Nov. 28, 2021

Managing Technology Holistically on Small Farms

I'd like to preface this post with a quote from Allan Savory

"Almost all the knowledge required to produce more food than eroding soil is available today. We just need to use that knowledge within a holistic paradigm - managing agriculture holistically, forming the policies that undergird it holistically".

Technology is progressing incredibly fast in our world. It can be hard to keep up with, and it can be easy to be resistant to new development and be left in the past.

As small farmers, we are grassroots, salt of the Earth people. We pull ourselves up from our bootstraps and persevere through hardships with keen innovations using what is available to us. Farmers can be some of the most creative people with the ability to come up with solutions to problems on the spot using the tools and materials that they have laying around the farm. As farmers, we never want to lose this, and more importantly, we never want to lose our connection with the land.

Our intimate reverence for the land must be unwavering under every adversity that might come our way.

Another truth about farmers is that we are hard workers. We are work until the project is complete people, and still manage to constantly have another project on our plate. We chalk it up as being part of the life we chose. In the midst of the busy season, it can be easy to neglect our personal needs by putting the farm first. After all, it is our livelihood. Eating properly, and taking care of our bodies after long days of work can become a challenge. Getting away to do something fun with our family or friends can feel like another chore on our plate because we never fully feel caught up on the farm, and we have bills to pay.

This is the farmers' dilemma. We tell ourselves that this is the life we chose and that it is a labor of love. To an extent that is true; someone who is born to farm must farm. There is so much beauty, and sense of purpose in farming that no other career can even come close. It's easy to become enveloped by it, even mesmerized. Possibly even addicted. I know this to be true in my life. Farming is a lifestyle more than a career and has the ability to be a really healthy and meaningful life.

Masanobu Fukuoka said in his flagship book, The One Straw Revolution:

“I do not particularly like the word 'work.' Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think that is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is. It would be good to give up that way of thinking and live an easy, comfortable life with plenty of free time. I think that the way animals live in the tropics, stepping outside in the morning and evening to see if there is something to eat, and taking a long nap in the afternoon, must be a wonderful life. For human beings, a life of such simplicity would be possible if one worked to produce directly his daily necessities. In such a life, work is not work as people generally think of it, but simply doing what needs to be done.”

Masanobu is touching on something powerful in this excerpt. He is not saying that we don't need to work. He is saying that our lives can be more meaningful if we change how we look at work and only do what is absolutely necessary to live the lifestyle we want for ourselves and our family's.

The best place to start building this mindset is to write down what your goals are with the farm. Break them into three categories: People, Planet, and Profit.

  • These Questions will help you form what is called a Triple Bottom Line.
  • How would you like the farm to have an impact on your community, your family, your employees, and yourself?
  • What are your ecological goals on the farm? Hopefully, you are striving to leave your soil healthier and to have a thriving ecosystem that helps to heal our Earth.
  • How much money do you want to make off the Farm, and what are your goals to utilize it?

You need to know what your goals are. This will allow you to track if your decisions are moving you closer or further away from them.

This will make it clear what is absolutely critical on the farm, what can wait, and what is a waste of time.

Write a clear and simple mission statement for your farm and stick to it. This is the core of Holistic Management.

Now that you know what your goals are, what is going to help you achieve these goals?

  • Time: How much time does each task on the farm take? Am I wasting time?
  • Labor: How much help do I need to achieve my goals? Are my workers happy?
  • Infrastructure: Do I have the tools and core Infrastructure I need to achieve my goals?
  • Relationships: Are my relationships healthy? How am I communicating?
  • Community: Does my community get value and nourishment from the Farm?

Use Lean Practices to train yourself to identify waste in your systems and to track Value.

Look for malfunctions, wasted mental space, overproduction, wasted movements, waiting too long, working too hard, not utilizing talent properly, or not using the right tools for the job. Look critically at how your farm is functioning. Seek constant improvement on efficiencies, use standardized procedures, and keep a clean and organized workspace. This will help you achieve your goals while keeping the time you need to properly care for yourself and your family. Collect good data to know you are progressing.

Here is a quote from the Lean Farmer by Ben Hartman:

“The dominant business model in the United States assumes a successful business will grow in size every year. But can one also find one’s right size and be satisfied with it? Lean principles—which focus on creating more value over simply more quantity—opened up the possibility for us of not growing bigger, of thriving even within the constraint of size.”

I firmly believe that utilizing the right appropriate technologies on the farm can help us save time and still achieve our Triple Bottom Line. Small farms of the future will utilize Blockchain Technology, Automation, and Robotics teamed with proven Regenerative Principles. These types of technology will allow us to collect data easily, decentralize our supply chains, streamline our processes, and utilize our employees' talents to do more meaningful work. We can have more mental space to focus on what is really important, and more time to assess if we are achieving our goals.

Prioritize spending time in Nature. Stay in touch with the rhythms of the natural world.

Another powerful quote from Masanobu Fukuoka is:

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”

How often do we stop and ask ourselves: "Is the farm helping to make me a stronger more loving human"?

I believe that utilizing technology thru the lens of Holistic Management in conjunction with Lean Practices will be critical for small farms of the future to maintain viability, achieve their environmental goals, and help their communities.

A key point is that we must manage technology to help us achieve our goals, and never let the technology manage our lives for us.

If we interface with technology Holistically, it won't take away from our meaningful experience on the farm. It can help us become more Regenerative if you use it with that mindset. Technology will allow us to keep farming in a world that is changing very quickly.

It could help us heal our planet and heal ourselves.

Written By: Brian Maisenbacher