I started writing about Hippo Camp as a way to share our annual business review. As I've talked with farmers who are following along with Hippo Camp I've realized that for many people an annual review is a brand new exercise. (So exciting!) This process has been an essential piece of Jake's and my business, and acts as an annual check-in to see where we're at. However, that implies that we're checking in based on something that was previously defined. I feel I've done some of you a disservice in that I haven't shared more about the role of Hippo Camp in relation to our bigger goals, so let's get to that today.
Hippo Camp started as part of a larger business planning project. We were enrolled in a two year program called Farm Viability, which linked us up with a business advisor who helped us develop a business plan that we could present to a lender. During the first year we did a bunch of soul searching, which is easy to fall into when you're writing about who your ideal customer is, how you're going to sell things, and how that's going to get done. We found ourselves writing out goals and expectations that felt improbable. We were going to ask a bank to give us $300,000 and we felt like we didn't have the experience or street cred to back it up. We had been told over and over that the Vermont market was saturated, that CSAs are a bad idea, and that small town farmers markets aren't worth the time. Our sales weren't great, it felt like we were trying a million different things to see if anything would stick, and we were tired.
We decided to leave the farm for a weekend, rented a dingy little Airbnb, and committed to spending two days talking about our business and nothing but the business. We brought lots of colored paper, markers, tracing paper (why not?), and every record, receipt, and plan we had. Then we took it from the top. We asked ourselves the one, most important question, which was, Why are we farming? We asked what we liked about farming, what sucked about it, and made so many lists. We asked what our ideal customer looked like. We asked why we were selling the way we were. We asked why our bodies hurt and our energy was so low.
Through this process we realized that we were doing things in a way that we thought we should be doing them. Maybe because of a book we'd read, things we'd seen on social media, or rumors we'd heard at the local grocery store. We realized that running our farm that way wasn't fun. It was confusing. It felt like other people were successful using methods that we were struggling with, and that feeling was awful. Instead we took the advice of books like The E-Myth and dreamed up our Ideal Farm. This image became our driving motivation in all of our future decision making. It's also what we reflect on when we do our Hippo Camp.
Now, when we go through Hippo Camp we are asking ourselves if we upheld that image over the season, or if we found ourselves veering off-track. Our achievements are times when we got closer to reaching that ideal, and our disappointments are situations that took us away from it. Our personal budget supports us living the life we dreamed up, all of our marketing plans and crop rotations support that goal, and our daily actions reflect our ideals. Each step of Hippo Camp was then designed to take us closer to building our Ideal Farm. There may be steps that we use because we are motivated differently than you are, and that's something that's important to understand as we go forward. I want to give you an idea of how we are motivated, and encourage you to ask yourself a few questions to see if there are steps that you can modify or skip as we go forward. Or perhaps you'll add one or two.
With that, here's what motivates us.
We farm because we like the work. We like that it is ever changing, that there isn't one right way to do things, and that creativity is essential for success. We like having access to nearly unlimited fresh, nutritious food. We like to cook with that food. We like spending time with the type of person who is also drawn to this work. We like eating meals with those people. We understand that food and farming are undervalued, and always have been. We understand that it is hard to make a living. We want to make a living. We want to create a business that provides us with the means to live comfortably but not lavishly. We want to reduce the amount of time spent worrying about paying the bills. We want to get to old age with our bodies in tact. We want to have a family. We don't want to resent our farm for taking time away from that family. We value living in a beautiful place, and we acknowledge the privilege that got us to this land. We don't want to take that for granted. We like the term "sustainable", and we think it should be applied to place, people, and business.
As you can see, there is nothing in there about what kind food we grow, how we grow it, or who buys it. At our core we want to live a life that's rich in food and friendship, and we like the food and friends that come with farming. With these as our goals we're able to notice that particular production methods are hurting our bodies, and we allow ourselves to change our methods because of it. It also allows us to notice when we haven't been spending enough time with friends or family, and to really dig down into why that's happening. Most of all, it gives us flexibility to make changes when the farm isn't working for us any more. It helps us ask what's not working and why, and leads us to ask questions that can improve our situation.
If you haven't done an activity like this, I urge you to do so. You might come up with a paragraph or two, or a list, or maybe a mission statement. Once you do, write it down. In your brain's opinion, the act of putting it on paper actually makes it more important. I read that somewhere, and I think it's true.
Here are some questions to get you started:
What does your ideal day look like?
What invigorates you? (what makes you feel like you have more energy once you've done it?)
What wears you down?
Think of someone you really look up to. Imagine that they called you up out of the blue to congratulate you on your business or your life. Who is calling you and what, specifically, would they be impressed by/appreciative of?
If you had to stop farming tomorrow, what are the things you would be bummed that you haven't done yet?
Write about a situation or day that you felt was a huge success. Why did it feel so good?
What fears keep you up at night?
If you had an extra $1,000 per month, how would you spend it?
Alright. I hope that helps you all going forward. Let's get back to it!
Taylor Mendell. I grow things for people to eat.