Fielding Farm Dreams with Lean
ISE Magazine – Volume 49: Number 02

Ben Hartman, owner of Clay Bottom Farm, and his wife, Rachel Hershberger, decided to go full-time with specialty produce farming in 2006. Hartman frequently worked more than 60 hours per week just to break even. The couple sells specialty produce to farmers markets, supplies produce to various restaurants in the area and sells produce directly to customers through what is called a “community deported agriculture program,” where customers pay at the beginning of the year to receive a box of fresh produce once a week through the growing season.

Steve Brenneman, owner of ATC trailers, suggested Hartman employ lean manufacturing principles to his farming operations and offered to observe Hartman’s practices and make suggestions. He had concerns about using standardized practices at the expense of ethical farming to the point where the farm would run more like a factory. Hartman was convinced based on the simple lean principle that eliminated waste equals free capacity. The lean methodologies Hartman focused on were eliminating waste and identifying value. By identifying the seven wastes of lean (or muda) and utilizing a few basic lean principles, Hartman was able to narrow half, just to start.

Hartman started his lean journey by eliminating motion. He was seen walking to a different area of the farm to retrieve the tool. Hartman spread the tool around the farm and [hang] them at eye level as close as possible to their points of use. … There’s no hunting for tools anymore.” Hartman further eliminated waste by going through his tools and questioning whether the item added value for the customer.

Hartman used three major questions to identify value for his clients: What does the customer want? When do they want it? And how much do they want? Hartman recognizes value in his customers’ needs for different types of produce. Where the farm only grew one type of vegetable prior to lean, tomatoes in this case, Hartman has now set up a list of wholesale accounts and the specific type of tomato that is requested for each.

Hartman’s net-to-gross ratio before implementing lean on the farm was 30 percent. After lean, the farm now reaps about 60 percent of what is sold yearly, sales have increased 10 percent per year with little added investment, and customers are retained more easily. Hartman maintains production by implementing kaizen methods for continuous improvement. Since implementing lean and seeing its success on Clay Bottom Farm, Hartman has written a book, The Lean Farm, and regularly holds workshops at local farm conferences.