I am increasingly enthralled by Holistic Management. It is a framework that has greatly helped me conceptualize my farming, my business, and my life, and how all of them can intertwine without one strangling the other.

One HM concept that has been very helpful has been the Chain of Production concept. The first link is Resource Conversion, which is how a raw resource becomes a thing, which in the farming world is primarily how to turn sunlight into a plant. The second link is Product Conversion, which is how that thing becomes a product (or service). The third link is Marketing Conversion, which is how that product becomes money. 

A straightforward example would be:
 Resource Conversion: growing sunflowers
 Product Conversion: harvesting the sunflowers and making them into bouquets
 Marketing Conversion: selling the sunflower bouquets.

Using this framework, one can assess where making a change would best be made for a given enterprise or crop. Like any chain, there is only one weak link at a given point in time, but there may be a new and different weak link at another point in time. Periodic assessment helps define where the current weak link is, so you can adjust your focus.

When reviewing last year, I added four columns on my crop list spreadsheet: one for each link in the Chain of Production, and a notes column. For each crop (down to the variety for some) I assessed the current weak link. For instance, molucella’s problems lie in Resource Conversion (we have germination issues); gomphrena is weak in Product Conversion (we spend too much time picking weeds out while harvesting); godetia got a big ‘x’ for the marketing conversion link (its showiness attracted people to our market stand but for some reason they didn’t buy it). In the notes column I brainstormed a few ideas for how the weak link could be revived. So, we’ve gotten soil tests and made amendments in our hoophouses where we grow the molucella, our gomphrena will go into fabric instead of bare ground, and we’ll market our godetia towards our wholesale accounts (who were thrilled at the idea, much to my surprise).

Nothing profound here, but the systemized approach to assessing each of our crops was helpful for me to feel like we are making premeditated adjustments to help this year be an improvement on last year.  It also helped me define the exact place needing attention, so that our energy, money, and time will be best spent.

I’ve been so jazzed about this framework of thinking, I’ve used it on the macro level for our farm. Where is our overall weak link?—knowing there is always one. How can we make adjustments to that?

I thought about the wedding and special events aspect to our farm. Where is the weak link? I have plenty of flowers, I have trouble allocating time to filling the order so I end up working late into the night, and I have really positive results and feedback. The weak link is obvious: Product Conversion.  I brainstormed what I need to alleviate this weakness: hire more help, get a wedding assistant, have a separate area to work on the order that isn’t in the way of the rest of the farm’s routines.

After careful calculations, we decided to hire an Assistant Manager who will be able to fully take over the things that I manage on days that events work has to be done. We also created a space on the farm for only wedding work to happen. Again, nothing profound, but the forethought is more than we had going for us before, and it has already felt smoother.

No one can sum it up better than Emerson: “Our strength grows out of our weaknesses.”

Happy Growing, and Growing, and Growing, with each weak link becoming stronger along the way.

Missy Bahret

Old Friends Farm

Missy Bahret Old Friends Farm Amherst, Massachusetts
[email protected]