The movie The Biggest Little Farm, documents the experiences of a couple who buys a barren piece of land in California and turns it into a thriving, traditional farm complete with crops, orchards, and animals. Their journey was not easy and for several years the future of the enterprise was questionable but by year seven they were selling 500,000 pounds of food/year.
One of the biggest lessons the farmers learned along the way was to embrace the ecosystem instead of fighting it. They learned to harness the negative aspect of each plant/animal and turn it into something positive for the whole.
For example, they discovered:
- Ducks love to eat snails and would happily devour the infestation of them on the fruit trees
- Goats love to eat grass, so could not only tend the cover crops on uneven land, but their waste from so much eating served as fertilizer for the main crops that were planted there the following year
- Cow manure attracted maggots which became food for the chickens and decreased the fly population
- The burrows of gophers aerate the soil – but they also eat the roots – so the coyote which is a menace to chickens can be a resource to keep the gopher population in check
“Observation followed by creativity is becoming our greatest ally,” said owner John Chester. “With every new problem that came up, we first take a step back and watch it.” It was through this observation that they realized how the ecosystem could support and enhance each other and generate synergy that would allow the farm itself to contribute to the output from the land.
How can you model this pattern of observation followed by creativity to find new uses for what already exists in your organization? People who have liabilities in one aspect of their job could be reassigned and placed in a role that capitalizes on the strengths they do possess. Excess product or production remnants may be repurposed into a new use. The timing of tasks may be restructured to create capacity among some personnel.
The Biggest Little Farm is a story about creating a system to reap exponential benefits from the interrelationships that occur within the system. Isn’t that what we’d all like to do within our organization?