5 Ways to Farm Responsibly

Farmers are ruining everything, or at least that’s what you’d believe if you read news headlines. Here’s five points that show farmers are actually very responsible!

 

Article by Lindsay Mitchell, courtesy of Corn Corps

In this office, it feels like farmers being irresponsible is a primary headline in the media. Intellectually, I know it isn’t.  I know that things like ISIS and the latest slip up by the President or Congress make the headlines far more.

But you know how you notice things that really bother you more?  How a personal interaction with something makes it appear more often to you?  Yeah, that happens to us when we hear how irresponsible farmers are.  Because for the majority of farmers, it just isn’t true.

(I know there are “bad actor” farmers.  But really, there are “bad actors” in any industry.  In your workplace alone, I know you can name at least two or three that don’t do their job appropriately or efficiently.  Don’t hold that against us.)

So today, I’d like to highlight five ways farmers farm responsibly.  If any of these are news to you, make sure you ask all your questions in the comments.  I would absolutely LOVE to clarify.

1. Farmers preserve their soil through tillage practices.

Ok, this sounds big and complicated, but it really isn’t.  Tillage: it’s the same thing as tilling your garden, but on a really big scale.  What this means is that farmers have actually quit tilling their soil so much to minimize soil erosion.  When the stubs of the crop before are left on the field over the winter, the roots and stalks help hold the soil in the spring when the melted snow and excessive rain threaten to wash it away.  Farmers are interested in preserving and building up their soil because it is their family’s income for the next year … and the next.

2. Farmers minimize trips over the field to use less fuel.

This should make sense to everyone – fewer times up and down the rows in the field equals less diesel used equals less emissions.  But how do the farmers do it?

Well, the tillage practices I mentioned help.  If they aren’t tilling their ground, they also aren’t running a tractor up and down to till the soil.  But also, farmers are using GPS to cover their fields more efficiently.  Before, every trip up and down the field included a few feet overlap to be sure that no portion of the field was missed.  GPS eliminates that and allows farmers to minimize their fuel usage.  Technology is amazing!

3. Farmers “prescription farm”.

New technology is also allowing for another amazing advancement – “prescription farming.”  Farmers are able to look at soil types and soil tests to determine what each square foot of their field needs in order to be optimized for crop production, and then they only apply fertilizers on that area.  Gone are the days when farmers treated a whole field the same!  Now they minimize the use of inputs by applying only exactly what is needed in the single spot in the field where it’s needed.

4. Livestock are known as individuals.

Just like your doctor knows you as an individual and treats your needs accordingly, livestock farmers know their animals as individuals too.  Each animal has a certain personality and demeanor – and farmers recognize changes when they see these animals every day that alert them to illness and other problems.

Some farmers even have ultrasound scanners that individually check each cow to determine weight and potential grade of the meat they will supply.  The health of each cow is a priority and the farmers strictly manage antibiotics (only given when the animals are sick!) and withdrawal times before they can enter the food supply.

You’ll definitely want to read this mom’s impressions of the livestock farm I’m talking about!


5. Farmers seek continuous improvement.

If there’s one thing that is a priority to farmers, it is preserving the land and equipment they have for the next generation.  Farmers and their families spend their lives just hoping to build something they can pass on.

All the technology they use now helps.  They are able to gather data about their fields, harvests, yields, inputs, rainfall, etc and analyze that data in programs that help them understand their sustainability.  But the real key here is that all that data gives farmers a means to continually improve.

Think about it this way – if you are mostly healthy but not having a yearly physical, you probably don’t worry much about your cholesterol.  But the moment that you have your first blood test and your cholesterol is high, you eat healthier.  Farmers are the same way.  Having the technology to provide data about how they are farming helps them in their pursuit of continuous improvement and leaving something amazing to their children.

 

Want to know more?  Ask questions in the comments!!


Lindsay Mitchell, ICGA/ICMB Project Coordinator
Link photo by Mark RobinsonCreative Commons 2.0 License

 

 

5 Steps to Telling Powerful Farm Stories

Connecting with consumers about farming is important. These days people really care about where their food comes from and how it gets from your farm to their plate, so it’s essential that you learn how to provide them with that information. A great way to share how life really is on your farm and how you produce the food that you sell is to tell your story.

However, it’s not enough just to tell your story, you need to learn how to tell it. We all know what it’s like to listen to a good story teller and also what it’s like to listen to a bad story teller. The difference in technique can either create a real connection with listeners or conversely cause listeners to walk away completely unchanged.

In this article we show you can be the former story teller, and create stories that connect with your audience and leave the listeners excited about your topic.

Made to Stick” authors, Dan Heath and Chip Heath, state that there are five things you must do to ensure your story “sticks” with consumers:

  1. Simplicity;
  2. Unexpectedness;
  3. Concrete
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional

 

  1. Simplicity

The first step is to be simple. Though this sounds deceptively easy, when you have a vast amount of knowledge about a subject it can actually be quite hard to do. The idea is to strip down your subject to its most critical essence. You should not be dumbing down the subject but rather you should give the listener, “just enough information to be useful.” As the authors state in the book, “when you say three things you say nothing.” Therefore it’s important to just stick to one core idea and ensure you communicate it in the most concise way possible.

  1. Unexpectedness

The second step is to do something unexpected. People are wired to notice change and disregard regularity. So, when people are expecting a particular line of thinking or sequence of events they often tune out. This is why it’s crucial to create surprise in your story. To do this the authors suggest breaking down your audience’s guessing machine. One way to do this is to use the gap theory of curiosity (ie: triggering people’s curiosity by creating a gap between what they know and what they want to know) and then using your story as a means to tell them the answer. If you would like some inspiration on what this might look like, check out Derek Halpern’s article on the subject over at Social Triggers.


  1. Concrete

The third step is to communicate in concrete and relatable language. If you want people to understand what you’re talking about you should communicate in a way that they understand. and this means not defaulting to industry terminology. The authors suggest utilizing the “velcro theory of memory.” The idea is that similar to a piece of velcro, your brain has many different loops so the more “hooks” an idea has the better it will cling to your memory.

  1. Credible

The fourth step is credibility. This should be the easiest step for everyone, afterall YOU are the farmers, so you should be the authority on farming and food production. To help you along the way consider how you can boost your credibility with these tips:

  • give vivid details (studies have shown that people are more receptive to ideas if they are given some details to imagine)
  • if you use stats – ensure that they show a relationship. This is really important since people won’t remember a number but they will remember a relationship between numbers.
  • Analogies work. Draw on ideas that people are already familiar with to explain new things to them.
  1. Emotional

The final step is to tell your story with emotion. As the authors state, “when people are primed to feel as opposed to analyze they are more receptive towards your message.” So, how do we make people care about our story? The answer is to make the story about them and ensure that you create an association between the things that they care about and your message. People are people, and so you can never go wrong by making the story appeal to their identity. If you do this you will be better positioned to tap into their emotional side, rather than their analytical side.

So, those are the 5 steps you can take to telling a better farm story. Put them to use, and get out there are share your story. As I discussed above, people want to know more about where their food comes from and the farmers that feed them, so go create your story now and share it with the world. People are waiting to hear about it, and it will never get told unless you tell it.

Link photo courtesy of Jill Clardy

 

 

 

 

 

3 Online Tools for Planning Your Garden

Great Tools to help Plan Your Garden

Summer is just around the corner it is time to get in gear for the growing season. These online garden planning tools will help you make the most of your gardening spaces!

1. Garden Planner Online

  • Customize the size, shape, and layout of your garden
  • Add all kinds of features to your space such as patios and fences
  • Let’s you print a list of the plant you chose for shopping convenience

 

2. GrowVeg.com

  • Tailored to meet the needs of people looking to have a farm-table type garden
  • Grid style display blocks off your garden in inches and feet

 

3. Garden Puzzle

  • Different from the others on our list it allows for a head on view (rather than aerial) with custom background you can pick to match your space
  • Geared more toward flowers and shrubs than vegtables

 

 


 

 

5 Life Lessons from Dr. Suess for Farmers

If you’ve always wanted to farm…

 

  1. Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

There really  isn’t anyone out there who is more you than YOU are. No one else can think for you, farm for you, or experience life for you. Your choice to farm will impact not only your life but the lives of so many others. Nobody else on the planet has exactly the same dream as yours, so stay true to yourself.

 

  1. Why fit in when you were born to stand out?

In farming, it’s very easy to fit in, do what everyone else is doing… and get what everyone else gets. By simply expressing ideas and beliefs that are uncommon and even going against the grain, you can change that status quo. So don’t be content just to farm the way everyone else is doing it – seek and create your farm business to stand out – anything is possible!

 

  1. You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

It’s your thoughts that take you where you want to go in life. Listen to your guts and instincts to choose your own farming path. The great part is that we live in a world where sharing and connection to unique business models and innovations provide for many directions to choose from.

 

  1. It’s better to know how to learn, than to know.

If you know how to learn, you can pretty much learn anything you need to know in order to farm. So there’s no point in filling your head with a bunch of things you don’t absolutely need to know, much better to have the skill of being able to get the information you need. Technology makes the task easier if you have learned how to use it.

 

  1. Today I shall behave, as if this is the day I will be remembered.

Today could be the day that you pull off that amazing feat that puts you in the history books. If you’re a farmer, you’re already doing something that matters to a whole lot of people. Create the feeling that today could be the day you’re remembered for, for that’s the only way it can really happen. Bring those expectations to each day of your life. There’s no better time than today to do the things that you’ll be remembered for.

 

If You’ve Always Wanted To Farm…

 

 

 

5 Fun Farm Crafts

Are your kids driving you crazy this winter? Too much time indoors? Looking for some fun creative projects to keep your kids happy on cold winter days?

LearnCreateLove has put together this list of 25 Farm Inspired Crafts, including printable’s and hands on ideas.

We picked our favorite 5 farm crafts to share with you here at FarmOn:

1. Horse Craft *printable*

2. Tractor Craft *printable*

3. Cow Craft *printable*

4. Ladybug Rocks

5. Cat Craft *printable*

What are your favorite farm crafts or activities for children on cold winter days? Please share with us, we would love to hear from you!

 

 

5 DIY Barn Organization Projects We Love!

Well, we’re already in week two of a new year and many of us are working away on resolutions.  If better organization is something you’re aspiring to this year, why not start with your barns and sheds? Here are some simple, inexpensive do-it-yourself projects to help you keep things out of the way and where you need them.

  1. Repurposed File Cabinet Storage Bin

You probably have an old filing cabinet kicking around, or have seen multiple ads for free ones on Kijiji.  This tutorial will show you how to look att it from a different perspective and create a truly  functional storage bin that would be perfect for any barn!

Turning your old file cabinet into a garage storage

 

  1. Pallet Wall Storage

Most of us have seen hundreds of ways to reuse free wood pallets. Here’s another one that creates a perfect wall storage unit.

Pallet Wall Storage

 

  1. Bucket Cubby Shelving

Square buckets, the kind that supplements and kitty litter comes in, make a perfect cubby shelving unit to store all kinds of things: from tools to grooming supplies!

Bucket Cubby Shelving

 

  1. PVC Pipe Tool Storage

Here’s a neat and clever way to organize and store your long handles tools, like pitch forks, rakes and spades, using bits of PVC pipe.

PVC Pipe Tool Storage

 

  1. PVC Hangers

These multi purpose wall hangers can be used for hanging anything, from hoses and extension cords to halters and bridles.

PVC Hangers

 

Happy organizing!
Link photo by Gordon Ross

 

4 Steps to Successfully Market Your Farm

Article by Farms.com

AgStar Edge, Have you ever wanted to begin marketing your farm? Whether it’s selling your products or simply making a name for yourself in the agricultural community, creating and implementing a strategic marketing plan can help you become more successful with your efforts. In this Women in Agriculture blog, AgStar’s own Sara Larson gives you four steps to take when beginning to create your farms own marketing plan.

  1. Identify your market

Ask yourself, who is most likely going to buy my farm products?

  1. How am I going to set my farm apart from others?
  2. Create marketing material – logo etc.
  3. Create marketing promotions – Facebook pages, etc.

Link photo by Johnhenryf

 

 

4 Step Plan to Marketing in Agriculture

At the core of any successful business is a solid marketing plan. This holds true for any agriculture business, from a traditional cash grain operation to a small-scale produce operation, and everything in between. While the specific strategies of farms may be significantly different – some direct marketing to consumers and others selling a commodity product – all producers need to understand how sound marketing decisions are made. Below is a basic four-step plan that is applicable to any farm business:

  1. Know Yourself

As the operator of an agricultural operation, your mindset, attitude and knowledge directly effect the decisions made on your farm.Your tolerance toward risk is at the heart of how you approach marketing along with your goals, philosophy and marketing know-how. You need to recognize these factors to determine your readiness to handle marketing on your operation and the next steps.

  1. Know the Markets

After realizing your personal thoughts and values on marketing, it is important for you to make sure that you understand the market situation and outlook. What are the historical prices for products? Are there cycles, trends or seasonality? What drives the price movements of your product? What tools exist to help you market your product? Answering these questions will help you build a foundation to work from.

  1. Know Your Business

Next, take a hard look at your business including: current and projected production levels, cost of production and the point where you breakeven. Also, assess the risk capacity of your business by looking at available working capital, your debt-to-asset ratio and cash on hand. Creating a business plan will help you to better understand your operation’s goals and objectives and relate back to all of these points. Most of all, recognize that you are not alone. Your relationships with others such as lenders and consultants, as well as your ability to use other information sources, can help in your quest to knowing your operation.

  1. Know and Work the Plan

Marketing goals for any farm operation should be realistic. You should establish your desired profit margin and trigger points for your business. Execute your plan with discipline and regularly monitor its progress. You should continually reassess your strategy as the markets and your business change to review the total risks to the operation.

Although it is easy to get wrapped up in your daily duties on the farm, it is critically important to make marketing a priority on your farm operation. After all, as an agricultural producer, the success of your business is based on its ability to market and sell its products, no matter if it is corn, milk, beef, apples or fresh-cut flowers. Don’t automatically assume that your marketing strategy from 20, 10 or even two years ago still applies. Your marketing plan should constantly evolve and adapt to changes within your operation and marketplace.

Article courtesy of Raechel Sattazahn and AgChoice Farm Credit.

Link Photo courtesy of Paul Worthington

How do you approach marketing? Share with us your tips and ideas!

 

 

 

4 Lessons for Growing a Family Farm Across Generations

Article by Shannon Hayes

If there’s a romantic image that tugs at our heart strings as much as the thought of homegrown tomatoes, it’s that of the multi-generational family farm.

In a culture that has spurned the union of the generations—that frowns upon the thirtysomething living in his parents’ basement, mocks the new family who moves in with Grandma, offers condolence to the empty-nesters who take in an aging parent, builds television sitcoms about the interpersonal conflicts between married couples and the in-laws, and peddles financial products to discourage elders from ever being a “burden”—the family farm has been America’s great exception to the now-expected independent nuclear unit.

Farms proudly advertise the number of generations who have lived on the same land; signs are hung on the side of barns to commemorate the 100th continuous year of business within the same family; awards are handed out, stories written, legends passed down within rural communities celebrating the differences from father to son, mother to daughter.

And in an era when the rest of the country is discovering that breaking ourselves into nuclear units is coming at an ecological, financial, and emotional cost, the multigenerational family farm feels like the last cultural example we can turn to as a reminder of what might make for a viable future, whether the multiple generations are in the city, the suburbs, or on the land.

Three Family Farm Stories 

But this week I heard three painful stories about the tensions among the agrarian generations. One young farm family, now indebted more than $500,000 from an effort to take over the family farm, is being crippled from making sustainable changes on the land by both excessive financial burdens, and a lack of physical and emotional support from the older generation. Another farm family with children, who’d invested several years in building an organic enterprise on the family farm and buying out the parents, is finally abandoning its dreams and is trying to find land elsewhere, because the intergenerational conflicts were insurmountable. And a third couple, who moved back to take over the family farm a few years ago, has just moved out again, their efforts at reviving the land having met too much resistance. Their marriage is on the cusp of breaking up, too.

The Young Farmers

I know my generation can be a nuisance. We want everything instantly. We grew up with little to no training in financial literacy. We learned that controlling expenses wasn’t as critical as earning a big paycheck. And when the big paycheck never showed up, we were sold a bill of goods that we could afford more debt than was realistic. At the same time, we’re questioning how hard we want to work. We don’t ubiquitously buy into the idea that logging 80-100 hours of labor in a week is the best way to take care of family. And to add to matters, we’re expressing a lot of annoyance at the detritus bequeathed to us by our parents and grandparents: depleted fossil fuel reserves, excess carbon in the atmosphere, polluted water, environmental toxins, lost topsoil, nutrient-deficient foods, and the chronic illnesses that ensue from these things.

The Older Generation of Farmers

At the same time, the older generations have their burdens, too. The 401ks that seemed so cushy a few years back aren’t quite so robust. The vision of “golden years” spent golfing and playing tennis in sunny Florida have been replaced by fears over medical expenses and the humiliating prospect of lost independence. It’s hard to be generous with grown children when you feel insecure yourself … Especially when those kids enter the scene with crazy ideas about changing how the farm is managed and questioning the lifetime decisions of the elders; or they contrive newfangled ventures that seem risky.

My Farm Story

I moved back to my family’s farm in 1996, at the age of 22. While I spent a few years in graduate school, I came home every weekend and summer, and have been an active part of the business since that time. In the 17 years I’ve been involved with Sap Bush Hollow, I fell in love with a man, convinced him to move here to start a life together, began a family, and bit by bit have grown more deeply into the family business. Bob and I realized early on that my parents were too young and vibrant for us to simply “step in and take over,” and our different skill sets and personalities have required that we find unusual ways to blend with the family business. Some of our livelihood from the farm comes from actual labor, some of it comes from our own entrepreneurial ventures. We don’t live in the same house as my parents, which has its benefits and drawbacks.

It isn’t all butterflies and rainbows here, that’s for certain. We have arguments, we storm off, hang up on each other, and occasionally sit down and have some good cries. But after nearly 20 years, we’re still here, still working together on this business; still in agreement that this family farm offers the best possible life for all of us. Along the way, there have been a few lessons and practices that have really made a big difference in the viability of our intergenerational cooperation:

  1. The stated goal of the business. Posted on the wall of the farm office is a piece of paper, typed up maybe 25 years ago. Mom and Dad wrote it to express their goals and dreams. And the number one goal at the top of the page reads: We want to create a business that one or both of our children would want to run. It’s not saying that the kids have to take it over. It’s just saying that the quality of the venture needs to reflect the needs and desires of the next generation. Thus, every decision they make on that farm gets tested against this top goal. As the next generation, I have a sense of security that my thoughts and ideas matter, that Bob’s and my quality of life is critical to the success of Sap Bush Hollow.
  2. No one “owns” the land. I remember the day a neighboring farmer drove into the barnyard to talk to Mom and Dad about the financial potential of signing a lease to allow hydro-fracking on our land. Dad shrugged his shoulders and said he couldn’t help him. “It’s not my land,” he said.“Isn’t your name on the deed?”“Doesn’t matter.” He pointed to Saoirse and Ula, then about 5 and 2, who were tumbling across the front field. “It’s not mine. It’s theirs.”And that’s the tone around here. None of us owns it. It is forever owned by the next generation. Whoever has their name on the deed is a temporary steward. Thus, while Mom and Dad are counting on the farm to sustain them as part of their retirement, the land is not a source of retirement income. It is a resource for each successive generation. When Mom and Dad made a choice to buy a farm, they weren’t buying a retirement asset. They were securing a resource for the family and its subsequent generations.For Bob and me, this means we’ll never “own” the land, either. We derive benefit from the resources it offers, and it is our job to bridge to the next generation, and to help make sure Mom and Dad will be able to be comfortable in their retirement, without having to sell that land.
  3. Avoid debt. Keeping the farm in the family is a lot easier when the bank doesn’t have a lien on the property. At Sap Bush Hollow, we’ve been masters at diversifying our income with small ventures that are not capital-intensive, which keeps us in control of the money and out of debt. And all of us are pretty skilled at living on the cheap. One of the many benefits is that there is a lot less stress between the generations. Interestingly, since thrift and frugality is a defining quality of our family culture, we find it easy to be generous and trusting with each other. No one worries about someone else wasting money.
  4. The most important “product” is the next generation. There is an agreement across the family that Saoirse and Ula are number one. This means that homeschool is not squeezed into the interstices between loading cattle and chasing pigs. The teaching space and time is sacred. Family meals are of paramount importance. Adequate rest to allow for a calm, happy family life is critical. And their safety matters above all else. As the parents, this makes Bob’s and my job a lot easier. We don’t feel as though our fidelity to the family business is questioned when we need to honor our commitments to our children. The person who leaves farm work to prepare the daily meal, teach the kids, or maintain the home is as valuable as the one making hay.

 

We didn’t start out in our family venture knowing all these rules for success. Over the years, we’ve grown into them, and a lot of the lessons were learned the hard way, through emotionally trying experience.

I’d be a fool to suggest that these were the only keys to success, and I’d be even more of a fool to argue that, because of these attributes, our farm will be “sustainable.” No one ever really knows the answer to that question. All I can say is that for 17 years, life has been good. So good, in fact, that I can say I am happy where I am, and that everyone in the Sap Bush Hollow family seems to share the daily intentions to continue the quality of life we have.

Certainly, these words cannot salve the pain of those three farm families I mentioned earlier. What’s done is done. We’ve entered an era that asks us to un-learn the last 60 years of cultural conditioning, and to reclaim wisdom from generations that are nearly gone. It isn’t easy, and our lessons are hard-won. But hopefully we will hold onto the rediscovered wisdom this time, pass it along to our children, and enable each successive generation to grow up comfortable in walking sustainably on this earth.

Article courtesy of Yes! Magazine.

Link photo courtesy of Peter Blanchard