EVENT RECAP: Ben Hartman of ‘The Lean Farm’ speaks to farmers from across the Basin in Kimberley

Posted by Hailey Troock on January 30, 2019

*Farmers in featured image (L – R): Christian from 3 Crows Farm/Cranbrook, Nigel from Cartwheel Farm/Creston, Cali from Salix and Sedge/Salmo, Ben Hartman, Sarah from Stone Meadow Gardens/Castlegar, Emma from Bent Plow Farm/Blewitt & Kate from Hoedown CSA/Pass Creek.

On January 21st, a diverse group of more than 40 people came together at Centre64 in Kimberley for a presentation by Ben Hartman, author of The Lean Farm. This was Ben’s third stop on a tour of British Columbia that brought him first to Langley and Victoria before hopping on a flight to the East Kootenay.

After brief introductions on the program offerings of the hosting organizations by Rachael Roussin from Kootenay and Boundary Farm Advisors and Hailey Troock, the Young Agrarians Columbia Basin Land Matcher, Ben started his presentation off by asking for introductions from the group. The group was comprised of folks from across the Basin, from as far west as Castlegar, as far south as Erickson, as far east as Fernie and as far north as Invermere – from prospective farmers to those with more than a decade of experience.

After sharing a little about his background, personal history and what brought him to farming, he dove right into the nitty gritty of Lean Farming. Ben went over the five Principles of Lean, showing maps of his farm, organizational processes for employees, tools he uses for farm organization and to remove waste, streamline and practice ‘kaizen’, or ‘always improving’.

Ben Hartman speaks to a group from across the region at Centre64 in Kimberley, BC.
Ben Hartman speaks to a group from across the region at Centre64 in Kimberley, BC.

One of Ben’s first pieces of advice involved his customer service. He believes that the customer defines value. He made a comparison of successful farms and farms that fail. While successful farms are at the “backend”, letting others innovate the system and customers guide the decisions, farms that fail often do so for reasons of fascination, whether technological in scope, or product and process related.

Rather than working his crop plan around unusual seeds that might be fun to grow but have no market, Ben takes information from customers then plans his seeding calendar. He essentially plants his crops for exactly when his customers need them. He also goes as far as asking each customer their preferred communication method.

On Ben’s Lean Farm, there are three types of farming activities: Type 1, or those to be minimized, which are necessary but don’t add value (think weeding, keeping records, seed catalogues); Type 2, or those to be eliminated, which are pure waste (hunting for tools, tripping over things, organizational inefficiencies), and Type 3, or those to be kept, which add value to your crop (such as seeding, harvesting, weeding, washing, delivery, or any direct action that causes the value of the farm crop to go up).

Ben walked the group through a mapping activity with sticky notes to help identify and eliminate waste, or muda, on the farm, including (but not limited!) to:

  • Overproduction waste occurs when a product goes from production to compost. To avoid this, Ben practices stacked marketing so that he always has a backup outlet if one customer falls through. He also under produces and makes sure to sell out.
  • Waiting waste occurs in instances like waiting for things to dry before packing or processing. Here, Ben uses three washing machines that have been modified to dry greens to decrease wait time. He also eliminated his walk in cooler; crops are harvested and out the door within four hours.
  • Transportation Waste and overprocessing waste are also risks. For the latter, Ben removed packaging for carrots and realized he could sell out without it.
  • To minimize inventory waste, Ben doesn’t keep food on the farm, maintains the lowest stock supplies possible and replenishes often. He also orders fresh seeds every month in small quantities to maximize germination rates, which he essentially grabs from the mailbox and puts straight into the soil.
  • To explain motion waste, a spaghetti diagram was used; when people and product move, a line is drawn and an X is placed when waiting occurs.

Ben also shared his approach to ‘no weed farming’ with the group, which is summarized below so we can all have weed free gardens and farms!

  1. Stale bed preparation 3 weeks ahead: kill the first crop of weeds
  2. Transplant everything you can
  3. Keep farm at full capacity and crowded
  4. Minimize deep tillage
  5. 2 month rule: get mulch if crop is in the ground for 2 months or longer (ex. tomatoes, peppers and  zucchinis)
  6. June 1 Rule: have a weed free property by June 1 so that plants can maximize their photosynthesis during the sunniest and hottest months
  7. Never allow a weed to seed
  8. Perimeter and aisle control: use a wheel hoe or mini tiller

Thank you to everyone who attended the event, our volunteers and to Kootenay and Boundary Farm Advisors and Columbia Basin Trust for making the event possible – and a huge thank you to Ben Hartman for traveling from his farm in Indiana to share knowledge and break bread with young agrarians across B.C.!

If you missed Ben’s workshops in Southern B.C., don’t worry! We’re bringing him back for a Northern tour. He’ll be visiting Smithers on March 2 and Prince George on March 3 – check out our events page as we add details for these workshops: youngagrarians.org/events. If you can’t see Ben in person, there’s lots to be learned from his book, The Lean Farm.

If you’re in the Columbia Basin, missed this event but keen to attend the next, we have a Farm Business Planning 101 Workshop and Community Potluck with Farmer Slideshow taking place in Winlaw / Vallican on February 2nd! Also in the Basin, the B.C. Land Matching Program offers personalized, hands-on land matching and business support services to new farmers looking for land to farm, as well as landowners interested in finding someone to farm their land. Reach out to the Columbia Basin Land Matcher for more information: hailey@youngagrarians.org


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