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The Mind-Boggling Concept of Planning

Advice for planning with a spouse: bring the booze

I always thought of myself as a good planner and goal-setter. I’d set a goal, develop a plan for how to get there and every once in a while I’d actually achieve it. Sweetbreads and I have run two (very) small, but profitable, businesses in the past and that required a fair amount of forethought and also taught us a lot. However, I will tell you one thing for certain, no amount of experience in my prior life prepared me for the type of planning required to start a farm business.

What got me thinking about this was when we sat down recently to write down, review and discuss Little Seed's timeline of goals and vision for the future. I’m a firm believer that sitting down, discussing ideas and putting them on paper will make accomplishing a dream a reality. This is not a one-time process, it is rolling. It needs to be done on a regular basis and it needs to be highly flexible on the edges, but firm in the center. For us the center is Little Seed's set of Core Values. Our planning process involves everything from the next month, two months, six months, year, two years and well beyond. Oh yeah, it also involves a fair amount of beer and wine so that we don't kill each other. Ari Weinzweig’s book A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business really solidified a lot of the concepts of visioning and goal-setting for me, you can read 15 pages of the book in the link above, I highly recommend it (there's some real meat behind the cheesy-ness). This evolution of thinking about the future really put the rest of life into perspective and in many respects made the day-to-day stuff a lot easier.

My current situation is kind of crazy when you think about it. Right now I’m trained into a sense of security and, honestly, complacency. If I were to retain my current job I could theoretically not worry about anything besides performing well, cashing my paychecks, paying the rent and later on having kids and hopefully retiring. Now, life’s not that not easy by any means, and of course there’s other stuff I’m not including, but it really boils down pretty simply. I may not have any true security in terms of being able to survive if the U.S. really did suffer a catastrophic meltdown, but I’ve been adequately trained to believe that could never happen. After all, hasn’t that been the point of all this technological and economic “progress” of the past 235 years? Well, now that we want to take it back a few generations I’ve realized some of the reasons why the “simpler” life might not actual be so simple.

Farm planning ties together unique social, economic and environmental situations; it's never one-size-fits-all. I’ll give you one tiny example amongst a plethora. We want to make farmstead cheese and sell it to people. How long does it take to plan something like that without any prior experience whatsoever? So far it’s taken us about 10 months and we probably won’t have any cheese to sell until 2013 and maybe even 2014, so that’s about 3 years, maybe more. It requires saving lots of money, buying land and animals, having those animals make babies (who’d have thought an animal actually has to make a baby to give milk? Certainly Monsanto or ADM can fix that), learning how to make really good cheese that people will want to eat (and pay for), developing animal husbandry skills, building a creamery and milking parlor, marketing and selling the end product, and the list goes on and on and on. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I love this stuff. It makes me happy to get out of bed everyday and know that I got a full plate of stuff to do and think about. I love it so much that I’m actually a bit envious of the farm consultants that have a small farm at home and get paid to go around and help other people plan. A lot less risk in that. I’m just reflecting on the fact that an amazing amount of thought goes into being a successful farmer and that each day we continue down this path I have more and more respect for those folks out there making it happen. Cheers to y’all, you’re true heroes.

So when was the last time you actually thought 3+ years in advance? I’m mean really thought about it, not like, yeah, “my kids will grow up and play soccer” thought about it. I know I never really thought in much detail beyond maybe six months to a year in advance. And I don’t know that my life ever would have really required me to either...