News from the Farm

Every Wednesday during the off-season from my local Farmer’s Market, an e-mail entitled “Farm News” arrives in my inbox. It’s a weekly reminder from a farmer who makes deliveries of meat throughout the winter. I always read it, even if I’m not placing an order that week, because it always contains an interesting story about life on the farm – a life I’ve never experienced! Of course, running a farm is no different than running another type of a business, and the farmer is the leader. And so there are leadership lessons to be learned. 

Recently he spoke about clearing away the green briars, multi-flora roses, and cedar trees from an old fence line.  Over the years he’d patched up the old fence, adding bits of new wire here and there, tying broken strands together with baler twine, and occasionally setting steel posts to shore up rotting wooden ones. The patchwork approach was no longer working, and a new wire mesh fence had to be installed. The lesson was about recognizing when something old needed to be disrupted or replaced. How many times in organizations do we need to conduct cost-benefit analyses and decide whether to replace a piece of equipment, install a new system, take a new approach, or introduce a new product or service?  

Speaking of new products and services, another week the farmer spoke about cross-breeding two rare breeds to produce hogs that have excellent grazing characteristics as well as superior taste. He explained how the slower an animal matures the better it tastes, and most rare breeds are slower to mature. Who knew!

Then there’s the “critter management” side of farming when he spoke about introducing a new ram into the flock of sheep. Like any new introduction, it takes a bit of time for everyone to get used to the new guy, so he closed everyone up in the sheep shed Saturday night - a bit of forced socialization. He had a similar experience last summer at the farmer’s market. He excused himself during my purchase to take an urgent call. The hogs had gotten out and invaded a neighboring property (another reason for a new fence?) and he was involved in crisis management. When I asked him the following week how the hogs were doing, he said they were penned up. I interpreted this as a time-out or disciplinary measure!

As in any industry, there’s always something new to learn, and I particularly enjoyed the post where he spoke about loving to see other farms and farmers and learning from others who face the same challenges.  Life-long learning…

Of course there’s never one definitive way to approach the challenges of farming operations, and there are many different ways to solve the same problem. In another post he described how lambing season is handled differently by different farmers, according to their management objectives and resources. While the methods described are very different, they all have their places and reflect the personalities and resources of the shepherds involved. A great example of situational leadership.  

There are examples of good leadership in every industry – we just need to look for and be mindful of them. I am grateful to my farmer, Jim Bourne of The Lamb’s Quarter in Calvert County MD for making me mindful of these leadership lessons.

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