Clay Bottom Farm’s Ben Hartman is the author of The Lean Farm, a book on minimizing waste and increasing efficiency on the vegetable farm. He has farmed full time for the past ten years with his wife, Rachel, in Goshen, Indiana, where they’re both making a living on less than an acre of production, selling 90 percent of their produce within ten miles of the farm. Of course, we talk about applying the lean methodology on the modern market farm, including the basics of creating value, establishing pull with customers, and the 5S pillars of the lean cycle: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain the cycle. Plus, we get into some cool details about how Clay Bottom Farm keeps produce cold at CSA drop sites, how they design a CSA share, marketing and pricing strategies at farmer’s markets, and how a stupid little sticky note makes them thousands of dollars each year.
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Quotes from the Show
We’re not aiming for doctors wages here, but if we can match teacher’s salaries, that’s good enough. It didn’t happen overnight.
One can burn out pretty easily if you’re adding a winter workload on top of a pretty heavy summer workload. Increasing our winter production is a way of raising our valleys… but what was more of a challenge was decreasing our summer production to even out the peaks.
There are two pieces to lean production. On the one hand is waste elimination… the other have is an intense focus on creating what customers actually want. You’re either adding value or you’re contributing to waste.
The ten types of waste identified in lean are actually ubiquitous – they’re all over the place in all types of business. And any type of business can benefit from getting rid of the waste.
Eliminated waste equals free capacity. If you save an hour of time a week, that’s an hour that you can spend on adding value for your capacity. Usually, adding capacity is kind of expensive; what lean offers is a way to add capacity free.
Most new farmers I’ve met don’t get into [farming] because they love the business end of farming, and they don’t get into it because they love management; however it’s a very important piece.
I got into farming thinking that I could avoid people, but it’s been just the opposite.
The turning point for us was digging in and asking those questions [about what customers actually want].
There’s not a strong indigenous demand for local produce around here, so we feel that we have to make our product very convenient to attract customers.
We’re the caboose, and [our customers] are the engine, pulling the production.
For the most part, I’m at peace with removing from my shoulders the burden of educating the American public about making better food choices. We’re farmers, our focus should be on production.
One of the realities of being a small business is relieving yourself of the burden of having to produce everything for everyone.
Ideally you have more markets than you can meet, and you can be selective and choose to grow the most profitable crops to a small, selective number of markets. And that’s how we’re able to make a living on less than one acre… we have a ruthless focus on growing a small number of the most profitable crops.
You shouldn’t use lean to replace your values.
Ruthlessly eliminate anything that is not absolutely necessary for your production system.
Every step that you take is a cost, in the time that you spent and the energy that you spent to take that step.
Show Links and Resources
When they went through the lean process of sorting, Ben and Rachel kept just two harvest tools: the curved grape and tomato shears and the stainless steel produce knife, both from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
Ben’s favorite tool is his tractor-mounted root digger, as pictured here: