From the northern to southern ends of California, a very diverse group of farmers/ranchers attended the HMI Whole Farm/Ranch Business Planning workshop at TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, California starting in September and concluding in mid-October taught by a team of Certified Educators including Richard King, Rob Rutherford, and Calley Hastings. Limited to 30 participants, the workshop was sold out. The five sessions covered whole farm/ranch goal setting and decision-making as well as financial planning, marketing, and business planning with time built in to learn the process, work on exercises leading toward a sound financial plan for the coming year, and learn from each other as well as the instructors.
The Holistic Management framework for decision-making includes successfully managing income and expenses as well as building healthy land and fostering effective relationships among the people involved. In this workshop participants learned a step-by-step financial planning process that helps people who raise products or provide services from the land be successful at living the kind of life they value. They also learned that holistic financial planning includes successfully managing their human relationships as well as their money.
For the Marketing and Business Planning sessions, Calley Hastings used her family’s farm business as an example. She shared how the family has made decisions along the way and used their holistic goal to guide them as they have grown from a small diversified farm to a goat dairy producing goat’s milk caramel sauces for national distribution. Building on this example, farmers then reflected on marketing decisions in their own businesses and ran those decisions through the Holistic Management testing questions.
Additional time was spent looking at key components of a marketing plan and how each aspect, like understanding your demographic and thinking about your competition, help to inform your overall marketing strategies and budget. The marketing plan is just one element to the business plan, which can help guide how your business grows and can be used to leverage capital for your business. On the second day, participants looked at a sample business plan and went through each component to understand what was involved. They worked in small groups to understand each aspect of the plan and then presented to the whole group using the sample business plan along with an example from their own farms.
Overall the farmers involved in these sessions were exposed not only to effective marketing techniques and strategies, but more importantly, ways to think through how you develop a marketing plan for you business that is based on solid information and sound decision making. They also saw how a business plan weaves together many of the elements they had been working on in the previous classes and helps provide a road map for your business to follow. While every farmer brought something different to the table, they all left with lots more questions and ideas from their fellow classmates on how to move forward with their farms.
Participants ranged from those who are direct marketing through farmer’s markets, farm store, etc. to others who are selling through commercial channels. Many described this series as a ‘great’ or ‘awesome’ workshop. There seemed to be a lot of excitement about the potential within the group to stay in touch and engage in further conversations and learning.
Our thanks to the TomKat Ranch for providing a great location and for being gracious hosts. Also, thanks to the Christiano Family Fund, an advised fund of the Community Foundation for San Benito County, for providing funding for this program, and to the San Francisco Foundation, a donor-advised fund, for funding scholarships.
Here’s what the participants had to say:
I learned how to quantify/identify my values and apply them to business practices and decisions.
It helped me develop a more comprehensive approach to planning.
Everything I learned will help me be a better farmer.
I learned the practical considerations of other ranchers and land managers and how to apply general principles to specific farm/ranch cases.
I need to put actions into a holistic context before jumping in.
I learned ways to convince other decision makers to get on board.
I learned the difference between the way I have been operating vs. the way I could be operating.
I learned how in depth financial planning has to be.
Planning for profit was one of the most useful things taught.
I learned the tools to prioritize & budget complex systems, making the complex clearer.
I learned the difference between drawing profit vs. building net worth, and also how effective brainstorming can be for idea generation.
This all takes a lot of time but I think it’s worth it!
I learned why the process is structured/ordered the way it is, and how to replan when things don’t go according to plan.
I was reminded to pay myself first.
Evaluations showed the following results:
Question % of Participants Increased ability to integrate social, economic and environmental factors into your decisions 84% Increased ability to identify needed systems and protocols to create a successful farm 84% Increased ability to make complex on-farm decisions 96% Intention to complete or modify a written whole farm plan as a result of this course 100% Increased confidence in using the testing questions 92% Intention to use the testing questions in your farm decision making 96% Intention to change management practices as a result of this course 100% Increased ability to determine viable profitable enterprises for your farm 81% Increased confidence in how to increase your farm’s net worth 75% Improved attitude towards financial planning 76% Increased ability to determine your farm’s projected revenue 75% Increased ability to identify logjams and adverse factors on your farm 100% Increased skills in developing a whole farm financial plan 88% Increased confidence getting the profit you need from your farm 88% Increased confidence prioritizing and cutting farm expenses to guide reinvestment in your farm 88% Intention to complete or modify a financial plan for your farm 88% Increased confidence in develop a marketing plan that meets your farm needs and goals 78% Increased confidence in promoting your farm products 74% Increased confidence in assessing your competition to understand your farm strengths 70% Intention to complete or modify a marketing plan as a result of today's session? 78% Increased knowledge of how to develop a Marketing Plan 91% Increased knowledge about where to turn for resources to assist in developing a business/strategic plan for your farm 85% Increased ability to develop a business plan for your farm 95% Increased ability to use your financial plan to determine viable markets for your farm 75% Intention to complete or modify a business plan as a result of today's session? 100% Increased confidence in developing a business/strategic plan 100% Increased confidence in implementing important strategic systems and projects on your farm 75% Overall satisfaction for course 100%