Category Archives: Life

Leadership Skills that have come in handy this winter on the farm

In starting up the farm, there have been a number of skills from prior career lives that have proven very valuable.  This winter, I have come to appreciate the importance of those skills, and share these with hopes that not only in farming, but in business or in life, they may be of value to you.

Be Ready – Things happen fast on the farm.  An early November rain caused a bed of tulips to disappear.  While the rain had been predicted, the volume and intensity had not.

I had gone through the morning chores and was finishing some paperwork up in the office.  When I came home that afternoon, everything looked good.  Upon finishing (I thought) the nightly chores, I walked by the bed in the front, only to discover half of it was gone.   Several of the bulbs were salvaged from the runoff, and I re-made the bed.  Top of the list of next days activities was to dig a trench around that bed.

There are a lot of things that happen on the farm, and they can happen quickly.

A good leader is looking ahead for items that come up unannounced; problems that steal energies and focus.  When problems do show up, a good leader will adjust the plan to move forward.

2.  Be systematic – Many people look at farming and think of the idyllic simple life.  One of the greatest draws for us to this lifestyle was the simple life.  That being said, the simple life is not so simple when you have lots of things to do.  Many of the things are not hard, they just require you to be there.  Sort of like the button in the hatch on Lost; if someone didn’t key the numbers in, the island would blow up.  Not hard, but it did require doing.

Setting up systems has been a key part of the ability to add new items to the farm.  When winter started, I did not have a good system for the chickens.  Each morning’s routine was an additional 10 minutes of work, because conditions had changed.  A few hours of work and the new systems were in place, and we were back to a standard 5 minute routine each morning again.

A good leader seeks disciplined systems that allow for uniformity of the day to day stuff, while encouraging creativity in meeting new challenges that always come up.  A good leader makes adjustments to systems when environments change.

Be Flexible – On the farm, there are no titles.  One day you are a ditch digger, the next the marketing director, while on the third day you are the seeding engineer.  Whether you are working alone, or working with a team, you need to understand the tasks that are needed so that you can help react quickly.  You also need to be willing to wear multiple hats.

Two of my greatest leadership mentors have been models of servant leadership – they would never tell you that they are servant leaders, but every word, action and decision they make is servant led.

Leaders must be willing to pitch in to lead from the front, the side or the rear as the occasion calls for it.  A good leader will take on tasks that no one wants to do – because that leader understands the importance of the team, and that first and foremost, they are a member of the team – not the leader.  

Be Patient – This seems to fly in opposition to the first item, but really it compliments the first item.     Farms by natures are exercises in patience.  The most rapid growing plants still are running about 45 days in the ground.  Lots of stuff can and will happen during those periods.

Winter is even worse.  Several of the mentors that I look up to in the farm arena have confessed to digging up plants to check the root growth.  Ice and mud slows down machinery, fewer hours of sun means less working hours outside, and less production.

A good leader must have a strong faith in the team, the systems, and the plan, and must share that faith.  Any trip worth taking, takes time, and invariably doubt will creep in.  A good leader can help make that trip a positive growing opportunity for all by keeping the faith.

Four simple truths that I have come across in my travels –
Be Ready
Be Systematic
Be Flexible
Be Patient

They are helping us as we build the farm.

Enjoy the journey friends.

-Richard

 

PS – if you want to read more observations of farm life, check out the first article in a series called a Season on the Farm.

 

Can you Feel It?

A few weeks ago we were putting Tulips, Daffodils and Irises in the ground.  The feeling of the dirt between your fingers, the occasional worm and unfortunately too often rocks, felt good.  The funny thing about growing up, is we stop playing in the mud, and we don’t get our hands dirty.

Take a look at your hands.  What do you see? What kind of story would they tell?

When I look down, I see some sun spots on the back, a couple of cuts from splinters on the fingers, dry cracked skin from the recent cold.  There is the black mark in the pit of the palm that I’m pretty sure is from pencil fights in the second grade and the scrape from a fan blade on a 1984 Olds Cutlass.

I believe if these hands could talk, they would tell about the incredible adventures they saw while still small – slimy fish, muddy trails, and thick pine sap.  They would tell of the large hands that held them while walking, and the small hands that they held when they felt danger.

Walking outside now, the ground is frozen and will be for several more days.  Spring is coming, and with it the promise of dirty hands. That dirt, those hands, a little sweat,  some good insects, a little rain, a lot of sun and God’s kind mercy will produce a bounty of beautiful flowers.

Can you feel it?

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Friends!  2017 was a year of great changes, while 2018 holds the promise of much excitement.

It was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who said in character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.   I can’t tell you how excited I am to explore Longfellow’s premise in 2018, and to share those journeys with you.

A walk around the homestead today revealed these beautiful little frost flowers.   Tender frozen smiles on a bright bluebird day.

Good Monday Morning

Good Morning.   This day, and week hold the promise of several exciting developments at the farm.  Like our flowers, they start as tiny seeds, and before we know it turn into beautiful flowers.  Patience is required, and I’m learning each day about patience.

I have two experienced craftsmen coming by this week – one a carpentry and remodeling wiz, and the other an excavating and site preparation specialist.

I’ve shared our underwhelming house story.   The floor in the kitchen is falling in, the walls are very thin, and most of the windows need to be replaced.  Then there is the interior update – removing wall paper to expose the shiplap walls, building shelfs and setting up systems.  Systems are important, and I’ll talk about that in a new post.  We are looking at what is necessary to reinforce the footers and replace the floor in the kitchen.   That then lends itself to renovation of the new kitchen.  This is a “snow flying project”, meaning we will do it, when we can’t get outside.

Our second planning project this week is to look at the overgrown woods with an eye toward finding another 1 to 2 acres of tillable land.  For rotational purposes and to make the land more useful we are looking to clean it up.  We are also looking to clean a 3 acre easement which has grown up.

Toward that end I took a long walk yesterday, with an eye toward where our time was best invested with a bull dozer.  What a reinvigorating walk not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually.  Seeing again the rolling hills and the small draws, this time with the knowledge that the moment was getting closer to transforming the land, really brought the importance of patience to mind.

Today I’ll begin the formal work on the logo.  A little thing, but an important thing.  When you think about it, it is often the first impression people will have of you, and your business.  So many things that come up when I think about the logo, so it is time to put them in pixels and see what represents us.

Finally, the weather this week looks to be colder.  That means another round of tightening on the greenhouse, well house, and the chicken house.

Lots of work planned, lots of patience required as we have miles to go, but wow what a difference a week makes.

Have a great week friends.

Deeply Rooted

Mom and Dad had told me that they had videoed a special on PBS about a guy who was saving seeds from Washington Parrish in Louisiana.  I was blown away when I watched it with them.  Not only was this an excellently prepared documentary, but the subject John Coykendall was fascinating.

Here is a link to the trailer.   http://www.lpb.org/index.php/site/programs/deeply_rooted/

The documentary is called Deeply Rooted, and was put out by the Louisiana Public Broadcasting System.  John Coykendall is a seed saver from Knoxville who is the master gardener for Blackberry Farms.  Blackberry Farms is a luxury hotel and resort in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains near Townsend.

What I found fascinating was the approach – saving seeds, and stories.  Mom, Dad and I had the best conversation about their experiences.  Both of my parents grew up in Smith County Mississippi, which is well known for their watermelons and tomatoes.  I had a particular fondness for purple hulls peas that grew in Smith County.   Mom and Dad grew up with farming as a matter of survival – it wasn’t a choice.

That is the stories that John Coykendall was telling.  One of the stories that I heard him tell was of the wash day pea, which is a small pea that cooks quickly, and was cooked on days when the women of the family were doing laundry.  Its a small thing to think about not having the time to cook a larger pea, but when that is life, it is a big thing.  The wash day pea was the forerunner to fast food.

Do yourself a favor, and call your local PBS affiliate to find out when they are going to show this documentary.  You will not be disappointed.

What a busy few weeks

What a busy few weeks it has been. Lots of change, and excitement. Let me do some ‘splainin.

A new job – I started full time work on the farm. This has been a roller coaster of extreme excitement, self doubt, and apprehension. I think this is normal, and each day brings a stronger confidence in the direction and choices that have been made. Every day starts early, but with a purpose. A social media post that came up on my feeds today was GRIT – Get Really Intentional Today. That has been the way that each day starts. By midmorning I can look back and see a number of things that have gotten done.

Lunch usually starts between noon and 2, and is usually a pretty small lunch, followed by a quick nap – I do enjoy the nap.  The afternoons are usually very physical, which has been a great diversion from sitting in meetings day in and day out.

Our big projects have been to improve drainage, including adding culverts like the one above, and field preparation including cutting down tree’s which shade the fields.

So change 1 is a new boss.  He is a hard taskmaster, but I like him.  He usually looks me in the eyes at the end of the day, and lets me know I’ve done a good days work.

Change 2 is an intentional focus on getting the flowers ready and in the ground.  We’ve put together a temporary seed starting station.  That station will allow us to prepare about 2500 seeds at a time.  We have a good portion of it on solar power, and will be moving all of it to solar powered when we move it to the greenhouse.

That intentional focus includes adding hoop houses in order to extend our seasons.   Our existing greenhouse will be devoted to seed starting and potting, while in the back field we will be adding two hoop houses in the coming weeks.

Finally, I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on regarding flower farming.  There are a lot of great materials online.  At the end of the day though, there is nothing like experience, and dirty hands.

Can you Smell It?

The crisp smell of Fall is in the air. Wood smoke from a distant chimney mixes with the smell of leaves and the residue of rain which is trailing off.

Nope, that’s not what I smell. I smell Horse Stuff. We have gotten several loads of Horse Stuff. Horse Stuff is good for our flowers in the spring, so right now, we tell ourselves that Horse Stuff smells like fresh flowers. We are very glad to get Horse Stuff.

The Horse Stuff is good for flies, if you like flies. We are very much excited for our temperatures to drop down to encourage the flies to move further south.

Can you smell it?

Farmer

I hopped on Linkedin – a business networking site on Saturday, and was prompted with a notification that several people had looked at my profile page. This is common, as many recruiters and companies will often reach out when they have need to ask a question or maybe see if I am interested in changing jobs.

As we are chronicling here, I’m undergoing a bit of a transition. After almost 30 years in Technology, I’m looking at other options about how I can serve in this world, and best use the talents I have. My profile description on Linked is: Team Focused IT Executive, Market and Flower Garden Farmer. I’ve gone through the description several times, trying to put the right title onto the page.

This time the search results were different though. Most of the searches were based on the word Farmer. That kind of surprised me.

Its been amazing to April and I as we go into this journey the number of people who not only don’t disapprove, but are seeking the same kind of future. We used to whisper our dreams – I, uh am going to be a flower farmer, wow this weather has been crazy right. Lately though, we have gone from whispering our goals, to finding a voice that reinforces the dream.

So the search results showing more people looking for farmers than for project management, or Team Focused, or IT Management still floored me.

But really should it. Joel Salatin, a vocal farming advocate asks the question – Do you know your farmer. Go by any farmers market and then run by the local grocery store. 10 at the grocery story to 1 at the farmers market – I’ll guarantee it. Most people (myself for years as well) would rather go get anonymous food than spend a little more to get fresher food. Or better yet – to grow your own fresh tomatoes or greens. Thats a rant for another day.

I feel like I am not ready to give advice or be available to be the FARMER for those who were seeking on LinkedIn. I have a lot to learn, and continue to be amazed at the people who keep our country fed. I will get there, and am enjoying sharing the voyage with you.

Windy Night

There is a clear feel that winter is on its way. The leaves have begun to wind their way from tree to forest floor. The grass is slowing its growth, and the animals seem particularly diligent in getting items set aside for winter.

Our part of Tennessee is immune to many of the hard winter concerns that other homesteads might have. While we will get cold, usually our cold sticks around for a week, maybe two and moves on. Likewise snow or ice. Our difficulty in both snow and ice is simply the hills and ability to clean out in a short time.

Tonight just felt like a soup kind of night when I left work. A hearty stew to take the chill away, and to stick to the ribs.

We tried to prepare for the upcoming winter season this weekend by taking down a couple of troublesome trees that were near the barn, by taking down fence that we should have not put up (at least until we had cleaned the woodline to remove shadows in the late day), by cleaning up the gardens to put out a cover crop, and by tightening up the chicken coop.

Part of me was very critical of the idea of bush hogging the garden. Seems like a decent farmer keeps the grass at bay, so at the end of the season, you don’t have to cut the jungle back. In the end, I reconciled that the garden provided what we needed, and was there for utility, and not just for looks. Bush hogging is ok.

The winds continue to switch direction and the back door shivers from the blowing north wind. Should be a great night for a book and sleep.

Sometimes men just need to create something on their own

I listened to Dick Proenneke’s great book Alone in the Wilderness this weekend. What a great listen. One lesson Dick shared was that we were built to create.

“I realize that men working together can perform miracles, such as sending men to walk on the surface of the moon. There is definitely a need and a place for teamwork, but there is also a need for an individual sometime in his life to forget the world of parts and pieces and put something together on his own – complete something. He has got to create.”– Richard Proenneke, Alone in the Wilderness

What a great observation. That is one of the items that I like about the self reliant lifestyle – the desire to create and support alone or with a small support system.

If you have not read the book Alone in the Wilderness, you owe it to yourself to read it, or might I recommend the audio version.  If ever there was a better advocate for simplifying, creating, and enjoying the wilderness, it has to be Dick Proenneke.  His exuberance and excitement is contagious and speaks more clearly as life becomes more complicated.