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Book Review for “The Lean Farm: Guide to Growing Vegetables” by Ben Hartman

The Lean Farm guru is back with another book to lean farm our vegetable growing.

Review by Karen Vesper

Book Review for The Lean Farm, Guide to Growing Vegetables By Ben Hartman

This book is a follow-up to his first book, The Lean Farm, and it takes growing vegetables to a very specific and directed level. I think this book is helpful to beginning farmers as well as longtime farmers who enjoy learning new and different ideas to help ease some of the load for vegetable farmers. It is definitely a text for small farm work and the organization to help each farm become more efficient.

This book is different from others on the same topic because of the intricate nature of the directions, details and the how-to guides for vegetable farming. This is a thorough look at the lean way to grow vegetables, but can be utilized for many more operations in all of farming.

Part I Leaning the Timeline

Chapter 1: Planning the Year with Heijunka and Kanban

The first chapter begins with an explanation of some of the Japanese terms and tenets that Ben Hartman lives and farms by. Explicit planning calendars and farm maps are included to visualize the details of the crops they are growing and where they are being grown. Lean pull production is described and how what customers want drive the work and the crops that are produced.

Chapter 2: Leaning Up Bed Preparation

Bed preparation is covered in this chapter, utilizing such components as compost, soil amendment, aeration and blending. This chapter also includes tractor buying tips and helpful terms and suggestions to guide the reader’s purchases of equipment, both motorized and handheld.

Chapter 3: Compost Making, Small Farm-Style

Hartman delves into his use and creation of compost on his farm, as a thorough study of what materials he uses, how they are handled and what is needed in order to get the type and quality of compost that he needs for the best production of his crops. The details in this chapter are very clear and explicit.

Chapter 4: Successful Seed Starting

“Get every seed to germinate.” This is the goal on Hartman’s farm to eliminate waste, one of the five core principles. Care is given to literally every seed to make sure that it has the optimal chance to grow, especially in the first few critical weeks. Everything is covered in this chapter from when the seed is put into the soil, where it is placed, the kind of medium it is placed into, etc. This chapter is a complete ‘go to guide’ for how to start any seeds, excellent details and directions.

Chapter 5: Transplanting by Hand

Efficient motion is the key to successful transplanting, according to Hartman. Each step of the process is outlined and discussed as well as spacing, tools needed, and the exact placement for specific vegetables. Guides from bed preparation to flat size for each seed to techniques are covered with extensive detail in this chapter.

Chapter 6: Paper Pot Magic

The paper pot system offers many advantages; speed, space and saving time in the field. A detailed description of how to seed the paper chains, use the paper pot transplanter, and the tricks and special uses for the tool.

Chapter 7: Four Lean Tips for Direct-Seeding

Proper ground/soil, specific seasons with particular seeds, good technique and timing will give good results for direct seeding. There are four tips that Hartman gives for direct seeding success. His constant work to improve all of his production systems for growing seeds continues in this chapter.

Chapter 8: Weed and Pest Control-without Muda

Transplanting is the most important weed-control method that Hartman uses on his farm because it gives crops a head start on weeds. He discusses several other methods to control weeds, such as: never allow a weed to seed, time your direct seeding and the June 1st rule. He eliminates pests by using row covers and beneficial insects, among other techniques.

Chapter 9: Collecting Cash: Leaning Up Sales

“How many times have we touched our crops?”, is a question that Hartman asks himself because with lean farming the touches are few and the lines of work are straight. Using delivery metrics, smooth flow for markets and eliminating overproduction waste will bring profits to the farmer and product to the customers.

Chapter 10: Lean Applied to Our Best-Selling Crops: Seven Case Studies

Hartman shares in this chapter his continual research to improve all of his production, with specific crops. His studies include his work with: tomatoes, baby greens, kale, head lettuce and romaine, carrots, turnips, radishes and beets, and peppers. The specific details, directions and experiences that he shares in this chapter are invaluable to others who are growing vegetables. Much can be learned from this chapter alone.

Part II: Staging for Flow

Chapter 11: Finding Good Land

In this chapter, Hartman shares how important good land is in contributing value, while poor land contributes to waste every day. There are six recommendations for choosing land, and many resources are included and explained within the chapter. This chapter should go along with you as you look at and try to find land for your farm.

Chapter 12: Infrastructure and Farm Layout

Every aspect of production for a vegetable farm is included and covered with precise ‘how to’ directions to be followed, step-by-step. This chapter discusses processing room to cold-storage rooms to gashouse to vehicle access lanes. This is literally the map to setting up a farm and all of the areas you need. It reads almost like the directions to setting up the houses in a Christmas train village. Nothing is missing in this chapter!

Chapter 13: Leaning Up Greenhouses

Designs of many different types and styles of greenhouses are discussed from where to build it, how tall and wide it should be, what must be included, and why management of these greenhouses is so important to your profits.

Conclusion: The Kaizen Farm

A history of Japan’s farming and animal husbandry begin this chapter to show how and why Hartman has adopted these methods of lean farming.  He discusses their need for constant improvement as well as their devotion to eliminating waste and freeing up more time for their family and things they want to do in their free time.

The only thing wrong with this book is that it should be spiral-bound and laminated so that you can take it out in the field with you!! Excellent motivator to get started in farming!

Karen Vesper is a beginning farmer and overall agriculture enthusiast who’s currently working on an agribusiness degree. She can be contacted at vespersfarm@aol.com

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