Here we go! My name is Taylor Mendell, and this is the first of hopefully a good chunk of posts about our farm's (Footprint Farm) 2022 year-end review and 2023 planning. (If you're new here, please check out this post about Hippo Camp, what it is and why we do it on our farm.) I plan to walk you through this process using our farm as the example in the hopes that you are able to use the same (or similar) process to evaluate your most recent season and use that evaluation to make informed decisions for where to take your businesses in the year to come.
Hippo Camp Step 1: A quick refresher
This process starts the same way each season, with a brain dump of all the best and worst parts of our year. Usually Jake (my husband and co-owner) and I sit down at the computer for this task, but this season we still have three crew members on staff so we took advantage of their wisdom and did a collective session. If you have a crew around, I highly recommend pooling your brains since you all have unique experiences and memories and will create a much richer list and discussion. This portion of Hippo Camp might be the most important step of them all because it informs each subsequent step. Therefore, I recommend blocking out 45-60 minutes of uninterrupted time, getting your supplies ready ahead of time, and scheduling it ahead of time so that everyone has some time to gather their thoughts.
The premise of this step is simple: make a list of all of the Achievements and Disappointments that you can think of from the preceding season. You can make this list on a computer, a white board, with sticky notes, on a big sheet of craft paper, or anywhere that is large enough for all involved parties to see it at the same time. I like to start by sharing our lists from previous seasons because it reminds us what we've achieved since seasons past, and/or gives us a kick in the pants if the same disappointment is still on the list after five years of not addressing it. Then we shout out achievements and disappointments/frustrations and capture them on paper until we either can't think of any more or we get off track to the point that it's time to call it quits. There are only a few ground rules and they are:
1. This is not a time for judgement of yourself or others. Disappointments are not failures, but are instead an opportunity to identify bummers/frustrations/hiccups in the hopes that they will be solved or lessened in the future.
2. Each item should be specific ie "I had a hard time finding empty space to put tomatoes on the tomato shelf" is better than "Tomato packing was stressful". If you can't narrow down your frustration, try asking "why" 2-3 times until you drill down to specifics.
3. This is time to compile a list, not to come up with solutions. If someone has a great idea for a solution, recommend that they jot down a few notes on a separate piece of paper. Solutions will come in a later step, but solution based discussions tend to distract from the task of compiling this list.
4. You will probably have a longer list of Disappointments than Achievements. That's ok. If it's bumming you out, look at last year's Disappointments list and see if you solved any of those items. If so, give yourself a pat on the back and add it to the list.
Achievements and Disappointments at Footprint Farm, 2022 season
Our own lists were much longer than in any year past, I think because we had more voices present. We sat in our greenhouse and I wrote our list on a large piece of craft paper taped to a piece of rigid insulation (it doesn't have to be fancy!). I will add a photo of the list, and some zoomed in photos so that you can see the whole list, but I will call a few out in particular because I have a feeling they will come up in future posts this Winter.
For me, the biggest achievements this year were in working towards some longer term goals around stress reduction. First, we built a new propagation house just steps away from our home. There were a number of achievements on the list that would not have been possible without the new space, and I'm super proud that we went for it because we didn't neeeeeeed a new prop house (we had a little one out in a far field), but our old one was a constant source of stress that was eliminated with this new construction. Also notable were our stellar crew, improved fertility in one of our leanest blocks, staff PTO and SIMPLE IRA plans, using GrownBy for CSA management, and various benefits related to switching over from remay to proteknet for insect exclusion.
The disappointments list, as expected, was quite extensive. It ranged from general annoyances of dead truck batteries or broken bikes to more serious questions of burnout during persistent crew absences (covid sucks). There were a few crop-specific disappointments (Colorado Potato Beetles ate our entire eggplant crop), but for the most part our frustrations revolved around systems (our Wednesday wholesale days have been way too hectic for a few years running), some infrastructure improvements (we have very little storage), and staffing questions (we tried a new staffing schedule this year that didn't end up working for us). None of the disappointments were a surprise to me, I think because we've been doing this for a number of years and we encourage our crew to talk about what's frustrating them. Some of those frustrations we can fix during the season, and (I think, or I hope) it's comforting to know that this bigger process will capture and address ongoing frustrations before they affect us for another year. Unfortunately there are some issues that have popped up in years past, and remain on the list. These are problems that either weren't annoying enough to address, or that we tried to but didn't quite hit the mark. The latter are the problems that are most interesting to me, and are the ones that we focus our efforts on going forward. For this year those issues were around a general cluttered feeling in our tool storage and on-farm CSA pickup area, general team burnout, hectic wholesale days, and cherry tomato trellising and harvest. You can see the whole list in the attached photo, but my bet is that those are the areas of focus that you will be hearing more about as we move through our Hippo Camp process. Please feel free to add your own biggest achievements and disappointments in the comments below!
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Taylor Mendell. I grow things for people to eat.