At A Glance
Title: The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work
Author: Ben Hartman
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
Release Date: September 2015
Cover Price: $29.95
Target Audience: farmers who want to scale back so that they can grow more
Any good farming book will teach you a few good tips or tricks on how to farm better: more efficiently, more productively, more profitably. But if you grab only a few tips from Ben Hartman’s book The Lean Farm, I will be shocked. This book might change your life and farm forever. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
Released last September, the impact of The Lean Farm is still reverberating. It’s one of those books that didn’t just make a splash—it created a tidal wave. If you’ve noticed your fellow farmers looking a little calmer, more relaxed and less crazed, it could very well be due to the lessons of Hartman’s book.
The Lean Farm is a bit like it sounds: a book about cutting the fat to make your farm a “leaner” place—and it’s definitely about that. But it’s also a book about why to cut the fat and why to be efficient. In one of the many autobiographical moments of the book, Hartman tells a familiar story to most farmers.
“We were making it, but workdays were long, leisure time short. Some days we worked from sunup to well past sundown and still had supper to prepare … We had a sense that if our farm was to survive for the long haul, the chaos would need to settle down.”
One of Hartman’s customers, a lean practitioner who runs an aluminum trailer manufacturing company and offered to give them some tips, invited him out to visit his factory, and not long after, he decided to give lean a try, as well.
And his farm has never been the same. By reducing waste, Ben and his wife, Rachel, claim to now “grow more and sell more good than we ever thought possible.”
Going lean isn’t just a generic idea about cleanliness and efficiency. Rather, it’s a well-tuned practice employed predominantly, but not exclusively, in large companies and factories (most famously by Toyota). For a simple definition, “lean” means “to ruthlessly eliminate waste—anything the customer does not value—from your production system.” To translate this to farming takes a little imagination, but Hartman does a great job of showing us how to take the lean principles and apply them to a place as messy, unpredictable and alive as a farm.
After reading The Lean Farm you are left with not just with a few new ways to be efficient and profitable, but with an entirely new way of looking at your farm. You begin to identify your farm’s waste—whether in transport, in time, in overproduction or otherwise—and utilize different tricks to get rid of them and keep you thinking lean. Perhaps that means creating a specific spot for each of your tools so you know immediately when something is missing. Or maybe it means taking a picture of your wash shed to reference every day to ensure everything stays in order. Regardless, something about your farm will change. Maybe even everything.
The Final Word
For Hartman, applying lean principles to his farm helped to stabilize his income, reduce his working hours, improve his relationship with his customers, and find the time to write an excellent book about it so we may now all do the same.