Thursday, November 21, 2013

Farmers Blend Order and Chaos

To be chaordic is to harmoniously blend characteristics of both order and chaos in a pattern dominated by neither.

The definition of chaordic sounds like cryptic double speak to this farmer. So beside expanding our vocabulary of obscure words what does this mean?

The idea is to be flexible by embracing change while still maintaining enough order and continuity that your farm is successful.

Joel Salatin, that sage of farm wisdom, says that you can be a Buddhist or a nudist, but you can't be both a Buddhist and a nudist at the same time. Significant change is good, in fact farmers can be a change agent in their communities and in society at large. But too much change will cause you to loose those you are trying to lead and influence.

Here are some examples. Making the transition from conventional to organic production is good. But I have seen farmers who have not studied the requirements sufficiently and therefore were not well prepared. Or maybe they got the idea they they wanted to grow blueberries and their soil was not the right type. Or they wanted to grow 5 acres of raspberries without developing their markets and were not able to sell all the crop. Or they want to grow organic pigs or chickens without having a good source for the very expensive grain required. The list can go on.

Chaordic farmers have the following characteristics:

  • They study and understand the traditional approach to their chosen crops. They mine this knowledge for the best principles and practices.
  • They notice new trends or create them. 
  • They are a catalyst for change in their chosen farming area. They are change agents.
  • They create the conditions of innovation.
  • They facilitate the availability of new knowledge to other farmers and stake holders
  • They balance advocacy of new ideas with investigation of their own ideas.
  • They turn emergent ideas into best practices and teach others to use them
  • The focus on today while implementing innovations that shape the future
  • They create positive disruption and perturb the system
  • They are persistent and patient, if something doesn't work the first time they find a better way
  • They refuse to lose.
There is much wisdom in this list and much opportunity to innovate at the fringes of most agricultural fields. We have found the local farmers market to be a great laboratory for marketing ideas and new product development. We watch for trends, we listen to our most innovative customers, which are often chefs or other innovative eaters.

Occasionally, we lead the trend, because our customers and our competition have caused us to think in this direction. For example, I have been looking for a cost effective source of baby kale seed so I could provide traditional kale to our customers way ahead of the time in the season when regular kale was available. I found some last spring and had a great crop in process. This kale sold way better than I had thought it would and I later found out that kale was a major focus of the Gourmet cooking magazines for the spring season. That definitely helped, but having delicious baby kale was the lynch pin. Was this just dumb luck or had we anticipated a trend. I'll let you be the judge.

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