In the past we've called the second step of Hippo Camp "Keep Doing, Stop Doing and Start Doing". The goal was to discuss each disappointment and to put it into one of those three categories. This served us well as we were narrowing down which enterprises, crops and markets served our farm. These days those categories don't seem to fit as we are mostly tweaking existing aspects of the farm and it felt awkward to fit things into those three categories. To address this evolution, I changed the name and premise of the second step of Hippo Camp into "Disappointments into Action". This helped turn our 2022 frustrations into 2023 action items, and essentially created a master off-season to-do list.
Over a number of weeks we went through every single disappointment on our list with our off-season crew. We encouraged everyone to share any and all ideas they had that might address our disappointments making sure not to include shame, blame, or embarrassment. We wrote down every idea without spending time on judging said ideas. The aim was simply to create a huge list, and to keep the ideas flowing. Every time we got off-track we gently steered the conversation back to the list at hand, and continued until we had literally and figuratively exhausted all new ideas. We then left the list up on the wash/pack wall (it's still there) to keep the door open for further inspiration.
Jake (my husband and business partner) and I sat down with that list and sorted items by our four "improvement needs" categories: infrastructure, equipment, research and systems. (We've found that these are good ways to think about addressing issues on the farm, and most of our disappointments fit neatly into one of those categories.) This categorization is an especially important next step because we are headed into farming conference season, and it's nice to have a list of things we'd like to learn more about (research) on hand. This exercise in particular prepared me to go to the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference earlier this month, because rather than getting overwhelmed with the dozens of workshop options, I knew I wanted to hit anything focused on irrigation, reducing tillage, and cover cropping. I also popped into sessions on high tunnel crops and wash pack efficiencies in case there were ideas that would help address some of our equipment and systems related questions.
This categorization step is also important in that it helps inform our 2023 budget. I like to get at least a draft budget done by the end of the year to determine how much we need to raise our prices before posting our 2023 CSA (we always raise prices at least 25 cents/week, but this year more), determine a range of pay rates that we can afford (I like to post job openings by Jan 1), and to start to whittle down our wish list of investments (informed by our infrastructure, equipment, and systems improvements categories).
In addition to our usual year-end planning ie crop review, budgeting etc, this new Disappointments into Actions list helped build an off-season to-do list. We now have a healthy list of things to research, repair, and build that we can hand off to our winter employees, something that helps reach our goal of providing off-season work to folks who want it.
The next step in the Hippo Camp process is to set our yearly goals for the farm, something that is made infinitely easier now that we've heard from our crew, gone over ideas to address issues, and created a list of priorities for the coming season.
I hope your year-end reviews are coming along nicely, we're looking forward to getting our first seed orders in of 2023!
PS, Attached is a PDF of our 2022 Disappointments list with the compiled action ideas included alongside each disappointment. It's a bit messy, but there are some highlights, underlines, and bolding of items that are beginning to stand out as super important to focus on for 2023. You'll see this list get more organized as we move it through the next steps of Hippo Camp.
Taylor Mendell. I grow things for people to eat.