the big picture. Even mundane repetitive tasks become more enjoyable when you know that you are part of something bigger!
  4. Create meaningful opportunities for professional development by delegating roles and responsibilities, not just tasks. See previous blog post on this subject.
    • Clearly communicate that employees can take on management roles and access profit sharing bonuses.
  5. Offer a full range of non-monetary benefits. The idea here is that while employees need to earn enough to not experience financial stress, the primary factors of motivation and of satisfaction are primarily internal. Here are a couple of aspects to consider.
    • Positive feedback and acknowledgment: This is HUGE!!!!
    • Agency: A certain ability to choose work hours, primary tasks, or teammates.
    • Vacation time.
    • Training.
    • Participating in farm tours.
    • Pay particular attention to people’s needs. Is it hot? Why not surprise your farm crew with a box of popsicles!
    • Reasonable work hours (50 hrs/wk max!) and safe work conditions.

Your turn:

  1. What would it look like to nurture autonomy, mastery, and purpose for your employees this summer?
  2. Where are you willing to let go of control and create meaningful opportunities for employees to take on management roles?
  3. What would become possible for you if you had a core team of returning staff?

Overcoming internet addiction for small scale organic vegetable farmers

Folks… there’s a serious subject we need talk about.. both as farmers, and as a society in general.

I’m talking about the compulsive use of the internet which has reached epic proportions! The wildest part is that many of these apps are designed specifically to be addictive. Whether it’s social media addiction, compulsive email checking, or obsessive news consumption (my personal favorite is the BBC website), we each have our own personal flavor of internet addiction.

Not only do we waste our time on these sites, but there is also the less obvious cost of getting distracted. Each time we switch tasks, there is a real energetic cost for the brain. Even if we’re “just” taking a couple of minutes to check something on our “smart” phone (or rather, Quick-phone as Seth Godin has pointed out), the impact of this distraction is huge and significantly takes away from the mental energy available for what actually is important to us.

Now, I want to make it clear that I am not anti-internet or anti-technology. These are amazing tools for us to use in our pursuit of happiness, prosperity, and in the building of a better world. But this is exactly what they are– they are TOOLS! We need to keep it as such rather than allowing them to take over and take control of our lives.

1) Be intentional about scheduling specific times for internet use:  Will power is awesome… AND, there are certain ways to use will power in a leveraged manner, thus freeing you up to focus your willpower on more important things than trying to resist the temptation to watch another damn kitten video! You will be amazed by the peace of mind that comes from installing an app likeFreedom to schedule what apps and websites you want to block during your workday (or in the evening, or on the weekend.) I highly recommend this app. It has made an amazing difference in my life (I had developed an annoying habit of mindlessly watching YouTube till midnight on a regular basis!) Freedom works great on Android devices, PC’s, Mac computers; but not on iPads or iPhones. So far, the best alternative I have found is to use the built-in “screen time” app, though it’s capacity is far less than Freedom. Someone mentioned that Disney actually has a good parental control app that works on iDevices, though I haven’t checked it out yet.

2) Turn off notifications on your phone: Seriously, you don’t need that phone ringing and dinging at you. You’ll be amazed at the silence once you turn it off… a bit like a noisy fridge that suddenly stops and you only realize that you hadn’t even been aware of how loud the fridge noise was.

3) Train those around you not to expect immediate responses to communications. This will actually have the happy side effect of encouraging people to think twice before sending you a message for every single little thing that crosses their mind. Oh… and ideally, don’t check email, etc. until after you’ve gotten your day off to a good start using an intentional morning routine.

I know this may sound crazy, but let me assure you that the reward on the other side is so worth it! There is another way to live that can even be hard to imagine until you’ve experienced it.

Your turn:

  • What would you be free to focus on if your attention wasn’t distracted by the phone/internet?
  • How would you LOVE to use the tool known as the internet/smartphone to achieve your goals and dreams?
  • By what date are you willing to install the tools and systems to help free you from this addiction?

PS: Just to be clear, I have no affiliation or financial incentive regarding the app ‘Freedom’. It’s just made such a difference for me that I wanted to pass it on to you! 30$ per year in exchange for freedom from youtube… what a bargain!

Using weekly farm team meeting for maximum effect on your small scale vegetable farm.

Communication is key… we all know it. And yet it can be so easy to blow off weekly meetings as a waste of time once the farm gets too busy.

Here are 3 reasons to have a weekly meeting:

  • Gets everyone on the same page in terms of what needs to get done. This is particularly useful for helping employees see how each little task they are doing actually fits into the big picture.
  • Brings tensions out into the open. Nothing’s worse than frustrations or conflicts that fester just below the surface and poisons the whole team atmosphere. Communicate early and often… it’s the key!
  • Benefit from the observational skills and creativity of your whole team. Don’t forget, one of your roles as a leader is to bring out the best in your team! Quite often, the crew actually spends more time with the crops than you do!

The point is… that do not subconciously write off your meeting time a as idle time. It is not.  Rather, the time you spend in this meetings is a key tool to leverage the rest of your week for maximum impact.

How to run effective and efficient farm crew meetings:

  1. Make it a habit. Hold the meeting at the same time each week and have a clear time duration for the meeting (keep it short, 30-50 minutes depending on the size of your team);
  2. Write it down! Take notes, ideally on a big white board that everyone can see. Also;
  3. Track it. Use a meeting template to keep everyone on track. This can be a great place to note down who is taking responsability for certain actions..

Here is a sample weekly meeting template you can use or adapt to suit your needs.

Questions for you:

  • What would become possible if the entire farm team was on the same page?
  • What tools, materials, or systems would
  • When in the week would be the best time for your team meeting?

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?