My vision for Stone Coop Farm is that we make a global impact. Last night we got a chance to see how that could happen. This was our second New Farmer Fundraiser. We are sponsoring two young men through Michigan State’s Organic Farmer Training Program (OFTP).
During dinner I asked both of them to briefly share why they want to be farmers and what they have been learning at the OFTP. Daniel Moffatt mentioned his goal is to start a farm where he and his wife could help the healing process for victims of sex trafficking. Antonio Cosme has an urban farm in his Detroit neighborhood where many immigrants live and where the average household income is about $20,000. He wants to help his community have access to healthy food and get a connection to the land with garden plots between buildings, neighborhood orchards, and places for people to connect with each other. It was inspiring to hear their plans and know that they will be having a positive impact on so many people.
We also surprised Chef Matt Tulpa, the chef who organized the other chefs for our fundraising dinner, and who does all our other farm to table events, with a donation for his trip to Stone Barns at Blue Hill Farm to study farm to table dining with Chef Dan Barber. Matt has been visiting different countries and working with other chefs to learn more about how to partner with the farmers and foragers around the world. We are excited that he shares this knowledge with us and our diners during our Farm to Table Dinners. It is so much fun to work with Matt. I love walking around the farm with him as he is planning a menu. We taste, scheme, dream, and plan unique and delicious things we can share with our customers.
At Stone Coop we have a wonderful group of employees and members that help at the farm. So many of them helped with the fundraiser to make it a success! Many of them also have connections outside the U.S. We have folks working with us from Mexico, Portugal, Ukraine, Russia, and Poland. Our little community of Stone Coop Farm is already having a global impact. It is a great reminder that like a drop of water in a lake, each person impacts so many other folks as they spread their good words and deeds. I was reinvigorated last night. Small farms can change and feed the world. Please support your local farms and farmers!
Recommended Reading and Viewing: Here’s an article and both of Dan Barber’s Ted Talks about two farms that do things radically different and are wildly successful.
Did You Know that I was a one of the U.S Delegates at Slow Food International’s Terra Madre Conference in 2014. I traveled to Turin, Italy with 5000 other small farmers and food producers from over 75 countries. That was when I started thinking globally. I met farmers from all over the world and we shared ideas, harvest tips, tools, marketing, and so many other things with each other. I stopped feeling like Stone Coop was a tiny farm in Southeast Michigan, only serving Livingston County. I realized that all the small farms in the world are impacting not only their communities, but they had a much farther reach than they imagined. We take care of the earth, it’s water, air, soil, plants, animals and people. We provide a basic human need, food. Humanity cannot survive without us.
Here is Slow Food’s Philosophy:
Slow Food envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet.
Our approach is based on a concept of food that is defined by three interconnected principles: good, clean and fair.
This month we are focusing on audacious business people. During our coaching session we talked about how we wanted to run our businesses and then our coach Noam asked us for 3 people that we admired and why. He also had us point out things about them that we would do differently because of who we are as individuals. He also recommended that we read books written by people who looked at organizations differently than the status quo. Last week I mentioned Yvon Chionard of Patagonia. Today I started another book by Dee Hock called The Birth of the Chaordic Age. Dee Hock was founder and CEO of VISA and chaordic is a word he created.
“Chaordic [kay’ordic] fr chaos and order
1. The behavior of any self-governing organism, organization or system which harmoniously blends characteristics of order and chaos. 2. Pattered in a way dominated by neither chaos or order. 3. Characteristic of the fundamental organizing principles of evolution and nature.
He also mentions that “The organization of the future will be the embodiment of community based on shared purpose calling to the higher aspirations of people.”
My journey this year through Abundance Cubed has helped me define what type of organization I want to create. I can say that at Stone Coop Farm we often feel we are combining chaos and order, but I would not say it is harmonious. We are also focused on community and a shared purpose and we are striving for higher aspirations of people. This has been intentional, but not organized. Therefore, I am looking forward to reading more from Dee Hock on how he carried out his vision of a chaordic organization.
He has insightful views about management and leadership. He feels you must first manage yourself before you can be a good leader. Second you must manage those who have authority over you. Third you should manage your peers (associates, competitors, suppliers, customers). Forth you should employ good people, teach them the same management skills and stay out of their way!
One of his MiniMaxims in the book is “Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead you peers, employ good people, and free them to do the same. All else is trivia.”
A quick breakdown of where Dee Hock felt we should spend our time was 50% management of self, 25% management of superiors, and 20% management of peers. He only had 5% of our time left to manage employees and that time was to recognize, reward, and stay out of their way.
Managing people is a challenge, and I continue to learn how important it is to focus on my own integrity, ethics, values, words and deeds. New situations arise all the time and I realize I have not clearly defined how I feel or how I will react. That is all part of how I manage myself.
Reading Dee’s book opens a new vision of what managing can mean. I can become an American Ninja Warrior, practicing how to negotiate the obstacles placed before me. Ok I am being silly, but what a fun challenge. Can I only manage my employees 5% of the time? Can I hire good people, recognize, reward and stay out of their way?
I met a farm worker last week that told me she was working at a conventional farm and they were spraying fungicide on the green beans while she was harvesting them. That means those beans were covered in chemicals the same day those beans were sold to someone to eat. Her body was also covered with those chemicals, without her permission. Yet at farmers market, this farmer claims to be almost as good as organic!
Be wary of those kinds of statements. Get educated about the food you eat, the farmers you buy from and ask LOTS of questions about their farming practices. Do they put chemical fertilizer in the water to irrigate? Do they add nitrogen, potassium, or phosphate (N,P,K) to the soil? Do they use GMO or biotech seeds? Ask if you can visit their farm. Stone Coop Farm welcomes visitors!
There are great, chemical free farms out there that are not certified organic. Those great farmers that grow healthy food will share the details about how they grow their crops and raise their animals. You will probably get a fantastic lesson on how to do it right, but you have to ask.
Stone Coop Farm goes through an annual organic certification process and here are the basic steps.
During the application process and onsite inspection, the organic inspector looks through all our paperwork. First they check, by looking at the seed packets, where we purchased the seeds to verify they are not GMO seeds and that they have not been treated with chemicals to help them germinate. Next they check all the things we use to grow our seeds or anything we add to the soil. We have to keep those bags and receipts. They want to find out where we get potting soil, compost, manure, etc.
They also check to see what we do for pest and disease management – do we spray for bugs or mold and what products do we use. There are approved chemicals for organic applications, but I don’t believe that if you have to wear a mask to spray them, that they can be healthy for me or my crops. So this question is super easy for us because we use no chemicals at Stone Coop Farm – so our answer is NONE.
Next they look at all our records for the crops:
Lastly they walk the property with me so I can show them exactly where everything is grown and verify it matches with the field map of the crops I provided.
We track everything at the farm so we can answer these questions. Part of the process is to verify we are not buying someone else’s crops and selling them as certified organic.
You may think – what a pain in the butt! My response is, these records make me a better farmer. I can tell you exactly how many peppers I got off of my Islander pepper plants, where I sold them, and how much money I collected. I can also tell you which crops didn’t produce well and which ones were more susceptible to pests and diseases. I then adjust our crop plan each year to become a better, wiser and more profitable farmer.
Isn’t this how all smart and sustainable businesses operate? Identify what isn’t working and fix it?
And one last point. If a non-certified organic farmer says it costs thousands of dollars to get certified organic and they cannot afford it, let me clarify Stone Coop Farm’s actual costs for the certification process. We are certified through OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association). They charge a flat fee of $1000. It is not based on sales. The USDA has a cost share program for all certified organic farms. They send us a check for $750 each year. So our actual certification cost to become certified organic is only $250 annually, not thousands of dollars.
It is also worth noting that conventional farms have no reporting requirements and are not inspected. They can spray as many chemicals as they please without anyone verifying how they have grown their crops. In fact over 60 billion tons of chemicals are used by conventional farms in the U.S. every year. Only 1% of all U.S. farmland is certified organic, and they have to jump through federally mandated requirements to prove they don’t use chemicals.
Recommended Viewing: I recently watch a documentary on Hulu called In Organic We Trust by Kiplin Pastor. It covered a full range of topics involving organic, conventional, small farm and big agribusiness, and the food we feed our children in schools. It was very informative about what does organic mean and can it be trusted.
Did You Know that according to the Great Lakes Region of the USDA, in Michigan 92% of all our corn and 95% of all our soybeans are genetically modified? Because there is so much controversy about GMO’s or genetically modified organisms, they have changed the name to “biotechnology varieties” or “biotech” crops. The only way to absolutely ensure that you are not eating chemicals or biotech/GMO crops is to buy certified organic. Here is a one minute video with quick tips to help you buy non GMO foods http://nongmoshoppingguide.com/
Each year our cherry tomatoes get HUGE! We have been trellising them each week to be able to walk through the paths and to be able to find the tomatoes to harvest them. It totally looks like we are wading through the jungle to find the treasure buried deep in the brush.
I have also been wading through the jungle of information this year for my business such as branding, marketing, pricing, sales, etc. This month in my coaching program, Abundance Cubed, we are reading books from several business owners who looked outside the business jungle so they could do something that didn’t conform to standard business practices. One of these books is Let My People Go Surfing, by Yvon Chouinard who owns Patagonia, an outdoor gear company. My husband worked for Patagonia for years when we lived in California and we know what an awesome company it is. We have clothing from them that is over 20 years old and still going strong. They also have an incredible stance towards minimizing their impact on this planet. Their mission statement is “ Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
This year I worked with my staff to develop Stone Coop Farm’s Mission statement, “At Stone Coop Farm we are friends with the earth and all its inhabitants down to the microorganisms in our soil. We are dedicated to being better stewards of the land and sharing our knowledge with others. Stone Coop Farm is a neighborhood farm supported by folks that care about the long term health of our planet and future generations.”
Patagonia has detailed philosophies for every component of their company. Every new product that Patagonia offers is designed to meet their mission statement and philosophies. That’s how I want to run my business and how I want to make a profit.
Recommended Viewing: Nydia talks about our pest management strategies at Stone Coop Farm and some of the reasons why we have chosen not to spray or use any chemicals on the farm. Protecting our planet and protecting ourselves by not spraying harmful chemicals is a crucial component of our mission statement and always has been.
Did You Know that many farmers have become accustom to “living poor”. It is tough to be a farmer. According to the USDA 2012 census, 75% of all farms make less than $50,000 in annual sales. It also showed that 70% of our farmers generated less than 25% of the household income from farming. So what does this mean? Most farmers work another job to support their families and their farms. Why are the folks that grow our food so underpaid? Why aren’t their jobs worth as much as a doctor or lawyer, when eating is a basic need for everyone?
But why don’t farmer charge and expect to be paid more for their food? Stone Coop Farm’s produce is not the cheapest and never will be. We are constantly reviewing our production costs. Other farmers are selling their products at a loss. For example, some farmers sell a bushel of tomatoes (53 lbs) for $20 or less. It is impossible to grow tomatoes that cheap. MAYBE you can harvest 53 lbs for $20, but there is still a cost to grow, water, weed, trellis, pack, bring to market and sell them. Then there is the cost of the tomatoes that are cracked or damaged that you cannot sell. And let’s not forget the costs of the gas, electricity, tractor, insurance, land costs, etc. Yes, tomatoes are a perishable crop, but come on, let’s be smart and charge prices that reflect the TRUE cost to the farm so we can own sustainable businesses! I don’t want to work two jobs to be able to maintain my farming fix!