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The Lean Farm

Farm smaller and smarter

Join the 'Get Small' Movement

Ben's new book, The Lean Micro Farm, is now released!

The book is a step-by-step guide for earning serious income from a tiny amount of land, using cutting edge lean thinking. Includes a plan to earn $20K a year from your backyard.

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The Lean Micro Farm at Chelsea Green

The Lean Micro Farm on Amazon

The Lean Micro Farm at Barnes and Noble

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Review of The Lean Micro Farm from Jesse Frost, author of The Living Soil Handbook:

I was delighted and a bit terrified to pick up Ben Hartman's new book, because every time I read something Ben wrote, significant portions of my farm change. And The Lean Micro Farm is no exception. Each section is filled with examples and strategies for how Clay Bottom Farm got small and what it looks like in practice. It's well-written, thought-provoking, and potentially life-altering. I immediately found myself penciling out ways to make our farm smaller.

So fair warning, the book will change your farm.

The Lean Farm Story

In 2011, one of Clay Bottom Farm's CSA customers, Steve Brenneman, approached us (Ben and Rachel, the farm's owners) with the idea of applying lean methods to our farm. We listened, learned, and changed course: We cut our growing area from one acre to 1/3 acre, got rid of almost all of our tools (we use only 7 field tools), and started to work almost half as many hours. We now sell all of our food within 1.5 miles of the farm. In spite of "downsizing," the value of our products, our farm, and our profits steadily increased, and we found a work/life balance.

Here's the formula: 

1. Delete. Most farms have way too many parts, tools, supplies, and unnecessary junk lying around, clouding the view and slowing down value-adding work. Get rid of anything not absolutely necessary to add value. Be ruthless (lean 5S is the practice we use). Elon Musk tells his engineers: If you aren't adding back in, you haven't deleted enough. That rings true on our farm.

2. Start with the customer, work backwards from there. Be totally precise. What exactly do they want? When? How much? This requires going to listen and observe and take notes. Precision is caring. Lean genchi gembutsu (go and see for yourself) is the process we use. 

3. Cut out the waste. Simplify everything. On our farm, we realized that most "requirements" are unnecessary. We don't take soil tests or amend soils with trucked-in fertilizer: we use local leaves, composted, that's it. We store almost no food in coolers, instead we deliver it when the food is picked. We don't till or use plows: we let roots and microbes do that work. The turning point on our farm came when we started to question conventional wisdom about how to grow food, and cut out the waste. 

4. Get better. Every season the goal isn't to get bigger or do more. It's to do a better job: to cut out more waste and better align what we do with what our local community needs us to be doing--growing great food that gets eaten.

This is the roadmap to profit on a micro-sized, localized farm. 

Other Books by Ben Hartman

The Lean Farm

The Lean Farm tells the story of how Clay Bottom Farm stumbled upon the lean system to turn their small farm around. It is the winner of multiple awards, including the prestigious Shingo Prize. 



The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables

The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables is a field guide companion to The Lean Farm, describing how Clay Bottom Farm utilizes lean thinking to grow their specialty crops.


The No-Waste Pioneers at Tuskegee

George Washington Carver, the famous peanut promoter, said "'Take care of waste and turn it into profitable channels' should be the slogan of every farmer."

Carver, as head of the Tuskegee Experiment Station, encouraged diversification away from cotton, pioneering growing systems for peanuts, produce, and other crops that can be grown in high volume on small plots. Thousands of farmers received small farmer training through Tuskegee and its bulletins. He was a pioneer lean thinker in US agriculture.

"Everyone strives for efficiency in vegetable farming, but Ben Hartman has actually achieved it."

Lynn Byzynski
editor, Growing for Market Magazine

"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."

Pete Johnson
organic farmer and owner of Pete's Greens, Craftsbury, Vermont

"Ben Hartman is that rare person who could describe the lean farming revolution and then provide proven practices from his own farm."

Jim Womack
founder, Lean Enterprise Institute

Follow Clay Bottom Farm on Instagram...

Instagram is Ben's microblog. Follow for lots of photos, tips, and lists of things he has put kickstands on recently.


About Ben Hartman

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-funded projects. Clay Bottom Farm offers on-farm workshops and online courses teaching farmers how to farm smaller and smarter.


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