Probably the most important thing that happened to us in 2012 was that we were selected to be in the first class of Beginning Women Farmers and Ranchers in Texas conducted by Holistic Management International. Only 33 women were selected so we were extremely fortunate to have been among them. What is Holistic Management you ask? Well, it begins by teaching you that in nature, nothing operates independently. All ecosystems processes are interconnected, just as people have interconnections like family, friends, etc. Changing one thing can lead to unintended consequences if you don’t consider the whole system you are operating in. So to begin, they had us define what it is that we’re managing – basically a description of the farm, the nursery, the resources we have. Then we wrote our ‘holistic goal’ which is what we’re managing towards. This goal includes things like quality of life statements, behaviors we must perform to achieve those quality of life statements, and our vision of what the farm will be like in the future. After you have articulated your holistic goal, then you test your management decisions to see if they’re leading towards it or away from it. It’s deceptively simple yet complicated at the same time.
That was just the first class, there have been classes on: time management – focusing on switching to annual plans versus todo lists that don’t get finished; financial planning with a holistic approach where you plan for profit before expenses; marketing & business planning; biological monitoring for pastures & cropland; and finally land planning – training on how best to plan infrastructure. There is just one session left, but we’ve already seen good changes as we implement holistic planning. For example, we know that ‘resource conversion’, that is converting sunlight into crops, is a weak link for us. That means any money we spend should be focused on fixing that weak link before anything else. That leads us to examine why resource conversion is a weak link, and we’ve identified labor and a soil biology problem. The labor problem we’ve decided is two-fold. One part can be solved by hiring additional help. The other part is to make changes to reduce the amount of hand labor required. A simple example of that is that we’ve decided to reduce the number of rows inside the deer fence to allow us to bring the tractor in more often to clear crops. The soil biology problem is more complicated, more on that below.
Besides all of the training, we also now have a network of women in Texas that are doing the same kinds of things we are. We’re already starting to work together outside of the HMI classes to help each other. Having those connections will be invaluable as the years go on.