We started our farm in 2013, with a baby growing in my belly, and big dreams set in our hearts.
Even though Edge and I had a collective 11 years of experience growing vegetables and raising animals, when it came to running a business, we were pretty green, and it seemed like a good idea to take a business course.
And oh, it was a good idea.
That winter I enrolled in Whole Farm Planning for Beginning Women Farmers, a course based on curriculum from Holistic Management International (HMI).
From land-planning to marketing to finances to time management to biological monitoring and more, this course gave us a framework to approach our farm business from every angle. The foundation of it all is creating a Holistic Goal.
A Holistic Goal isn’t a business plan. It’s the end goal and the foundation from which you’ll build.
Simply stated, a holistic goal is made up of three parts:
Quality of Life Statements
Behaviors & Systems
In many ways over the last 6 years, our Holistic Goal has saved us. Starting a farm, or any business, takes enormous persistence, problem solving, and flexibility. There are times when challenges pile up, leaving us asking “why are we doing this?”
And that’s where the Holistic Goal comes in.
When we’re burnt out need a reminder of our why, or when we’re trying to decide on whether or not to implement or remove a new enterprise, we go back to our Holistic Goal. As the foundation of our Whole Farm Plan, this helps us make decisions on every level, from how we manage our fields to how we relate to our customers.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Susan Willsrud, of Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, shared that Whole Farm Planning is the foundation of their Farmer Training Program. You can hear her take on why it’s so critical in our interview.
Why You Need A Holistic Goal
It doesn’t matter how thorough your business plan is if you don’t really know where you want to go. Before creating a Holistic Goal, Edge and I had pages and pages written out describing what we’d grow and raise, what our products would cost, and how we’d sell them.
But we hadn’t written down what our values were.
After all, we talked enough—was it really so important to set them down on paper?
The process of writing out our Holistic Goal—from creating Quality of Life statements and the systems we’d use to create that quality, to our particular vision of community and landscape—highlighted something vitally important that we’d somehow overlooked.
We didn’t want to farm ALL the time.
In fact, when I tuned in and really got to the heart of what I wanted in life, I saw that creativity, family, learning, and exploration were just as important to me as working the soil, and when I put them all together, my Holistic Goal suggested that I wanted as much time off the farm as I did on it.
And by off, I mean not working in the business of it.
What the Holistic Goal did, and continues to do, for us is set an ideal of balance that honors all the aspects of our lives.
It’s important to note that the Holistic Goal is a living document. It changes as we learn and grow, and we’ve revised it throughout the years to reflect the changes on our farm. But the heart of it remains the same, and it continues to be the magnetic north of all our planning.
Now it’s time to create your Holistic Goal.
As I mentioned before, it’s made up of three parts:
Quality of Life Statements
Behaviors & Systems
Quality of Life Statements
As written in my HMI course book: “The quality of life statement of your holistic goal expresses what you value, what you’re doing, what you’re about, and what you want to ultimately be. It is a reflection of what motivates you. Describing it should excite you. It speaks to needs you want to satisfy now, but also speaks to longer-term objectives. It is your collective sense of what’s important and why.”
Start by answering the question: how do you want your life to be?
You can answer the question by starting with ‘we want / we value / we enjoy / we are’
For example, some of our quality of life statements are:
We value providing affordable, healthy food to the whole community.
Next, write out Behaviors & Systems that support your Quality of Life
The HMI course describes this part as: “Building on the quality of life statements are the Behaviors & Systems—where we ask the question of ourselves, ‘What must we do to create the quality of life we described?’ Another way of looking at it is, what must I commit to in order to have the life I want?”
For each quality of life statement, write down how you will support it.
These are not meant to be specific. Instead, keep these statements general. Specifics may change over time—for example, if you value a healthy body, your Behaviors & Systems may be to have a weekly exercise routine. You may be a runner now, but eventually switch to yoga or swimming. Keeping it general allows flexibility to change the specifics as you grow and change.
For example, the Behavior & System that supports our Quality of Life Statement above is:
We practice effective and sustainable land management practices.
Practicing effective land management practices allows us to produce food at a lower cost, and therefore keep our prices affordable. Sustainable practices help us produce healthy food.
These statements guide us without locking us into one way of doing things. The important thing isn’t the specifics of how we’re doing this, but the general approach that our systems must be effective and sustainable.
Here are our Quality of Life Statement and Systems & Behaviors:
The final step is to write out your Vision statement.
To me, this is the most fun part! I love visioning 😉
This step is broken down into 3 parts:
1. How you have to behave
How do you want people to see you? If you want to be seen as honest, you need to behave that way now.
2. The future landscape
How must the land you care for look in 100 years from now? If you want the land to appear a certain way, you must make decisions now that will lead you in that direction.
Even if you’re not actively farming, or if you don’t own land, this is an important step, and can help guide how you interact with your community and how you get involved. The beautiful thing about democracy is that everyone can have a voice. You can get attend local Select Board or Planning meetings. You can get involved with local groups like the Land Trust or Nature Conservancy. Use your vision for the future landscape to direct how you act and get involved.
3. The future community
How must the community be in order to sustain your quality of life into the future? What services do you want available—schools, businesses, medical facilities? Like describing the future landscape, knowing what your ideal community looks like will help you become an active part of creating it and guide your actions.
Here’s our Vision Statement:
And Voila! You’ve created a Holistic Goal!
As I mentioned before, this is both your foundation and your magnetic north. Use it to guide your decisions, but also allow flexibility for it to change.
At the very least, review your Holistic Goal once a year, and update it as necessary. When we started Good Heart Farmstead, we raised sheep, pigs, chickens and turkeys, and pasture management was part of our Holistic Goal.
Since we’ve transitioned to being a vegetable farm and said goodbye to livestock, we’ve updated the aspects of our goal that included animals. And who knows—perhaps we’ll go back to livestock in the future, and will update our goal again if and when that happens.
Have you created a Holistic Goal? How has it helped you in farming or in life? Let me know in the comments below. AND I’m so curious: what’s your most important (or favorite) Quality of Life Statement?
Gosh, I know that’s a hard question. I’m not sure if I can pick just one, but Simplicity, Happiness and Living a Wholehearted Life resonate deeply in my heart.