Do you value simplicity as a virtue? Or is it something you rarely think about? In this series with Conor Crickmore of Neversink Farm, we’re going to discuss how Conor and his wife, Kate, learned to simplify their operation in order to make their business more successful and more profitable.
Conor firmly believes that it’s better to be really good at one thing than to try to do many things all at once. When you focus on one thing, you can learn about it, invest in it, eventually become efficient in it, and maybe even become an expert at it.
That’s what Conor and Kate did on their farm. They quit trying to raise animals and instead focused on just growing vegetables. Although at first they weren’t great at it, they’ve now become experts.
After years of trial and error, they finally determined exactly what they were good at: choosing and concentrating on crops that are the most profitable and picking the best markets. Because they did these things, they were able to simplify their systems and do less while keeping the farm consistently profitable.
The Changes that Led to Success
Conor credits their success to the small, incremental changes they made over the years.
Some of those changes include implementing efficient watering systems, improving germination rates, and bettering the soil. They also chose which varieties they were able to grow well and stuck with those.
To this day they’re still making changes in their processes, from seeding to watering to harvesting.
Eliminating Bottlenecks and Streamlining Processes
Conor’s process of improving his farm doesn’t really follow a strict set of rules. Some people might be able to pull out binders of harvest records, but Conor admits to being too lazy to be bothered with that.
He prefers to take a vegetable and figure out how much he’s making on it. Sometimes he takes a stopwatch and times how long it takes to harvest certain crops and makes changes as needed. Most of the time he just tries to observe. When something isn’t working well he’ll brainstorm with Kate to figure out where the issue is, and then they’ll work together to solve it.
As for bigger decisions—usually, ones that cost money—he and Kate sit down and have a thorough discussion on which option will best benefit them and their farm. Streamlining processes at Neversink Farm comes from about 90 percent on-the-spot observation and 10 percent formal check-ins.
Common Bottlenecks at Farms
Weeds. Weeds are the number one issue facing organic growers. This is a big bottleneck because if you have a weed problem, you won’t be able to improve seeding efficiency or harvest efficiency. You’ll also have a hard time dealing with diseases that will plague your crops.
Reducing weeds is tricky because there’s no spray or special machinery at the market gardening scale that will magically solve the problem. It takes hard work.
Complexity. Many farms’ systems are too complex for their own good. They have too many vegetable varieties and too many ways of doing things. Too often there’s just no system in place. And if you do try to implement a system, where do you even start?
This is why Conor prefers to keep things simple. It’s easy to standardize and systematize that way and therefore to make the workflow more efficient.
Key Points to Neversink Farm’s Success
The biggest things that have made Conor and Kate’s farm successful are the mistakes they made along the way. They made small mistakes, big mistakes, and really big mistakes. It forced them to learn quickly and to figure out what those mistakes had in common. Was it ignorance? Laziness? Infrastructure?
Whichever the reason, they developed a philosophy: quickly simplify what you can and reduce work anywhere you see it. This means putting in some work ahead of time to reduce the work going forward and making smart infrastructure decisions to make life easier.
In the next post, we’ll dive into how Conor simplified his marketing and sales efforts.
You can learn more by checking out our podcast with grower Conor Crickmore:
And you can find all our market gardening podcasts at Farm Small, Farm Smart—the longest-running podcast on market gardening in the world.