So, are you sad that you didn't get to go to the Permaculture Voices conference? Did you go but you can't remember what was said? Well, I am an obsessive note taker (most of the time) and I took notes at most of the talks I attended. I will share them here with you!
Please note that this is in no way a transcription. These are my notes, taken in real time, on the fly, whilst trying to look at the slides and follow along. I find that note taking helps me synthesize information. None of this should be construed as an accurate quotation, even when I put it in quotes. (For example, I'm pretty sure not a single speaker used the utterance "Yo.") Much of the time, I am trying to summarize and it's entirely possible that I've gotten some things wrong.
My second notes document is Joel Salatin again. The topic this time was "Stacking Fiefdoms" In this talk he went more into how he gets more than one use out of a piece of land. Also, how he likes to empower rather than employ his ex-interns. The man is not a fan of simple salaried employment. He is an entrepreneur!
How small can a farm be? Pretty darn small—land is not the limiting factor.
You need to provide two salaries for a successful farm. How to get there? Gather data. How much time does it take to cover a row with reemay? How long to dig 2 lbs of potatoes? You need to do time/motion studies.
How many cow-days is your grass at today? How many square yards did you give the herd today? If you see that you gave them 10% too much room today, you have to know how much to give them tomorrow.
How do we bring people onto our team that can shore up our weaknesses? The first workers we turn to are typically our kids.
More is caught than taught. Kids pick up what you’re excited about. You gotta transfer the passion! You transfer the passion with excitement and a smile, not whining. Don’t tell me how it’s wrong, tell me how you fixed it. On our farm, from day 1 we made it competitive and fun. Turn weeding a row of beans into a game. If the kid wins, you need a cool prize!
Never give time oriented tasks. Only give task instructions - otherwise you are teaching your kids to dawdle. (Don’t tell your kid to practice piano for 30 minutes—tell them to get this song ready to play.) No allowance. Some tasks you do to be a member of the family. Here are things you will get paid for.
Incentivize project completion. We will get a drink after we finish two more holes. “What is with your son? He won’t let my son get a drink of water until they finish their fort?”
Praise, praise, praise. This is a dad thing more than a mom thing. If you want a partner when they’re 16, you let them be less than perfect when they’re younger. You are trying to inculcate a loyal partner.
Let the children develop their own enterprises. I got my first chickens at age 10—that was my thing. From 14-18 yrs I was at the Saturday market every week to sell my product.
Keep records. The kid needs to know what his stuff is.
His daughter started a baking business. His son started raising meat rabbits. Both kids had $20K of their own by age 20.
OK, what if it’s not kids. We don’t want employees. We don’t want “wages.” “I hate wages—it’s a setup for tension between workers and bosses. I like salaries, commissions.
Then his son got married—now there’s a daughter in law. Sheri found that she had to look at Polyface and figure out who’s doing what and try to figure out where she fits in. What do we need that I can do? At that point we had these urban drop off points, buying clubs. (My rule is that you need to pull in $2000 per market to make it worthwhile to go to a farmer's market.)
We carved out a delivery by the pound system to really quantify the costs of delivery. By having the delivery costs separate, we’re not subsidizing the delivered goods with the on-farm sales. You don’t apologize for the costs, you educate your customers. As soon as the restaurant business built up enough, we could create a one afternoon a week three hour part time job and give that to somebody who wanted it.
Sheri loves marketing. (Wow! There are people who love to do things that you hate! They can’t wait to get up in the morning and make some cold calls!!) The important thing here is: you don’t have to do it all. All you have to do is design the system so that you attract the people who can take on the tasks that don’t fit in your sweet spot (which is the intersection of what we’re good at, what we love and what we know).
If you can’t track your margins on every single enterprise, you won’t know what parts of your farm are earning you money!
Sheri took on the metropolitan marketing clubs. She took them from 30 families to over 5000 families from 2007 to 2014. She gets 3% of every sale from the buying clubs. At this point she has a really nice passive income stream. Our main delivery guy, he’s got a base salary and a benchmark for sales. Once he gets past that, he earns a hefty commission. He is highly incentivized to take care of customers. They now have another woman who is doing the restaurant sales (another home schooler) on commission only. There are multiple other producers who use Hannah now for restaurant sales. She works hard on Tuesday, calling all the chefs, then supervises the load-up on Thursdays. As it continued to grow, they split off the Washington DC restaurant sales to yet another woman. (Do-able because the careful book keeping allows such splitting.)
We have an intern program. They start out in a sort of boot camp. At the midpoint, they have a sit down—what would you like to do? We put on them the onus to create their salary. It is so liberating to not feel like we have to create jobs for people. We put the monkey on their back, we say—bring us a proposal.
I sure would like to eat communally, a M-F evening meal. How can we do that? We were dropping hints here and there. I also like having a garden. My son Daniel, not so much—he’d rather raise animals and buy green beans. Hmmm, if I want this, how do we get this done? About 6 years ago an intern called and said “Is that chef/gardener position still available?” He was not an employee, he billed for what he did, gave invoices for his production.
What has developed are “memorandums of understanding.” The time, Polyface’s obligation, the partner’s obligation and a non-litigation clause. We are renting nine farms in the area, some with housing on them. We have young people who are “contracting” with Polyface this way to use this land. We’ve created various benchmarks, depending on how comfortable the young person is with risk. (Story of the suffocated chicks—awkward!!) The more shared risk, the better, for Joel.
Having all these people doing all these things is hugely liberating for me. Now, I’m a germination tray, helping people germinate new ideas. A woman is now marketing school tours of Polyface farms. All sort of tours. Polyface gets a royalty, but she gets the rest of the money. Then, she decided she wanted to go to culinary school. Fortunately, a different intern took up the tour task. By having it be a totally independent enterprise, it’s really easy to just bequeath the role to another person. When our shitake mushroom guy left, nobody has been interested in taking that up. That’s ok. We’re still harvesting and someday someone else will take it up.
Gardener: the gardener pays us in so many pounds of product. Then, they put down everything they want to grow and how much they want to be paid for it. We trust they will have decent prices. Then we agree on a tier of marketing. The Polyface kitchen is the first market for the veggies. It completely changes the arrangement when she submits invoices for what she produces (versus just pulling a salary). The second market is the farm store, the third market is the restaurant business.
Last year Heather moved up to Maine. The farm she was at didn’t generate enough money to pay a full salary. Well, we are working on developing our own chickens (getting frustrated with the hatchery chicks).
(We spent three days with a state vet fighting animal abuse charges because a lady drove by one of our farms and saw the cows bunched up at 4pm ready to move.)
Heather said she’s like to hatch out chicks. We’re trying to figure out if we can we market the cockerels as meat birds. (Brown meat, orange fat, they are good.) We really don’t want to feed the male chicks to the pigs, but if we have to, we will. Our MOA with Heather specifies a price per pullet chick and cockerel chick. We’re hopeful this will work out.
So, look around and think: what sorts of things outside your farm can be internalized? Joel’s thinking they’re about to the point where the Polyface business (a $2million operation) can support it’s own mechanic/shop. An intern has started a new business called “Farm Fix.” He’s remodeled the shop, and now, for the first time Joel can break something and just take it to the shop and say “Fix It!” This young man is also going to do some egg mobiles, cattle and pigs on his rental farm.
I’m not trying to grow my own wealth, or my own estate. My deepest pleasure comes from watching these young people germinate their own ideas. If I were defining what is to be done, the dynamics would be completely different. We find this incredibly encouraging and empowering, to have people come in, not as employees, but as independent operators in fiefdoms. They can trade amongst themselves.
When you have a customer base, the easiest thing to do is to add a new product to sell to your existing customer base. It’s easier to find 100 people to spend $1000 than to find 1000 people to spend $100.
Don’t tell me you can’t find a 4 acre spot for veggies on a 1000 acre wheat farm. You could start a cider business on an existing apple orchard, without owning a tree.
We almost had a woodworker—we’ve got a saw mill that isn’t used enough.
There are so many development possibilities out there. How you structure the enterprise is key to success and comfort with trying new things. Fiefdoms of autonomy and authority. The MOA takes the compliance issues out of the equation.
My dream is that all of this 50% of American farmland that’s going to be changing hands, instead of being conglomerated, it will feed an explosion of entrepreneurial visionary young people who will take it, love it and nurture it.
Julia I am really impressed with these notes/summaries you are posting. I know it's not everything, but you capture enough to be of real value and make me feel like I was in attendance. Much appreciated!
Thank you so much, I'm loving these! Particularly love the fact that he starts by telling people to do time/motion studies. I've been doing it at the farm I work at since I started, and it makes everyone else laugh, but I LOVE data.
Agricultural Lead for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Prior Lake, MN
Matt Smaus wrote:Thank you so much, I'm loving these! Particularly love the fact that he starts by telling people to do time/motion studies. I've been doing it at the farm I work at since I started, and it makes everyone else laugh, but I LOVE data.
And it sounds so counter to what you think he would say. But it is dead-on right. It is stacking, efficiency, and time management--not per pound/bushel margin.
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi.
"Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
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