archived 7/28/2015

07/28/2015

The Business of Our Business

 

 

I am a farmer, but I'm also a freelance content specialist (fancy talk for writer), which means I get to interact with corporate culture more than some of my fellow sharecroppers. While office chairs and tractor seats are worlds apart in terms of ergonomic comfort and shelter from the elements, I can't help but notice that there are more similarities between working the land and working 9 to 5 than one would assume at first blush. Here are a few ways in which farming and cubicle-dwelling are kind of alike.

 

The Marketplace

Corporate culture is beholden to the marketplace. Beneath all the buzzwords and boardroom meetings, a corporation's bottom line is simple: They need to exchange a product or service for dollars. The model upon which capitalism stands tall hearkens back to open-air markets where merchants hawked wares to townsfolk who needed but couldn't produce said wares themselves.

If you've visited a farmer's market recently, you've observed a marketplace operating in its most basic and timeworn form. Behind our plastic table, offering freezerfuls of pastured pork and chicken and never enough eggs (I know, I'm sorry) between an artisan baker and mushroom specialist, I and my family members participate in the very history of our modern economy. 

 

About Those Buzzwords

I have an uneasy relationship with corporate buzzwords. On the one hand, I love words and the multi-layered tapestry that is the English language...but on the other hand, I've composed my share of corporate copy and have typed clunkers upon client request. I'm no buzzword apologist, but I do recognize that many of these tired terms do represent solid business concepts that are as applicable in the pasture as they are in project management meetings.

ROI (Return on Investment): We recently phased oats out of some handmixed feeds because the price increase didn't translate to significant weight gain. This is a basic ROI issue.   

Value Added: Honestly, I only know this as a farming phrase, but I understand it gets tossed around in office suites quite a bit. For us, cut-up chicken breasts are value-added products, as are cucumbers in pickle form and a pork belly carefully processed into bacon; certified organic is a huge value-added concept. This is a key term to own when applying for grants.

Low-Hanging Fruit: As a corporate buzzword, low-hanging fruit is unchallenging, uncreative problem solving. On the farm, it's actual fruit and it's delicious.

 

Marketing

What? Marketing? Gross!

I get as tired of car commercials and full-page drug ads as you do, but these are crass examples of an important concept: Customer communication. I never formally studied marketing, but I have provided written content for a variety of marketing campaigns, and I've come to understand that smart marketing communicates a company's values and product benefits.

When we stand behind our table and talk about the benefits of pastured pork, explain the taste differences in chicken raised on fresh green grass, we're marketing. We're 100% truthful, which isn't a natural assumption of marketing, but the communication serves the same end. Farm tours are important marketing opportunities, and ones we heartily enjoy. Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram pictures, even this blog--these are venues for customer communication and interaction we've participated in since the beginning of our farming endeavor and, if I'm being honest, I think we do better than some of the corporate giants in your social media feeds. 

While I can't speak to the motives of corporate marketing managers, I know why we take the time to produce this content: We want you to try and enjoy our stuff. It's rare that we see a profit from our farm products, so money doesn't drive our marketing; rather, we firmly believe the world needs sustainably-raised proteins and have taken it upon ourselves to provide it. If we have to convince folks to try it, then we need to be up to the task.

 

Stakeholders

A corporation's stakeholders encompass everyone from CEOs to stock owners, contractors to customers. It's largely a huge group of people who stand to benefit from a business's success.

Goldfinch Farm has stakeholders too.  We utilize the services of local, family-owned butchers to convert our animals into legally-sellable meat products. Our weekly visits to the grain mill up the road support a neighboring community and century-old business. We bring specialty meats to market where conscientious customers can purchase the products they seek. I even consider the animals our stakeholders, as they benefit from the high quality of life we work to provide them. 

Where things get a bit different is in the human resources department. As a small, family farm, we have four people doing everything. On any given day, one of us may write a blog post, mix a bin of feed, run lines of electric fencing, and repair a damaged stanchion. In a corporate office, they laud this practice as "cross-training," but we just call it being handy.

 

Webinars

Just kidding, we don't do webinars. Rural internet is a notoriously bad bargain, so I doubt we could even if we wanted to. We don't even have Netflix.

 

There are numerous differences between corporate culture and operations on our small, sustainable farm--CEOs rarely wear overalls to address the board--but I firmly believe we're not as different as we seem. And I feel it's worth stating because, in general, farmers don't get society's respect the way a CFO or HR manager does. Things are certainly getting better, and nothing brings us more joy than a customer's gratefulness for our hard work, but on the whole, agrarians don't enjoy life's perks the way some of our more gainfully-employed friends do. Farmers tend to be okay with this, but next time you're stuck behind a rusty old pickup struggling to haul a few cows down the highway, just remember the driver in the feed company cap's workload really isn't all that different from yours...and your whole office.

--Rodney Wilson

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