Farm smaller and smarter
Teen Growers, a northern Indiana, community-based initiative, offers education and meaningful paid jobs for teens. A goal of the program is to bring about a more localized and equitable food system, and to support youth of color. We support their work and encourage you to consider a donation.
The traditional farmer chooses what to grow based on hunches as to what might sell. The lean farmer plugs into the community, listens to what food is needed, and then grows exactly what customers want, in the right amount, at the right time. No effort is wasted.
Rather than keep every tool, the lean farmer is selective: just a few tools get the work accomplished.
The traditional farm adds capacity through constant expansion. The lean farm grows by cutting out waste.
Farming is a career plagued by low wages. But the lean farmer can earn a higher wage through smart management: efficient production and a focus on value. Let's face it. Small-scale farming is hard work, and obstacles for new farmers are real. While there is no magic bullet to success, a lean mindset can give your farm a solid foundation.
Ben is a farmer and author of The Lean Farm, winner of the prestigious Shingo Prize. In 2017 he wrote a field guide companion called The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables, and was named one of 50 green leaders in the US by Grist. He is a senior consultant for USAID Feed the Future projects. Clay Bottom Farm offers on-farm workshops and online courses teaching small farmers how to farm smaller and smarter.LEARN MORE
In rural Alabama, in the early 1900s, sharecropper land was divided and subdivided into smaller and smaller parcels. This meant more money for landlords but less land for sharecroppers. Poor farmers we forced to be creative, to do more with less. Tuskegee Institute, a private historically Black university, stepped in to help, with an experiment station that taught efficient production and that encouraged diversification away from cotton. Tuskegee's Booker T. Whatley told farmers "smaller and smarter" is the road to profits. According to George Washington Carver (pictured), "Take care of the waste on the farm and turn it into useful channels" should be the slogan of every farmer. Whatley and Carver were pioneers in cutting-edge no-waste thinking on the farm. Read Carver's bulletins for small farmers here.
Lean is not opposed to growth, but blind growth--unconcerned about waste--leads to the exploitation of natural resources and to the pollution behind our climate crisis. The good news is that there are solutions. Lean offers a toolkit for rooting out waste and restoring balance. Our own farm's commitments:
"Everyone strives for efficiency in vegetable farming, but Ben Hartman has actually achieved it."
"We give every new employee a copy of Ben's writing to study. Adopting lean principles has been critical for bringing organization, focus, and harmony to our vegetable farm."
"Ben Hartman is that rare person who could describe the lean farming revolution and then provide proven practices from his own farm."
Instagram is the only social media Ben regularly uses. Follow for lots of photos, tips, and lists of things he has put kickstands on recently.CLAY BOTTOM FARM INSTAGRAM PAGE
Even now, people of color do the lion's share of front line farmworker and food service work, for too little pay. Farm subsidies--more than $37 billion in 2020 (36% of farm income)--are funneled mostly to rich, white farmers. Pursuing a more equitable system is a moral duty of our time. We need a food system that distributes ownership (including land) fairly, repairs historic wrongs through reparations, and pays essential workers a whole lot more. Silence is not an option. White supremacy is not an accident. It is a reality that was designed by our forebearers and that is perpetuated by us. While we can not change the past, we are responsible to make changes that will correct those injustices. No one can single-handedly do this work, but each person and organization will play a unique part. We feel that ours is to support Black farmer educational initiatives and to press for fair policing and farm policies through active political engagement. We hope you will find ways to support equity in the food system. A way to get started is to find a BIPOC-led initiative in your area and find out how you can support their work.
Resources for undoing racism in farming
BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) farm organizations (from Osborne Quality Seeds)
Anti-racism in the food system (from Community Alliance for Global Justice)
Resources for BIPOC flower farmers (from The Kokoro Garden) https://thekokorogarden.com/blog/2020/6/20/resources-for-bipoc-flower-farmers-and-their-allies
Medium article on addressing racist perspectives in sustainable ag (from Clara Coleman and Kate McLean)
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