Ben Hartman is a market farmer and author of The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work. He and his wife Rachel of Clay Bottom Farm in northern Indiana have been practicing the “lean farming” philosophy for the last four years, and the results have been dramatic with increases in both profit and quality of life for their family of four.
Ben and Rachel started their own farm in 2006 in Goshen, Indiana. After about four years, the farm was profitable but they realized they were tired, and the workload was not sustainable. After being introduced to the concept of “leaning up” a business, they began to identify exactly what their customers value and want, and began to get rid of anything that does not contribute to value. Together with their farm workers, they identified numerous ways to cut waste, improve efficiency and increase profits.
“Over a period of three years our profits increased dramatically, we cut the size of the farm from three acres to less than one; we went from growing 60 types of crops to less than 30 and we work about 40 hours a week” explains Ben. “The heart of lean is eliminating waste and freeing up capacity. In our case, I’ve got two kids, and I’m working four days a week, so I’m spending more time with my kids.”
Working smarter, not harder, also prevents the kind of burnout that start-up farmers often encounter in the face of long, hard, backbreaking labor. Lean principles grew out of the Japanese automotive industry, but they are now being followed on progressive farms around the world. Using examples from his own family’s one-acre community-supported farm, Ben clearly instructs other small farmers in how to incorporate lean practices in each step of their production chain, from starting a farm and harvesting crops to training employees and selling goods. Read more about Ben and his family farm.