Our Steps Are as Important as Where We End Up
by John Lee

I am not the kind of farmer/businessman who can plan ahead and, having set incremental goals, feels satisfied, rewarded or accomplished for having attained them. I don't see any great redeeming value simply in goal attainment. Rather, I think the path to those goals is more exciting.  If two roads diverged in a yellow Frost so poetically opined, I certainly would choose the divergent one. I mean, once you are "there," there you are, so to speak. And whither thence?

I do not think there need be any great hurry about reaching one's goals as long as the process is in play, the play is fun and getting there is most of the adventure. If you are healthy and love what you do, what's the hurry? No fun is no fun and if are not enjoying what you are doing, you should be doing something else or doing something differently. At some point in one's life the novelty of starting anew wears off and not getting to that point can be more than edifying. At least in my opinion.

In the ideal world of farm management, there is always too much to do, too little time. Frequently, what time there is comes at the wrong time and two jobs need to be done at the same time.Whoever coined the term "time trials" must have been a farmer! Nonetheless, it is the having too much to do that keeps life edgy and interesting. Having too much to do also retards goal attainment and keeps everyone on their toes. So here's my recipe for happy staff/happy manager and a more interesting growing season:

  • a good organizational structure
  • a new project every year
  • enough routine practices so that you are well balanced
  • and a hefty dash or scheming for the years ahead

Put in place a sound organizational structure that works well for all employees. On our farm, we use the sometimes yeasty mantra "organize around commitment, not authority." We have found this simple idea to be particularly effective when trying to motivate everyone because personal responsibility and initiative is an important motivator.  When everyone is in charge of and responsible for their corner of the business, feels free to initiate and feels rewarded psychically and otherwise for their efforts, the whole program will become more successful.  This has proved to be a tried and true maxim on our farm.  Every year we start a new project of some kind. It may be to build a different cultural practice, create a new look or create a different efficiency by upgrading some aspect of the business, or it may be by changing our marketing tactics. In all of these changes, it is important that the impetus arise from those whose energy you should value most.  From those who will feel a direct sense of ownership and will, therefore, be more invested in the success of the change(s).

Over the years, we have branched out organically to be better at what we do by diversifying, testing new markets or improving the ways in which we can interact more pleasantly and efficiently with the more bureaucratic aspects of our growing business.  We have branched out vertically by adding enterprises in which our management team has demonstrated an interest and a desire to stretch themselves. Thus, we have added a CSA component to our market, we have built a pair of chicken tractors and will be raising poultry for eggs and pasture management, we will run a small flock of sheep in addition to the chickens for meat and more pasture management. In the process of new enterprise development, there are always new ideas that erupt about how we can do other things better for ourselves and our customers.While we have limited physical resources (viz. real estate), our ability to grow and improve our business is only limited to our ability to scheme, revisualize and reconsider how and what we are doing.

What is important about all of these changes is that the motivation to make and manage them comes from our family or staff. Thus, successful outcomes are much more likely, much more rewarding, and the work much more stimulating. Naturally, the farm becomes more diversified in the process and the risk of calamitous loss is greatly reduced.  My goals are still peeking over the horizon, beckoning me to keep at this ever-exciting enterprise for another year and binding our team more tightly together as all realize the consanguinity of working cooperatively to make our farm a better place to be.

John Lee is the manager of Allandale Farm (Boston's last working farm), which specializes in naturally grown local produce. Each summer, John manages an outdoor children's program on the farm. He writes for local news outlets and is deeply involved with farming and locally grown issues in Massachusetts.