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Two Year Business Plans [Books
Posted on November 11, 2017 @ 11:37:00 AM by Paul Meagher

My pre-order of a new book by Ben Hartmann (author of The Lean Farm, 2015) arrived this week. It is called The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables: More In-Depth Lean Techniques for Efficient Organic Production (Nov, 2017).

I started reading from begining to end which I will continue to do, but I also started jumping around to the pictures and then reading all the yellow highlighted sections in the book that denote important topics. One such highlighted topic that I want to comment on is given below:

A Plan for a Beginning Farmer

In the first year don't tackle every crop in the seed catalog. Pick just a few. Starting out, I would seed mixed salad greens and a hardy spinach variety, such as Gazelle, as soon as the ground is workable, and every week until temperatures linger consistently above 72 F to 75 F. Greens are a sure sell in most markets. Then I would seed determinate red tomatoes in time to set out after the last frost in your area, or a few weeks earlier if you have a greenhouse or tunnel. BHN 589 is a dependable variety. In the fall, when nights start to cool to below 68 F, I would seed greens again. If you can master greens and tomatoes in year one, you are off to a good start. Other easy crops for the first year include radish, sugar snap peas, head lettuce, romaine, kale, and green beans. If you want to try starting a CSA, take on 10 customers and keep your season to 12 weeks. Keeping it simple will more likely result in success, and that will build confidence. ~p. 5

This plan is very interesting to me for a variety of reasons, some of which are listed below.

  1. Planning that gets to this stage of simplicity and clarity offers useful guidance. The objective of business planning is not complexity, but simplicity of process and purpose.
  2. The planning horizon implicit in this plan could be 2 years. That plan would involve using the first year of operation to gain skills and sufficient success and confidence that you are ready to scale up the next year. What isn't mentioned here is that Ben decided to go whole hog and used some angel money (from his family) in the first year to build up infrastructure for the second year so he was ready to scale to a full income level then. Trying to get infrastructure such as water lines, formed beds, greens houses, cooling areas, washing stations in place can be more difficult to do when you are also scaling up your farming orders (e.g., more CSA clients, restaurants, farmers markets). Ben Hartmann, like farming innovator Jean-Martin Fortier, focused in their first year on getting infrastructure in place while downgrading the importance of making a full-income from production in that year. Some income is necessary, however, to accelerate your learning and to validate the enterprise.
  3. The plan can also be implemented as a multi-year plan. You can keep your day job and start commercial farming as a side business. You might not be as ready to scale up in year 2 if you are taking this approach but you may be under no pressure to do so. If you have income from a job you like you can scale up the farming enterprise at whatever pace works for you.

I focused on a two year planning horizon in the title because that seems to me an important planning horizon for any type of business that involves building infrastructure before you can scale to a full-income level of revenue. I thought this plan for a beginning farmer is worth reflecting on as it makes clear some of the issues involved in 1, 2 and 3+ year plans and what you might be doing in each of those years in anticipation of scaling up to the next level.

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