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by Victoria Duff

Of all the people we lie to, it is ourselves that we lie to the most. In fact, we tell ourselves whoppers that we would never tell to another human being, much less expect them to believe. Sometimes those lies are just silly little ego-fantasies, and sometimes they are actually ways we sabotage our success.

If you own or operate a business – a farm, ranch, produce stand, farm service, or you live on a farm and are trying to figure out what to do with your life – believing your own lies and fantasies can be dangerous. Even if you have never been to a farm or ranch, these self-deceptions can get you into a lot of trouble.

You tell yourself that you will use half of that big check for only the things you really need, and you will save the rest. Then you go out and buy all those things you really need, and it is only when your debit card is declined that you realize you have buzz-sawed right through all your money. You have nothing left to save but there is another check on the way and you will save that. Yeah, sure.

The magic tool

I recommend one simple exercise that is used by people everywhere in business and in their own personal growth – SWOT analysis. The SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

To use this tool, get a blank piece of paper and fold it into four even sections that are visible when the paper is opened back up again. It doesn’t matter how you fold or what shape the sections are. They are for your notes. Title each section with one of the qualities: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

Now describe yourself, your life, your farm, or your financials (and anything else that seems like it needs some truthiness) in terms of those four qualities. Take your emotions out of this exercise. Be brutal. Don’t estimate money or anything else – look up the real figures and use them. Check on how truthful you have been by having someone else do a separate SWOT analysis about you on the same topic.

Strengths – What knowledge do you have? What have you achieved? What is the most dependable thing in your life or your business? List the strengths that perform well for you in good times as well as periods of bad luck. The strengths you list can include physical or financial assets, capabilities, suppliers, your social network, partners, and any other stable positive quality in your life or enterprise.

Weaknesses – If you find yourself defending your choice of strengths, or if the other person seems to have totally missed those strengths you saw so clearly, you have just demonstrated your biggest weakness: self-delusion. Hopefully that doesn’t apply to you. Some other examples are poor planning, disorganized operations, lack of money, too much competition in the market for your products, no computer, high expenses, and so on. Write them all down because they will form part of your To Do list.

Opportunities – Your list of weaknesses is a road-map to positive change, so that represents a lot of opportunity. Your own creativity is a major asset if you use it and follow through on turning weaknesses into opportunities. What events are coming up that could be beneficial? Carefully examine the things you think are opportunities. Disasters often come disguised as opportunities. One good way of avoiding a mistake is to go after the easy stuff first. Consider building a website to advertise and sell your products. Get your finances in order and apply for a loan to buy new equipment. Conduct a search for better suppliers. Also take a look at taking classes that will give you a better understanding of agriculture, agribusiness, and even bookkeeping

Threats – Competition, weather, disease, unforeseen expenses – all these are threats. Once you identify a threat you can begin to figure out how to overcome it. Get advice if you need it, but do not procrastinate in attacking those threats.

I find SWOT analysis is an excellent way to keep from jumping into quicksand. Often, when I get a Great Idea, I am so excited that I forget to consider the problems associated with that idea. That is why it helps to get in the habit of thoroughly examining your current situation, any plans or Great Ideas, and yes, it even works for relationships.

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Should You Start A CSA?

How old is that tomato in your hand at the local super market? A few days? A week? How long until it will begin rotting once you get it home? What types of pesticides were used on the crop? All of these questions are impossible to answer as a shopper looks at produce from their local grocery store. The only way to know for sure how it was grown is to get it straight from the farm. But is that a reality for shoppers living in cities, even the suburbs? Well maybe it is with your very own community supported agriculture (CSA).

Community supported agriculture is not a new idea of course, but it is gaining in popularity with people living in such places as they become more vigilant about the foods they eat. Plus, with the affordability of online communication such as websites for farms, and emailing to send out crop lists and delivery times, running a CSA is easier than ever for everyone’s participation.

Just like buying shares in a company, community supported agriculture allows families to buy shares of your farm crop for a season. Now, this doesn’t mean a share of the entire crop a farm grows, but rather CSA farms have set fields or rows dedicated to CSA crop yields. Shares range based on the number of people you expect to feed.

Each week the CSA farm designates a variety of vegetables and fruits as a share. For example, one week in spring for a farm in the Southeastern United States a share could include various amounts of beans, carrots, beets, corn, strawberries, peas, squash, lettuce and greens, cabbage, tomatoes, and turnips. Once you set the amount of produce one share equals for the week, families receive produce amounts based on the number of shares purchased.

CSA is not without risks. Families buying shares will not get a refund even if poor weather or other problems affect the CSA crop yield. But as we know the chances of not getting anything are very slim. And let’s face it, shoppers are not protected from poor weather conditions or crop blights at the grocery store either. So when adverse growing conditions affect regions, the prices on produce at the local grocery store increase accordingly. (Something to think about, right?)

Delivery of CSA produce is handled differently by each farm. You might elect to have share buyers pick up the produce at your location, or at a centralized location between the farm and urban living areas. Many CSA’s are managed in a grass roots style, so families can also arrange to “carpool” the vegetables with other CSA participants and switch off pick up weeks. A rarer option is personalized delivery of CSA produce, but that usually comes with an extra cost.

A final benefit of your own CSA is in bringing the family to the farm. CSA farmers are glad to show families where the crops are grown and teach children how their favorite vegetables and fruit go from seeds to snacks. And there might be ‘pick your own’ days where CSA participants can bring containers and pick strawberries or beans directly from the fields.

Participating in a CSA helps farmers and urban families have more control over the environment. You are helping to cut down on the amount of produce shipped by truck (usually across the country) and helping to better protect the earth. People feel good about their part in it, by supporting a local farm they know they’re buying fresh produce free of pesticides and artificial enhancements, and reducing green house gas emissions. When they participate in a community supported agriculture program they can save money on produce, and bring the freshest food home to their family’s table.

Find CSA information and opportunities in your area: Resources For Women Who Want To Farm

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