Book Review: The Lean Farm

I recently finished reading The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman. ThiThe Lean Farm s book is going to be a game changer for our farm and I cannot wait to begin putting some of the practices in this book to use. I’m also giddy because we got to meet the author and hear him speak at the Young Farmer’s Conference earlier this month. What a treat! He is super down to earth and easy to talk with, open to answering questions, and an all-around nice guy. I also loved learning (from his book and his talks) that leaning his farm has meant growing on less land (5 acre property with less than an acre under production) and reducing the number of crops they grow, while at the same time becoming more profitable. Thanks, Ben, for sharing your insight! I should note, too, that we got to meet Steve Brenneman, who owns the Aluminum Trailer Company and is a lean coach. He is a CSA customer of Ben’s and helped Ben implement lean practices on the farm. Steve’s factory is highlighted in the book as well.

The basic concept behind lean is to eliminate non-value-added waste (muda) and put your customer at the center of all that you do. In a previous job, I received some training around lean six sigma and got to the level of green belt. I had thought about lean on the farm, but never to the extent that this book proposes. Ben simplifies lean, saying it’s about looking at your product/service and asking, what is my customer willing to pay for? The answer shows you the value-added elements of your product and everything else is waste. The waste activities may be necessary for you to get your product to market, but if the customer isn’t willing to pay for that, then you want to try to minimize that as much as possible.

Some of the lessons I hope to apply this season include:

  • Applying 5S to the farm: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain
    • Identify and eliminate physical waste
  • Allowing customers to tell us what they value
  • Value stream maps to see what a customer is willing to pay for and reduce/eliminate waste
  • Rooting out process waste:
    • overproduction
    • waiting
    • transportation
    • overprocessing
    • inventory
    • motion
    • defects
    • overburdening
    • uneven production and sales
    • unused talent
  • Tools to get rid of waste:
    • minimize moves
    • lighten the load
    • don’t overdo
    • 5 why’s
    • mistake-proofing
    • shorten cycle time
    • choose technology with a human touch
    • order supplies just in time
    • benefit from expertise of others
  • Tools to remove farm management waste
    • practice production control
    • cut costs to grow margins
    • replace low-profit items with high-profit items
    • maximize fixed costs
    • level the load
    • use metrics to measure work
    • balance creativity with discipline (15% rule)
  • Use pull selling – have available what customers want when they want it
  • Kaizen (continuous improvement)

The book is full of applied examples of all the above concepts as well as case studies and pictures. I highly recommend it for current farmers. As we look at growing in limited space, we want to be profitable with the land we have. We are not looking to grow and get bigger; rather, we are looking for a good life in which we grow quality food for ourselves and our customers. We want to work smarter, not harder to make that happen. The Lean Farm gives us a number of tools we can employ to help make that happen. There are several ways we can lean our farm to make it more efficient, less wasteful and more sustainable. Thanks for this great resource, Ben!

0 thoughts on “Book Review: The Lean Farm

    • Annabel says:

      Hi Mordechai,
      Thanks for commenting. I just published a new post with a link to Ben Hartman’s interview with Chris Blanchard on the Farmer to Farmer podcast – it’s a great teaser to the book and gives several examples that are also in Ben’s book. Enjoy!