This late winter/early spring has been sort of a perfect storm of get organized messages for me.
First, I moved everything out of my office in order for Chris and I to install new cork flooring there to cover up the rough attic planking that exists there. I have vowed to go through everything and only put back what I truly need. Now, this is a major hurdle because I am very likely to look at everything and think I might find a use for it someday. I have, however, recycled a huge stack of paper, designated a bunch of useful stuff to go to St. Vinnies and found deserving homes for several other items. Some things were beyond any useful life and did wind up in the trash. And, a few pounds of dust bunnies were removed before the new floor went in. Later this week or early next week I will begin the slow process of cleaning each item and setting it in a well thought out location in my refurbished office space.
In the meantime, I attended the MOSES Organic Conference in La Crosse, WI. With my radar set to organize mode, I was bombarded with ideas to do just that. I attended a pre-conference Organic University taught by Chris Blanchard of the Purple Pitchfork called Managing your way to Farm Success. This course was a goldmine of worthwhile information about getting organized. I came home with resolutions to get an annual inventory up and running (I’m well on my way to completion!) and to close open loops (the gates are repaired, tools are hanging close at hand in the hoophouse, and more) of nearly completed projects that can’t yet be checked of the checklist and get in the way physically and mentally.
On the suggested reading list for virtually every session I attended at the Organic Conference were the following: The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work by Ben Hartman and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® by Stephen R. Covey. The first one is a new book, but the second one is a surprise because it has been around for over 25 years. It indicates to me that small scale organic farming has matured of late to a point where the how-to’s of growing are pretty well mastered and therefore farmers are taking a closer look at management and organization.
I borrowed The Lean Farm from the library and devoured it. It fed perfectly into all the organizational thinking I had already been doing. The principles behind the lean system were developed in the automotive industry by Toyota. Ben Hartman has taken the concepts and translated them into the world of small sustainable farms. And they make so much sense to me! Basically the lean system roots out waste (labor, resource, etc.) to improve efficiencies.
Examining my own farm for areas where I spend a lot of time without gaining any value (sadly a long, long list), I decided to start by tackling my weedy garden paths and by creating a sheep handling area that could stay in place at all times.
I have been trying and failing to manage the weeds in my garden paths by laying down newspaper and covering it with mulch. I spend time on it every year and never get all the way around the garden. Therefore, I’m perpetually allowing weeds to go to seed and to spread by roots and rhizomes and this adds to the work year on year. I have a friend who has had in place a type of landscape fabric that acts as a weed barrier and is also designed to withstand UV exposure. I spoke with her to get advice on how to install the material to get the most from it. I’m going to prepare a level substrate with gravel covered by a thin layer of sand and will avoid puncturing the fabric wherever possible by lapping it up onto my wooden raised beds and using batten strips to hold it in place. I’m trying to avoid using mulch on top of the fabric because it always catches seeds and provides welcoming habitat for new weeds to germinate. This fabric can’t be considered a permanent solution (even concrete isn’t permanent), but it should make my weed management system vastly more efficient with a relatively low cash and labor outlay.
There is a corner of our barn that can easily be retrofitted for a sheep handling area. I’ve been researching sheep handling system designs and got good ideas from Use Sheep Behaviour to Your Advantage When Designing Handling Facilities, Sheep 201 and North Dakota State University Sheep Building Plans. Rather than invest a great deal of money in panels and gates initially, I’m starting by using hog panels cut to length for chutes, gates, etc. That way, I can try out the system and see if it works or not. Later on, I’ll add specially made equipment where it adds the most to the efficiency of the system.
I have just started reading Covey’s book. I’m certain that principles he writes about will add depth to the paradigm shifts that started for me this winter. I know “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, but I’m happy to have this new lean farm lens to examine all my farming activities and decisions through.