Managing a Modern Farm is Just “One Damn Thing After Another”

Chris Michael
Bright Agrotech
Published in
4 min readJan 2, 2017

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One of the traits common among new farmers today is a feeling of burnout and lack of impact in their previous “9–5” careers.

They are sick of the repetitive “grind” — of doing the same thing week in and week out — and they see hydroponic farming as a nice change of pace to get them out of the cubical and into a lush, verdant greenhouse or grow room.

One mistake new farmers make, however, is defaulting to the romanticized idea that starting a farm involves planting a few seeds and harvesting the abundance a few weeks later, all the while sharing high-fives with their smiling customers.

Little do they know that starting a farming business — like starting any business — can be confusing, chaotic work.

Sure it’s possible to set up systems and SOPs to minimize the mistakes and the amount of time you need to be in the farm each week, but with that comes time (and toil).

When starting from scratch, it’s important you’re not betting on folklore to get your farm into the black.

Modern Farming = ‘Perpetual Preoccupation’

I see a lot of similarities between the toils and elation of our growing network of small farmers and that of my own struggles and joys as a manager at a startup.

Everyone wants to be in management, but not everyone really knows that means. Most would-be managers mistakenly chase the pay increase or prime parking spot, and don’t fully understand the scope of the job.

But being a manager isn’t merely following up on those TPS reports and organizing staff meetings.

Instead, it’s a job that comes with “perpetual preoccupation” as modern management thinker Henry Mintzberg would say.

You’re always doing something.

And if you’re not currently solving a problem, you’re sure as hell thinking about all the problems that still need solving.

It never stops… That’s part of the job.

The same goes for farming.

There’s a lot of hype around new ways to grow food using all kinds of crazy automated gadgets, mobile apps, and whatever else Silicon Valley engineers who’ve never grown a plant before, are dreaming up.

The common sentiment around growing food tends to sound like…

“Farming is sexy.”

“The local food scene is hot right now.”

“Hydroponics is clean and lets you grow food without getting your hands dirty.”

But perception is never really equal to reality. The fact is that growing food on a commercial scale has never been easy.

And much to the dismay of techies touting the latest “press a button and grow a crop” app, it’s no 4-hour work week.

Farming takes work. A lot of it.

Modern Farmers Never Stop

Regardless of whether you’re growing in a field with plows and tractors or in a warehouse without soil and under artificial light, you’re consistently “on-call” and need to be available to ensure your crops are growing like they should.

That’s especially true if you’re doing it as a career and you’re depending on the income to pay bills, buy groceries, and/or send your kids to college, etc.

This isn’t a patio herb planter that falls over, dies, and only costs you one more trip to the produce aisle at your local food co-op. There is a lot riding on every crop turn when you’re running a farming business.

And that means you’re constantly thinking about how to make the operation more resilient and ways to exercise more control over the health and growth of your crops.

You’re always “on” as a small farmer/business owner.

Like Mintzberg says…

“The manager [and modern farmer!] can never be free to forget the work, never has the pleasure of knowing, even temporarily, that there is nothing left to do.” — Henry Mintzberg, Simply Managing.

I thought that quote summed up life as a modern farmpreneur pretty well and I think it’s important for aspiring growers to understand the reality of the situation.

The fact is that while there are growing systems and software apps out there that empower modern growers with lower labor costs, higher yields, and much greater control over their growing environment, starting a business is difficult and requires you to be hyper vigilant if you want to see results or a return on your investment.

As a farming business owner, like any business owner, there’s never nothing left to do.

It’s one damn thing after another.

(And if you’re up for that challenge, we should talk!)

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