Monday, March 12, 2018

My TEDx Talk III

Continuing the transcript of my TED talk on "Farmers Market as a Business Incubator".


Our passion is farming and we love to grow great vegetables for our customers. You cannot be a leader in your field without a passion for that activity, its technologies, and the result. Passion causes us to move towards our goals and it creates leverage or a force multiplier to our efforts. It keep us going when the days are long. The market and face time with our customers is a catalyst for this passion.

For example:
  1. We want our varieties to be the best we can get for our climate and location. Best might mean different things depending on the context. It may mean best tasting. It might mean flavor combined with great disease resistance and productivity (as in the cucumbers we grow).
  2. We use growing methods that are compatible with our philosophy of soil building, carbon sequestration and stewardship of the land. But it just so happens that these methods also allow the vegetable plants to express their maximum flavor, quality, shelf life and yields. So these methods can also be the most profitable both in the short term and long term. We are constantly looking for better methods, new ideas and deeper understand of biological processes that make our plants thrive. New ideas typically are only new to us, there is great wisdom in relearning methods lost to modern agriculture.
  3. Our customers are part of our passion. Some of our best ideas come from our customers. We serve them, listen to them, and learn from them. We want to meet their needs and be their source of best practices for their gardens, preservation techniques, preeparation methods and education on usage of vegetables and herbs.
Farming, like other small businesses, is a laboratory for life. It embraces the complete spectrum of learning from planting to marketing. It has been a great teaching tool for our children. The market is the capstone of this experience.

The Ambivert Advantage

Have you ever been to a car dealership and had to deal with a very agressive sales personality. This is an extrovert. Or have you been to a party and observed the person who is quiet and comtemplative. This is typically an interovert. Which personality type makes the most sales? A research program by Adam Grant showed that both personality types sold about the same. Yep, the introvert sold about the same as the extrovert. The real break through in Adam's research showed the Ambivert (those between the interovert and extrovert) tends to be the best sales person by a significant margin of 30%. The “ambivert advantage” happens from being assertive and enthusiastic enough to persuade the prospective buyer and close, but also listen carefully to customers and avoid the appearance of being overly confident or excited.

In the past when farmers lived in a small community with people he or she grew up with they did not need a strong emphasis on persuasion. This is not true today. The farmer who wants to market to his neighbors in the city must sell the value of his or her products. Persuation is a skill the average farmer can cultivate and get really good at. The farmer's market can help today's farmers to step into the light and learn some new skills is a very supportive, friendly and forgiving environment. For example, if you blow the presentation there will be another customer along in 2 minutes to practice on. With that amount of practice you can get very good at it.


Innovative farmers follow market trends in food and gourmet vegetables. Even if most of your farm products are sold wholesale, the market is a great way to keep your pulse on the market and shopping trends. I've made recommendations to produce managers at stores we have sold to for new products they didn't know existed. If they were reluctant to embrace something new I would often consign the product for the first week or two. I'll describe this more in the examples from our family.

Rapid Deployment of Ideas

Many farmer's market customers are early adopters (in the parlance of product adoption S-curve). New ideas can be rapidly deployed and tested. If you have a new variety of arugula or a new type of pickles you can try it out on a willing audience at the farmers market. Shoppers typically represent a cross section of the community and sales would be representative of the community in general. The market is a ready made focus group.

Marketing approaches can be trialed. Let's say you have an idea for a new type of packaging or signage for your bedding plants. You can try it out at the farmers market first, before making a large scale commitment.

The Hockey Stick Effect

The hockey stick effect was initially a term used by climatologist Jerry Mahlman to describe the “disputed” rapid rise in the temperature record of the past 100 years after a period of relative stability. The period of stability is the handle of the hockey stick and the rapid rise is the blade of the hockey stick. This phemomena applies to other areas of life.

I think it applies to the development of of a small business, especially farming. I have found that the learning curve while substantial is uniform for the first few years as skills are learned, products (varieties) are explored amd markets are expanded. Then it seems that multiple factors align and the farm revenue often multiplies rapidly is a short period of years. In my experience, the knee of the hockey stick curve seems to be around 8 to 10 years. The farmer's market facilitiates this transition and likely accelerates it due to the factors we have discussed.

Don't Mark My Paper, Help Me Get and A

Kenneth Blanchard author of the “One Minute Manager” said when he was a college instructor he would pass out the final at the beginning of the class so the class would know exactly what was expected. I think the market as a business incubator is like this. Many farmers at our market are very cross cultural and non-traditional in their approach to farming and food. The market defines the final exam for the products being offered. It is there from the first week of the season. We have to learn the answers to the exam. The observant small business entrepernuer and the farmer are looking for the answers to why things work they way they do and how do we make those systems work for us.

The interesting thing is, if we do the right things in our relationships, finances, care of the land, and care for our customers, we can all get an “A”. There is no bell curve in life, if you walk the right path it leads to the right place. If we get on the right path, we can get an “A” every time.

In our next article we will look at the following attributes of the Farmer's Market at a small business incubator:

  1. Customer Value
  2. Employment

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