February 23rd-25th was the twenty seventh annual Midwest Organic Sustainable agriculture Education Service (MOSES) Conference. The seventh of these conferences I’ve attended, it was just as educational and enjoyable as it has been before.
Every year I go to as many sessions as possible, and from them I usually gain at least two or three good ideas to take back home. This year, I was fortunate enough to go to three great sessions that will be applied back home.
The Lean Farm
Benjamin Hartman, from Clay Bottom Farm, published a book in 2015. that surprised much of the sustainable community.
They brought in a representative from Toyota to teach them “Lean” methods. A shocking idea from first glance, most of sustainable farming is directed towards moving away from industrialization. However, with a second look, you’ll find it’s not as far off as at first thought.
Lean principles were originally developed in post WWII Japan to compete with larger American automotive industrialization. They are, if boiled to essential elements, efficiency models to improve workflows in any operation and can be readily applied to agriculture.
There are a multitude of moving parts that go into the “Lean” process, but for the sake of brevity we will say that it involves reducing waste, reducing the steps between planting and sale, and focusing on performing tasks that add value to your customers.
The subject can be an article by itself, and for a in depth look at the process you should read his book.
Practical Food Safety
Chris Blanchard, of Purple Pitchfork and the Farmer to Farmer Podcast, had two workshops I really enjoyed. The first was on a topic that you hear more and more people starting to talk about: Food safety. With various outbreaks of food born illnesses hitting the news every year, this is also a really important topic.
Mr. Blanchard addressed various parts of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) and the what would and wouldn’t apply to produce producers. From there, he got into the nitty gritty of actual food safety. To a farmer, government regulations mean little until they are put into a practical application, something that Chris demonstrated excellently.
We went over the various steps a farm can and should apply food safety. The biggest one was also the simplest: Wash your hands. Poop (human and animal) can be traced back as the start of most food born illness, and everything you can do to avoid spreading it is important. Washing your hands after using the bathroom is the start of your food safety (and personal hygiene).
The second session Chris had that I found especially useful was on employee management. He focused on management on a produce operation, but the principles can carry over into other fields of farming and employment. Drawing from his personal experiences as an employer, he shared with the audience the ways he’s found to mitigate labor difficulties and encourage higher levels of production.
Probably his best transferable advice was that when someone messes up, you need to criticize the work, not the worker. When your farm is your life, it can be pretty difficult when someone else, who doesn’t have a vested interest in the operation, messes it up. The typical reaction it to lash out at the person, blaming them personally for the mistake, rather than fixing why a mistake was made. By focusing on repairing the root of the error you’ll have better success with your employees.
The only things you can control as an employer is how the employees are trained and your reaction to their mistakes or successes. By better managing your own emotions, you’ll find you are able to better manage your employees too.