Lessons From the Field

As some readers might remember we have a home on my family’s farm in Wisconsin homesteaded in 1868. We rented out one of our fields this year to a young organic farmer. The field that once had hay and corn for as long as I can remember is now home to 400+ vegetable varieties. I am just amazed by the abundance. I was also struck by how someone else can look at your property, something we look at every day, so differently and see what it can become. This young man and 2 young women interns are up at the crack of dawn working at something they love.

An ever growing “field” of hands-on organic farmers, working small pieces of land are beginning to transform the big mega food factory farms confined to growing corn and soybeans you see from any highway across MN and Wisconsin. It is a twist on the family farm and as I look at it, I realize it has come full circle back to the way my great grandparents worked the land.

The young man renting the land is a farmer in the growing season and a contract recruiter in the winter dormant months. I didn’t plan it, really, and I promise this is the truth. He used his acquired skills as a recruiter to source, vet and select the interns working on the farm. The right skills and right fit were essential to his success. Farming today, contrary to some old thinking, is largely done by well educated and motivated people. All three on the farm have degrees- Neuroscience, Religion and International Relations. The interns come from different parts of the country to this is a small rural community. Making sure they understood and were comfortable with no local “coffee shop” to bike to or a movie theater within 30 miles, was critical. It may be only 2 miles from “downtown”, but downtown doesn’t have a stop light. He had to be sure they would be OK with living in an old house and somewhat isolated and have already acquired the skill set to live independently, as he couldn’t have someone homesick leaving in the middle of the harvest. He also needed interns willing to work potentially70- 80 hours a week.

My husband Jim and I have had many engaging conversations around the camp fire with this eclectic group discussing, travel, religion, politics and a host of related topics; a side benefit besides the vegetables, we have come to cherish this summer.

Knowing exactly what was essential to have and what was just nice to have, when it came to the talent he needed to “grow” his business, would determine success or failure in a very real way. Larges companies and small enterprises know that the best laid plans can quickly go wrong if you don’t have the right talent on board. Seasonal work means if you screw up, you can’t make it up in November. The opportunity is gone, not unlike the retail business or open enrollment at a health care company. Managing risks, like injury or bad weather is no different than the loss of capital funding or computer crashes.

Great lessons from the field, quite literally, out my back yard:

• It is good to have new eyes to look at what you look at every day and see the possibilities
• Know clearly what you need and who you need to be successful in growing your business, often the difference between success and failure rests squarely here
• Be sure to clearly manage expectations, so you can manage the risks of setbacks should talent leave you at a critical time
• Enjoy the harvest
Anyone have a good recipe for Kohlrabi?