The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables by Ben Hartman
Chelsea Green. 2017.
Review by Scott Humphries
When Ben Hartman’s The Lean Farm came out, it marked a paradigm shift in the way I thought about farming practices. The premise was simple enough: find ways to eliminate waste in order to maintain or increase your revenue all the while working fewer hours. Seems too good to be true right? Well, The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables shows just how Hartman and his crew successfully implemented Lean theories into practice. In short: this is Hartman’s New Organic Grower or Market Gardener.
The timing for the release of this book couldn’t be better. Lean methods have permeated the small-scale farming community and I have seen many of its principles being implemented in the field, including at my farm. Hartman inspired us to rethink the way we shuttled produce from the field to the wash station, ultimately saving us an hour each harvest day. This book is fantastic for those who have spent some time with the theory and are ready for a deeper dive into Lean.
The first section of The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables gets into the nitty-gritty of Hartman’s farming practices: from crop planning and bed prep to pest control and market sales. For each system, Hartman discusses step-by-step how he eliminates waste on the farm, starting with outlining his zero waste approach to marketing his produce by producing the right amount of product and employing simple metrics to focus on demand-forward customers such as CSA and chefs.
In searching out ways to eliminate waste and to meet his market demands, Hartman strives to get near 100% germination and transplant success. The book comes with instructions for Hartman’s germination chamber. However, much to the chagrin of organic operations in Canada, Hartman talks at length about how the paperpot transplanter has been transformative for his operation in terms of reducing unnecessary steps and labour; he transplants nearly everything this way.
The second part of this book explores farm infrastructure with a lens on Lean. Hartman goes through what he considers the most important features when looking for land and shares the top eight key pieces of infrastructure he utilizes on his farm, with a strong focus on greenhouse management and overall farm layout.
If you want to know Hartman’s top varieties, plant spacing, tool list, and his guide for tractor buying, this book is for you. I have to stress that Lean is not meant to turn market gardens into brutally efficient factories. It is a practice that allows you to work within the capacity of the land and yourself to avoid burnout and enjoy your life as a farmer. This frees up time to think creatively about how you can continue to improve your farm. If you read The Lean Farm and felt the pressing desire to clean up your wash station, you need to get your hands on a copy of The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables. Both of these books are a must for almost every farmer’s library and are great winter reading.
 as of this writing – this product is not certified for organic use in Canada, primarily because of the type of glue that is used in the paper pot chain cells. This product is also getting banned in a number of US jurisdictions. Hopefully, a solution will be created soon.
You can find many more books like this in the COG Library here. Books are shipped across Canada for free!