Growing your business comes in many forms. It can be from adding more land to farm, it could be planting more varieties of produce, or it could be hiring more people to do just that. As a business owner, you might feel some worry or anxiety about having new people work on the farm especially if you already have a solid system of how everything works.
Today we’re joined by farmer and owner of Maple Bloom Farm, Jordan MacPhee, who is in that exact position of wanting to expand his business and add more people and is pretty new to the subject of hiring. Also with us today is Chris Thoreau, who has a lot of experience with both hiring and people management.
Let’s shed some light on this topic today.
Today’s Guest: Jordan MacPhee
Jordan is the owner of Maple Bloom Farm in Prince Edward Island, Canada. With currently only two people working on the farm, he plans to expand the business next year and hire additional employees.
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- Getting into microgreens and how it fits into Maple Bloom Farm (03:15)
- Year-round microgreens and evening out productions (05:50)
- Staple microgreens vs. ultra-specialized microgreens (07:55)
- How much microgreens in a week in 2019 (10:15)
- Growing the production with adding labor force (12:10)
- Confidence in sales to pay employees (15:05)
- Worries about bringing on employees (18:15)
- Chris Thoreau’s advice on bringing in new people (21:35)
- Developing interpersonal skills (36:40)
- Hiring a person that fits into your system (38:50)
- Strategies on managing (43:06)
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and SOP’s (48:55)
- Learning written vs. teaching verbal (52:40)
- Letting new hires go off on their own (59:05)
- Work dynamics and interpersonal relationships (01:05:35)
- Criticism and feedback (01:07:40)
- Cutting ties before investing too much (01:10:30)
- Approaching incentivizing (01:14:05)
- Moving towards HACCP (01:18:15)
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Get it on Barnes and Noble | Walmart | Amazon
- Chris Thoreau’s Microgreen Business Course:
The Complete Guide to Planning, Starting, and Running a Profitable Microgreens Business
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Diego: [00:00:00] Today, it's all about scaling your farm up and hiring people to do it. Stay tuned for that. Coming up. Welcome to farm small farm smart. I'm your host Diego D-I-E-G-O. Today's episode of farm, small farm smart brought to you by Paper Pot Co. Full disclosure: that is a company that I own. That is a company that I run, and that is a company that I'm very proud of.
And at Paper Pot Co., our goal is to make your life on the farm, easier, faster, and more efficient. So tools like the Jang seeder and the paper pot transplanter help decrease your time in the field. So you can use that time for something else. You can learn more about all the time-saving and labor-saving tools we offer at Paper Pot Co.
You know, one of the advantages of equipment is it can make jobs faster and it can reduce the amount of labor needed on a farm that might mean you need to employ less people. But sometimes on a farm, there comes a time when employing less people isn't the answer. And instead the answer is employing more people.
Diego: [00:01:17] What do you do when you�re growing and need to hire somebody? How should you think about hiring someone who's a fit for you, your team and your farm. That's the subject of today's episode with farmer Jordan McPhee and grower Chris Thoreau. Jordan's at a point in his farm where he's ramping up production.
He's selling more and he's trying to think about how he can incorporate new employees and to his farm. He wants to expand his microgreen operation and blend that in nicely with field crops, and he's going to need people to do it. But one of the worries he has about bringing in new people is how do you get them to think about quality?
How do you get them to think about the importance of food safety and maintaining good standards so you can deliver a nice, clean and healthy product. That's where Chris comes in because Chris, with the food pedalers in Vancouver, has hired a bunch of people in the past. He's had a bunch of co-owners of the food pedalers and they've put in place a lot of standard operating procedures to deal with bringing new people on, especially when it comes to things like food hygiene.
So we get Jordan�s need of wanting to expand and hire people well with Chris's experience of having managed people and hiring people and we blend them together. And that's what this one's about. I hope you enjoy it. Let's jump right into it with Jordan MacPhee.
So Jordan, good to have you back on the podcast today and today we're talking to you from Prince Edward Island up in Canada.
And in the past episode, we really talked a lot about your CSA program, the more macro of your farm, and some things you're trying to do to get CSA customers and have the CSA customers be sticky. Now, zooming in today, we're going to take a look at one of the crops that you focus on on your farm and that's microgreens to give people some idea of how you think about microgreens.
How did you get into microgreens and how do they fit into what you're doing at Maple Bloom Farms?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:03:18] So we started doing microgreens in the winter of 2018 last January, basically. And we started with some sales to restaurants around town and a couple of small grocery stores. And throughout the growing season from around June to early October, showing them outdoors at our farmer's market in from live trades, people would, come up and select their mix of microgreens and we would sell them their microgreens mixes in two ounce containers. That was also our pickup location for CSA. So we were doing a microgreens as well as our CSA pickup.
Diego: [00:04:02] When you got into microgreens a year ago, I mean, what was the initial impetus to get into it? I know in the previous you talked about PEI being a small marketplace, but a competitive marketplace. Was microgreens and underexploited niche within that small competitive marketplace, or did you go into it facing competition right off the bat?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:04:24] Well, when we first started getting into microgreens last winter in 2018 we saw that it was a big opening in our local town. there was only some pea shoots available at the farmer's market. There wasn't really a variety of microgreens at all.
So we kind of stepped into our marketplace and kind of begin to carve ourselves a niche by offering 10 around 10 different varieties of microgreens. we started in June selling fresh cuts of microgreens mixes into two-ounce containers from our live trades. And that carried us through to about October and microgreens sales comprise composed about�I'd say like 20 to 30% of our sales from 2018.
So given that it was our first year doing them and they paid off the investment in equipment I feel like they've become a pretty integral part of our farm, especially for helping us out in the shoulder seasons when we're not harvesting in the winter, early spring and late fall on Prince Edward Island, we're working with a short outdoor season from harvesting June to late October with not really much before or after that. So it gives us a lot more flexibility with the amount of product we could have coming through our farm and amount of sales that we're generating.
Diego: [00:05:49] And you mentioned harvesting them on the shoulder season.
I know initially when we started emailing back and forth, the thing he really responded to me was making a living off not farming year-round, farming during your season. So with microgreens, have they been a season extender for you allow you to push that out and do you envision a time where you go 12 months a year with microgreens or are you doing that?
If you said it and I missed it, sorry, but can microgreens fill that void of making it a full season or a longer season farm, if that's what you want to do?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:06:24] Yeah, absolutely. We're going for like a year-round kind of vision. Now, when I first reached out and said that we were trying out to the you know, growing season, only style of farm I was thinking of explaining the, kind of the short falls and setback that we had trying to do that.
I think just in our context, it's not really realistic given the amount of competition that we have. It's hard to make a living for. A farm based on just our growing season alone, given all the other farms that are out there selling a lot of the same products. So microgreens are a way for us to turn ourselves into a four-season farm.
And we're actually going to just continue investing in that kind of a direction for the farm. We're going to, we're looking into hydroponic. greens production like lettuce and spinach and herbs, because there's a great demand with restaurants there. So we're just trying to, even out the amount of product from January to December that's coming from our farm so that there's not like a huge bell curve where in July and August, there's this extreme, upward flux in the amount of like labor and energy.
And scrambling that we need to do in order to make our farm work. It's just trying to ease out that burden from the middle of the year and even an out, across the whole year. So it's a lot more stable for us. We can provide more stable income for ourselves and our employees. And it's not like a feast or famine kind of mentality.
Diego: [00:07:55] Yeah. I've talked to a lot of microgreen growers over the years and there's really, I'd say two different types of growers. You have the more Chris-esque type growers who grow the staples and are your sunflower shoots, your pea shoots, radish, maybe a few other crops. And then you have the growers that really dive into it and get all ultra-specialized growing dandelion and carrot, cilantro, and all these other things that are.
Somewhat different too, very exotic. Where do you envision your farm going with microgreens? Is it call it more of the salad type microgreens or with restaurants, which you've mentioned a few times. Do you see yourselves really getting into the more specialized dainty niche microgreens that maybe mimic a specific restaurant's menu where another restaurant might not be interested in those?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:08:46] Yeah, we we've experimented with a lot. I think this I've listened to all the microgreens podcasts, like twice through. And although it's been a few months from what I can recall, I think a lot of microgreens growers get really ambitious really quickly and start with a lot of varieties and probably too many more varieties than they really should be getting into.
And that's definitely the path we took. Now we've contracted and we're kind of sticking more to the staples. There's still a few special things we do like popcorn shoots and broccoli, but we're trying to keep it to about half a dozen varieties now, like pea shoots, sunflower shoots purple radish, yellow popcorn, wheat grass when it's requested and popcorn.
And we do different mixes with those that different types of wholesale buyers or grocery store buyers are looking for, but it just really simplifies our whole operation when we only have to deal with five or six varieties, rather than at one point, I think we were actually dealing with 14 or 15 varieties and they all have different watering schedules, different dates to maturity, different seeding, densities just different care regimens. And that really exponentially increases the difficulty to something that's gotta be as tightly controlled as a microgreens operation.
Diego: [00:10:15] Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And I mean, that's how I've always thought about it. The more crops you add, the more complexity you bring into the mix and really the harder it gets to create a growing environment that suits all of those unique crops and the growing conditions that each one of those requires to give people some sense of scale. If you lump all those together.
Let's say on the, on the average high end, what's the most flats of micros you think you'll do in 2019 in a week?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:10:46] Well, in 2018 we had a capacity to do 80 racks. And I think at any, I mean, 80, sorry, 80 trays. And at any one time 30 trays were being grown for a given week. So, to turn that into revenue, I think at the height of 2018, we were looking at between 12 and $1,500 on a weekly basis throughout July and August. And that kind of tapered off before and after July and August, because it's just not, there's still a tourist season. So there's just still a little bit of bump in the middle of the summer there throughout 2019, I'm hoping we can double our production and go to eight total racks.
And if the average microgreen takes 10 days to grow.... Sometimes eight degrees, depending on the heat and humidity, then that means four out of eight racks will be growing microgreens strains, which amounts to 80 trays per week.
So a little bit more than double of what we did in 2018. So we're looking for between two and $3,000 potential total value at the height of the season. Does that answer your question?
Diego: [00:12:10] No, it definitely does. And yeah, so that's quite a bit when it comes to production. So given that and given that you have field crops also, and you're running field crops to fill a CSA, how does that look on the labor side of things, especially given that you want to turn up the dial on production in 2019.
What type of labor requirement is it to manage all that plus the field. And are you going to have to bring on labor in order to grow this the microgreen side of production or just in general grow farm production?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:12:46] Yeah, absolutely. Last year, it was just me and one employee. So Morris and I were doing 100% of the farm labor on a weekly basis.
My partner, Catherine, she was doing the sales with me at the farmer's market and packing CFA boxes for people, but all of them production side was done by Morris and I this year we're going to double the amount of people that we have on the field. So it's going to be four total people from April to the end of October, and we're probably going to hire one more person for the peak harvest season between July and September just to keep up with the extra demand.
As for the microgreens operation itself, we don't want five people having to be trained on every aspect of that. I'm trying to keep things as simple as possible, so it's just going to be me Morris, who both obviously already know the microgreens, and my father is also going to help with the microgreens from time to time.
So it was just only going to be three people who understand, who have to touch that side of the business. So at the end of the year, I crunched the numbers for the microgreens like labor input versus revenue output, and I saw that even though it was 30% of our revenue roughly between CSA restaurant, grocery store and farmer's market sales, it was only let me see if I remember this correctly� It was about five to 10 hours per week out of a 60-hour week. So we're talking about somewhere between 10 and 15% of our time in order to return us 30% of our revenue.
So for time and for revenue out, it's definitely the right move. So we're just thinking more people kind of spread out the labor of the microgreens operation. We're going to be able to make it work financially, it's going to pay for itself a lot faster than just throwing more people into only expanding the field vegetable side of production. Does that make sense?
Diego: [00:15:07] Yep. And one of the things I think maybe a lot of newer growers struggle with is ramping up production. When you go to double production, say in microgreens, how do you know you can sell them all? Do you have some standing commitments from existing customers. Do you know, existing customers want to scale up?
Are you kind of taking a calculated risk here? It's one thing to say, Hey, we're going to double production. And it's another thing to double production and hire people, and then know you can sell the product so you can pay the people that you hired. So when you think about the sales side of things, how do you feel, or how do you think about confidence factor in selling them to support the hiring and the additional labor.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:15:51] Right. So I mentioned we're going to be upping the amount of workers on the production side, but we're also going to be kind of relieving ourselves of sales and distribution works for a lot of the season because I'm partnering with a wholesaler this year. And his name's Lee and he works for a local distribution company that works exclusively with local organic farmers on PEI, which is Prince Edward Island for short.
And he's got guaranteed sales of $20,000 for his current wholesale clients mainly primarily restaurants. So that in addition to the already existing farmer's market, and other wholesale clients that we have, if he's going to be taking on the distribution for all those wholesale markets that's work and a lot of time that we're not going to have to be running around from restaurant to restaurant.
He's already servicing those customers all of the other vegetables that he's collecting from the other farms, so it's no extra work for him to also drop off a bag of pea shoots when he drops off to that restaurant, but it's going to save us.
Like, if we had to go to the 60 different restaurants that he's going to on a weekly basis, we'd be spending at least a full eight hour day, if not longer, trying to drop off microgreens to that. So that's like work, we're going to be able to dedicate to production side of things. And going back to the reason why we're contracting or contracting the amount of varieties we're growing, by only focusing on six varieties, we can pretty much just like having too many varieties, exponentially increases the difficulty, reducing your varieties by half is going to exponentially decrease the amount of difficulty and increase your efficiency. So if you are planting just peas, just sunflowers, just radish, and just broccoli for a week.
And you're only planting those four. You could probably plant and maintain those throughout the growth cycle a lot faster than if you were trying to maintain those plus 10 more. It just makes both sides a lot simpler. We're going to have more people. Building a less complex operation on the production side. And we're going to be shoving off the entire sales distribution side, at least for wholesale customers to a partner.
Diego: [00:18:14] It's interesting hearing your plans and your thoughts on how you're taking this on. And one of the ways that you're going to take this on is by hiring labor, which has came up a few times and while microgreens is going to be the central thread that runs throughout this episode, there's going to be some many topics that we'll take on here.
And the first one is bringing on labor and everything that goes with that. And I once heard a business owner out of Silicon Valley, who's had some really successful startups talk about the hardest thing for companies can be going from one employee to two employees and then two to 10 and 10 to a hundred, and then a hundred to a thousand.
You're going from that two to 10 stage. And it doesn't seem like adding on eight people. Even if it's not eight, is really that big of a challenge, but I'm in that kind of boat myself of where I need to go from two to 10. And I feel a lot of resistance. I feel a lot of worry. I feel a lot of apprehension about doing that because I don't have prior experience doing that.
So prior. To hiring and prior to doing this, you know all the benefit and how good it's going to be to get the help. What are some of your worries about bringing on employees?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:19:29] Well, just in my experience of the past four years of running this farm business when it was just me and my partner, Catherine I had five years of previous experience before that working for other farmers and she had zero.
So there was an entire learning curve that we had to go up together without me having had the prior experience of teaching someone else how to farm.
Now with that experience that made teaching Morris how to farm a couple of years later a lot easier. I was able to kind of use the experience teaching Catherine and understanding what it's like to look at farming through a beginner�s eyes to teach the steps one by one, but teaching one person and having that like one-to-one contact and being able to work alongside them every day at almost every single task is a much different situation than having four people who you're teaching and hopefully, hopefully being able to train them to the point that they're, you know, not masters at a task, but competent and confident enough that they're going to be able to see through a task without me making a major screw up.
You want them to be efficient and fast in their work, but not so fast that they're being careless and breaking things or reducing the quality or safety of the food that you're giving them. So my main concern or worry like you're asking is just having the ability to delegate responsibility to those employees and making sure that they keep up the amount of quality that I'm looking for in terms of planting, in terms of weeding in terms of harvesting and packaging food, like every step of the process.
How do I get my standard operating procedures in place to make sure that each employee can be confident going forward with the idea without me having to work beside them? Because in a four or five person operation, I'm only going to be beside them about a quarter of the time
Diego: [00:21:34] now for this part of the conversation, we'll bring on Chris Thoreau. And Chris, you had experienced in the past dealing with employees or partners, you've been the senior person when new staff has come on.
What advice would you have for people like Jordan and myself that get nervous when you bring on people that are untrained and there's a learning curve for them? There's potential food, safety considerations. You're handing over equipment. There's potential safety hazard. When you're around cutting instruments, what are your thoughts here on everything that's going on?
Chris Thoreau: [00:22:11] That was a great summary of things Jordan and great to get some insight into what you're doing and how you're doing it. It's interesting to hear you talk about this cause I'm just reflecting on the idea that I never ever stressed out or worried about employees screwing things up. And so our process was, and not that they didn't, but our process was, you know, growing and I've talked about this before growing microgreens and each individual task within that process is actually a relatively easy task.
Whether it's filling drays seeding, cutting, bagging�They're each individually are quite simple. And as you know, the complexity in running an operation comes when you're trying to do all those things efficiently along with a bunch of other tasks with other farm operations with your personal life and trying to make a profit.
So the way we've brought people on is generally in stages working their way up from the simplest and least potentially damaging part of the process, which for us would be washing and sanitizing trays, up into basically handling packaging sprouts and doing deliveries.
And delivery becomes another thing because often that's where there's a financial transaction and that's the part that actually worries me the most is somebody's dealing with the finances of the business.
So what we would do, yeah, we would start, somebody would start off on just cleaning trays and then prepping trays with soil and then seeding. And for us, a lot of those activities were always multi-person activities anyways. And so it wouldn't be like, Oh, I have to do this with this person so they can do it on their own in the future. It actually means I have to do this with this person, and they're going to be a lot slower to begin with, but they're going to speed up over time.
There's only a few activities within our system because of the scale that are ones that you would do by yourself and one being the cleaning of trays.
So I think that maybe relates to scale. Where, if you're only doing 30 trays per harvest, you know, you might be cutting and packing that tray yourself. Whereas we tend to have like one person cutting, another person packing, maybe another person washing. So there's always generally multiple people working on the process at any given time.
So that person actually is rarely left alone anyways. So I wonder about like, I'll come back and ask. So at 30 trays a week, what does your process look like? Are you finding people are working individually a lot? Or are you actually spending a lot of your time working with another person and as you scale up to 80 trays a week, is it more and more likely that you're going to have multiple people working on any given task at any given time?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:25:08] Well, last year was just Morrison and I. Most of the time, even the tight space that we were working in which I know, like you're no stranger to, we actually only had enough room for one person to do each job at a time. It was just more efficient to have one person at the seeding table and one person washing trays and one person packing orders.
And I tried to set up things before Morris came in so that each of us could do those jobs separately. I was planning on basically making the microgreens operation run essentially the same way, but why do you think it was more efficient for two people to say, for example, seed trays than just one.
Chris Thoreau: [00:25:55] So there's a couple of things. I'm very glad you asked that question. In some cases it may not be more efficient and to be frank, efficiency as a dollar as your number one goal. Efficiency is very important and you need to be a certain level of efficiency, but I don't think you need to be what you might call perfectly efficient in every task at every moment.
But I find, for example, if we're prepping trays with soil, often it's two or three of us doing that. And you've got people prepping trays of soil, it's like, Oh, somebody needs to go and bring more soil. And so someone's grabbing some bands and bringing more soil to the prep table while the other two continue to prep.
So you actually get less breaks. So the person who has to go and get the soil is changing tasks. And as you may know, every time you change a task, whether you're going from cutting to bagging or bagging to putting in the fridge, you're, you're going through a transition and that transition might be putting an instrument down, picking an instrument up.
Whereas, if you're just doing a single task, you always have the instrument in your hand and you never go, you're shifting between. And those, those shifts between tasks are our real time losers. And this is one of the reasons, you know, you get into specialized tasks and you've got assembly lines because if you're working on the same thing all the time, that in itself is very efficient.
So that's one thing. So when you have multiple people doing things, someone's filling the soil someone you know, the other people can keep prepping trays. Some people are seeding or like one person to seeding the other one's dumping the seed on the trays. So there's some efficiency in that and you don't get the gaps.
The other part is though, you're working with somebody else and maybe 30 trays a week. That's tolerable. But if you're doing 400 trays a week and you're prepping, you know, 400 trays at a time just doing that stuff alone is it's life-draining actually. And so a lot of the systems we have, they could be more efficient in some ways with one person.
And sometimes they are one person because that's how schedules work or someone's like, I want to take this time off. I'll come in and do it later. But most of our tasks are set up so you're working with somebody else all the time. So there's a social aspect to it. And that's kind more thinking about your operation as a workplace and thinking of your role as an employer.
And so when you think about a business, you think about your efficiencies and your markets and all that stuff, but you're also playing a role as an employer. And that I think, as we know, some employers do really well. The great employers with great benefit packages, good time off, you know, things like that.
And those other employers that really suck. So you're thinking about efficiency because efficiency is crucial for being profitable, but you're also thinking about how you want to be as an employer. And a part of that is that social time. And that's why I like to do things together. So that's a long answer to maybe a simple question, but I wonder what you think of that in terms of how things operate on your farm and your operation. And if that sort of thinking makes sense.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:29:07] Yeah. When it comes to doing long jobs that take up most of the day, like whether it was a weeding or transplanting or harvesting, Morris and I would do a lot of that work together. Because exactly for the reason that you mentioned, because like it's a lot easier to get through an eight, nine, 10-hour day when you're working alongside someone and being able to have some friendly pleasant chatter while also keeping up like your pace and working well.
I found that before, when I was working by myself some of the time, like when Catherine later in the season, our first year working together, she got another job and I was working on the farm by myself, it was draining working by myself on the farm for those eight, nine, 10-hour days.
But in, I guess in our context with the microgreens only being 30 to 40 trays a week, it was okay for an hour or two a day. To at the beginning of the day before we went to the field vegetable operation for us to work apart from one another at the beginning of the day. And then as the day went on, we were able to have more conversation and do our work together.
But you know, you raised a good point though, as the microgreens operation expands, and if I'm hoping to do something like, you know 80 trays a week, then maybe that's something I have to start considering. It's just like, there's going to be kind of that friendly competition mentality kind of coming into play too, where it's just like, it's not like the point of the game, but just in the back of our heads, like we're across the table from one another, we're both seeding trays, you kind of have this like a friendly mentality of, okay, who's going to be able to get through these four trays faster before we go into the next set. And, but also being able to keep up a conversation. So it kind of be like a mix of being friendly, trying to create a pleasant workspace, but also like working efficiently together. Does that make sense?
Chris Thoreau: [00:31:01] Yeah, absolutely. And often you get inefficiencies when you're working alone because there's nobody there to hold you to account, right? You know, when you're working with someone else, you're probably doing less texting, you know, you're probably taking less breaks when you're with someone else you're trying to meet to them, you're trying to meet each other. So I think there are efficiencies in that.
There is a case for working with like, coming back now to the idea of employees and bringing new employees into this, you know, you're looking at yourself, you've got Morris and your dad. So these are people you've built trust with.
And so when you think about that, it sounds like the issue is, is how do you build trust with a new employee knowing there's some particular concerns specifically with microgreens and hygiene? And the tricky thing with hygiene is you never see hygiene problems. Well, you can, but you know, you don't know if somebody has, you know, touched something contaminated and touched the micro microgreens because the contaminant is essentially invisible.
So there's a trust-building that has to happen there. And the way that might work is taking somebody from the field who you've been working with and has been doing work in the field. And you've learned, you've observed their attention to detail, their questions, their responses to those saying since like, Oh, like the way this person responds to me and treats this farm as if he, he or she cares about it tells me that I can move them onto this other task and give them some general direction, like wash your hands lots.
And they're going to do that because they're proud of the work they do. So think of, I would think of it as a kind of building trust over time. I imagine if you can check in once in a while, you can only do so much damage so quickly with a microgreens setup.
Like I'm imagining, you know, think about how much damage you can do on some just-germinating carrots with a wheel hoe, you could eliminate hundreds of bed feet very, very, very quickly. There's no there's no hygiene issue there, but there's certainly a revenue loss issue there.
So I think the concerns existed in all aspects of the farm. It seems more specifically though, it might be an issue of just the integrity of the product when it comes to hygiene and sanitation.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:33:20] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And the fact that it's just going to be Morris, my dad and myself focusing on the microgreens side, I feel like that's going to make it so that I'm just trying to get my own dad up to speed really on our procedures.
So that makes it easier on that side.
I guess what it comes down to is just like for sanitation, it's just everything that the soil or the seeds touch. And then the microgreen has a going, it has as a growing has to be clean. So as long as I drill that into our heads, and I'm showing that as an example, I think that's really the important thing. Like, just leading by example and showing them how I want things to be done so that they internalize it that way. Does that make more sense than trying to tell them instruction by instruction? Like what to do?
Chris Thoreau: [00:34:14] Alright. Well, I think you do both. You know, as you're going through, like yeah, f I'm going to see trays with somebody, I just like, okay, we're going to see trays now, wash your hands, put on gloves and I'll do a little bit, okay.
So seeding is this blah, blah, blah. I want to remind you of the sanitation part, you know, so you're going to wear gloves for this part of the process. If at any point you leave. To do something else and come back to this table, you're going to wash your hands. If you drop something on the ground and pick it up, you're going to go wash your hands.
And this is the sort of stuff that after a while becomes routine and you see somebody working and they scratch their head and like, ah, they'll walk over to the sink and dah, dah, dah. And after a while, you learn and you see this with yourself. Like I have this habit of just sort of standing with my hands out in front of me in this strange way, I think I, I got it from watching you know, doctors on TV shows, but I hold my hands, like away from my body away from my face. If I need to rub my face, I do it with my forearm. And you just get into that habit and those are sort of indicators you can look for in people you're working with.
It's like, okay, this person has a clear awareness because I can see how they move and things like that. But I think it's important to you to demonstrate stuff, but to reinforce these things. And it's kind of a management strategy, you know, you might get everybody together and saying like, I just want to review some stuff with folks so it's top of your mind, you know, sanitation is really important. So, you know, when you're carrying the bins, be sure to do this, don't put them on the ground, duh duh duh duh.
You may or may not have seen somebody breaching protocol, which may prompt that, but what's nice is, is if you can do that without that, you can actually say like, Yeah, things are looking really good, I'm really appreciating that people are putting the bins on the ground. I'm seeing a lot of people washing their hands, just want to reinforce how important that is.
So what we're kind of talking about is management strategies. Because what's going to happen is, are going to shift from being a worker to a manager and that's a very, very different type of position. And so you want to have some strategies, you want to build a skillset on how to be a good manager and that's important because the other thing you're doing is you're building a relationship with your employees. And that relationship more than the money you're paying them or the you know, how important the work is is probably the thing that's going to keep them around longer and the thing that's going to make them be loyal and make sure they're being very careful to follow the directions.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:36:39] Right. I think this kind of gets to the heart of the matter is the interpersonal skills that I need to develop in order to become an effective manager of other people. Of course, I'm still going to be working alongside them and I'm still am a farm worker, but since ultimately the risk of this business like kind of lies with me, I need to assume that manager responsibility, but I want to do, I still want to have like a human relationship with the people I'm working with, especially my dad.
We're not trying to make family too closely business and family too closely, but it's just going to be a reality, like when you know, he's kind of in semi-retirement mode and, but he wants to help out the farm where he can, I want to be able to just give gentle guidance in a way that's not difficult or awkward for me to do because I'm correcting my father on proper microgreen seeding procedure.
Like one example I have from my own past is, um let's see� When I was working, I started working in a diner in the kitchen when I was 18 years old and there was like there was an open, like five gallon bucket of like mayonnaise or something on the ground. So, first of all, it shouldn't have been there.
I don't know who put it there, but then it was open with the lid sitting on the ground. And then I had my shoes that it was wearing outdoors. And because there were people in my way, I lifted my leg over the bucket.
And then, and then the chef like put his hand on my chest and said, �Never. Do. That. Again.�
And so, I mean, there was like, I could see why he said it so gravely, but it was also, maybe it was because it was like a five gallon jar of mayonnaise that I could have kicked over. There could have been debris that fell on that. but I just I don't know, maybe it was called for it the way that he did it, and it wasn't too bad.
He didn't yell at me, yell at me or chew me out or anything, but just that soft skill of just giving criticism and feedback without it impacting the interpersonal relationship that you're having with that employee. How do you kind of hone and develop that skill?
Diego: [00:38:51] You know, hearing what you're talking about, Jordan. I mean, this is a lot of stuff I think about, cause I'm at the stage where I need to hire people and one resource I listened to lately, it was Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Lafe Babin. It's a book that I think works on an individual level and it also teaches you how to be a good leader. Those are two Navy seals that were officers within the Navy seals. And there's a lot of principles in there that they talk about. It's not a do this, do this, do this type of leadership.
They're kind of talking about core tenants of leadership that work and controlling and getting people to buy into the mission. And one of the key is like understanding why.
So if you think about sanitation and I think about what they talked about in that book, one of the key things is, every employee needs to know why we're taking these measures to be extremely sanitary. We don't want to get somebody sick. We don't want to damage the farm's reputation. Cause if we do, then we're out of job.
You know, we don't want to harm another member of the community and it's like buying into that why. Kind of might take it from, Oh, this is a pain in the ass. This is a lot of work. I don't understand. You got to get them to believe it. And hearing you guys talk is interesting. Cause it does echo a lot of what I think about, of, you know, how do you start to get people on board and maybe it starts even from the hiring level.
I mean, that's where I would think about starting, you know, in Chris or Anne or Jordan, you can respond to this. What do you look for when you hire a person that you want to be a good fit within your system? You know how you want your system run, you know, how you want sanitation, how do you get a person upfront that you know, is going to fit well into that system and buy into, and then act within that system in the ways you need to?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:40:47] When we were farming in 2017, and I was looking for help occasionally here and there. I just tried people out and saw how and gave them a task to run and I wasn't�basically in my head, I was seeing how they might fit in as a full time employee the following year, but they didn't know that.
They thought that I was just asking them if they wanted to come in for a few days, which at the time is really what I needed, but I was paying very close attention to how we interacted and how they responded to criticism.
I don't think I was being as strategic as we're suggesting in this conversation, but I was just looking for general signs of how they respond to me saying, Oh, pick the beans this way. Let's go over here. We're trying to like pick this crop at a rate of this much per hour something that's not breakneck speed, but just trying to have a certain level of efficiency and holding their hand so that they understand what we're doing.
And then sitting back and seeing how they respond to that. Now, sometimes I would get someone who really had disgruntled isn't the word, but just a resistance attitude to anything that seems like I was trying to manage them. I think they thought of working on an organic small-scale farm as kind of a hippie experience that was going to be coming back to the land.
And it is that on some level, but at the same time, it's a business. So I just give you test run and see how they work. That's how Morris ended up working out with us in October. In November, he was helping me. With my final harvest and cleaning up the farm and we got along great, and he was really receptive to feedback. He actually actively asked questions about how he could be better at a job and making sure that he was doing something the right way. And when I do provide feedback on what he's doing, he actually goes out of his way to appreciate it.
Now I'm not expecting every employee to be kind of like a model worker like that, but just I'd like to see for a couple of days how they went work out and have them understand that they're not guaranteed a position until I can see that they have a certain amount of work ethic and ability to cooperate and collaborate with others.
Chris Thoreau: [00:43:06] Yeah. You know, and those are some really good those are some good strategies. I know there's ways of formulating questions to get a really good sense during an interview of what a person's going to be like. I think I'm kind of like you, Jordan, I'm very much intuitive. I want to see how the person works. We just get in there and we do it. You can get a lot of that from often from just talking with someone, whether it's casually or in an interview and someone could give the greatest interview and just be the worst worker ever because they do, they have an attitude about something, they don't like taking direction, which is the case with a lot of people who enter alternative agriculture streams.
And yeah, there's, there's a lot of things to consider. One of my things as well is I also try not to single people out. I tried to do instruction with everyone together or multiple people. I think people often feel singled out if they're getting direction too much, whereas it's like, Hey everybody, let's all talk about this.
so I think over time, it's just learning strategies to be effective. But being aware of what other people's sort of personality traits or sensitivities are. My approach in the past would have been very much like, ah, this person does like this and this, that irked me.
I don't like them. I'm going to find someone else to just, you know, unless somebody is really, really not good at what they do. I will work with someone over time to really try and build that skill and just encourage them to improve. And if they're just, you know, it's not that they're not a good employee maybe, but they're maybe just not a good collaborator.
You know, as an employer, I often feel I'm working with people, right? I don't like to consider myself the boss and you have to do whatever I say, like I�m more of a mentor. Like I know the system really well. We're going to do things my way because I know the system, but the reason I try to keep it open is because a lot of the employees I've had they'll be like, well, why don't you do it this way instead of this way, I'm like, you're right. Let's do it.
And so again, not being too much in that �I'm in control� attitude gives more space, I think, for employees too, to make the job their own, they're not just following the standard operating procedure as I've laid it out. I think it gives them a bit more ownership over what they're doing.
Another thing I wanted to make a quick comment on is if you think about growing like this is a challenge of growth, and I've heard a lot of farmers talk about growing and becoming a manager and hiring people. And what they end up doing often is scaling back because they don't want to spend their time managing people. They want to be in the field with the crops. They want to be doing the deliveries and, and meeting with clients because that's what they enjoy doing. That's how they represent their farm, that's how they get feedback.
And so what happens is, another thing that happens is as you say, start managing more and more people, your creativity gets stifled. And I've experienced this. I was at a farm in the summer in Oregon where the farmer there's like, yeah. At one point we were like eight acres and I had eight employees and I wasn't doing anything but managing these people anymore. And we're just like, Oh, we're scaling back. We're going back to four acres, and you know, the finances. I don't think we're quite as good, but they were good enough, but his quality of life was better. So thinking about how managing more people might stifle your creativity and limit your ability to be in the field and interact with the business you've built and then starting to think about as your business grows, maybe you actually hire a manager.
And you're just, you're just working with that manager, and that manager is working on the employee. So that gives you the freedom to do what you need to do or what you want to do while someone else is taking care of the human relations, for lack of a better word.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:47:04] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I was thinking, I actually met with Morris earlier today. Like we're speaking right now. It's February 25th 2019. And I met with him this morning to get started, getting ready for the farm prep that we're going to start in early April, you know, building a couple of like greenhouses and putting together things. And I just wanted to give him an overarching view of what the year is going to look like.
And I asked him if he would be comfortable kind of taking on a quasi-managerial role on the farm where he's kind of the second go-to person for how to do XYZ, because having worked alongside me for seven months straight last year, he's internalized a lot of the processes in the farm. He actually helped build them because like you said, we would be going through something and he would just think of a better way to do it because it's just that outsider perspective that's going to be like looking at a problem in a new way, recommended something. And now we're harvesting carrots twice as fast. You know I hope it's going to apply to microgreens as well. Like my dad needs to ask a question and then hopefully you can go to Morris and ask him that question.
Then the same thing with the other guys who are running on the field vegetable operation. I want them to be able to turn to either me and Morris and get almost same level of quality. Now he said he was semi-comfortable with that, but he said, he's not going to be like 100% a copy of me. And I don't expect that, but I'm just like trying to prepare him mentally for starting to take on that responsibility, so hopefully it can offload some of that risks of burning myself out like the farmer you mentioned with the eight acres. I don't want to be running from fire to fire with different employees. I want to be able to share some of that responsibility with someone who I've learned to trust on my farm over the past year.
Diego: [00:48:57] One of the things they talk about in that book, Extreme Ownership, is having small teams and leaders leading small teams of like four to six. So it's never possible for a general to see everything going on. Like, you can't manage all that complexity so you put in structures below you to manage very small group.
So maybe in that case, you know, he's the microgreens manager and then you really relate to him and they go to him questions. If he has questions, he comes to you. And then that takes some of the overload off of you, you can focus on other areas and maybe you're the field leader, whatever it is. I mean, one thing I think about hearing all this and I think about like some of the needs I would have is creating standard operating procedures.
It's one thing to, a new employee shows up, you walk them through the ropes, you show them what's going on, and then let's say two weeks later, another employee shows up and you walk them through that. Again, the odds of both of those employees getting the same information verbally, I think is somewhat low.
Do you develop a set standard operating procedure prior to hiring and say, Hey, here's how we do it, I mean, I think of how McDonald's would do this. Here's how we assemble a hamburger. And when you have something very technical, like microgreens can be of having a clear procedure of, Hey, here's the steps, here's how it is that way, whether you're training them or somebody else's training in them. There's never really a different story. There might be some color added to it, but it's all working off the same basic SOP. And I think when you have something complex like that to not leave something out or to have it be thorough might take some time on the front end, but it alleviates some of these problems on the back end of like, Oh, well, how do I do this thing?
When we didn't cover that on day one. Oh, check page four. It's right here.
Chris Thoreau: [00:51:05] Yeah. I think those are interesting questions. So I kind of wrote and created a standard operating procedure for the fruit Pedalers at the same time. I would write something out and then I wouldn't do it and realize, Oh, like I was writing this out, but in my head that doesn't work and then it would sort of shift over time.
I don't know that I've for read my standard operating procedures. I've written them out because my business started off as a directed studies project. Because the Canadian food inspection agency requires you to have standard operating procedures. I would go through and revise them once in a while, but I don't think, I think I would make a new, and in some cases I did, but in general, like I wouldn't make a new employee read my operations manual.
The operations manuals are great to write. They are horrible to read. And so the standard operating procedure is something that gets taught to you in real time. And kind of looking on the on sort of melding into the top topic of HACCP here or hazard analysis and critical control points, part of your standard operating procedure is what you do. And part of it is what you don't do. And that's the thing that often that you end up stressing with employees a lot is like, you know, don't ever do that. If you're cutting, never put your hand in here when you're cutting. You know, if this happens, don't do this.
So a lot of its what you don't do as much as it is what you do do, but we do all our training in real time. I wouldn't ask somebody to go back to the manual, to refer to a task to know how to do it better.
Diego: [00:52:42] I mean, hearing that, Jordan, what are your thoughts? Having a written set of procedures for everything that you do to help onboard an employee. And you could go to the extreme and it's like, you know, here's a manual for everything we do. And then you could go to the other extreme where it's all verbal. And then there's somewhere in between where the amount of detail in that SOP varies. Where do you think you fall on that scale?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:53:11] Right. One thing that I started looking into was like I, I'm not, I'm allergic to using a lot of technology on my farm, as long as I find it's going to be more useful than it is a pain. Now it's really easy to start adding apps into your procedures and overburdening people with technology, but I'm trying to keep it simple and put my like steps.
And basically when we say like, when we're saying like jargon, like standard operating procedures, we really just mean like steps to doing a job. So just like one by one. How do you plant how do you seed a tray of pea shoots? How do you seed a tray of sunflower and we're going to use an app. It's I think it's in beta. It's called Tend. You can find it on Tend.ag. I'm not affiliated with them in any way, just a little disclaimer, but it looks like it's going to be really useful for building out our tasks from week to week, both on the farm and in the microgreen facility. T
hen what you can do is you can have like different locations and different tasks for every step of a crop life cycle. So from seeding to harvest, you can assign different tasks to different people and you can refer to what location the crop that you're talking about is in. So they don�t get confused.
One thing Morris and I were going over there this morning is that he thinks he probably wasted dozens probably like I hopefully he was being hyperbolic, but he said dozens of hours. Hopefully it was just a few hours over the season. Just looking for the correct crop to weed or harvest because we have four, five, six sessions at any given time. So he'd get lost. And the same thing can happen in a microgreens facility where you've got multiple successions happening on multiple racks.
And it's a your to-do list for the day is to I don't know, harvest the peas. Like maybe this is something that's going to be obvious just based on the size of the peas. It's obvious to me, but to somebody who's still relatively new to the system, maybe it's going to be really important that they know that it's in rack number three shelf four, so that they're not getting confused with the planting that's supposed to be for the market four days later.
There's a chance that they might get confused if there's just about an inch of a difference in the growth stage. So I know that was an extremely specific example, but I I'm just thinking of crop by crop since I do have about a month and a half left before or two months before we're stepping foot on the farm to build our infrastructure there, maybe I would just take a few days drink a few pots of coffee and make sure that every prop that I'm planting and growing there's stuff that anyone can refer to and all of my employees have access to this app.
So if they're being asked to do something, of course I'll show them how to do it in person. But if they forget, if they forget two out of 10 steps, the whole job might be of lower quality. So before they finished doing the job, they would just look at that app and say, did I put the tools away after I finished the job? That's important because then when the next person goes to do a similar job, they're not going to be happy to look all over the farm for that tool.
But yeah, so I'm hoping that, like, I know that's like a technological solution, but I'm thinking that, you know, with four employees, maybe the little questions can be avoided like the five or 10 minutes once an hour, that somebody's, you know, losing time actually doing productive work because they forgot, Oh yeah. Is this the next step or is this the next step? And they can just refer to their phone and look at what they're supposed to do. I figure that that might save us a lot of time when you consider the six or seven months there are of the growing season.
Chris Thoreau: [00:56:57] Yeah, I think there's some good. You had some great points in there. Funny at it's the second time in about three days, Tend has come up in conversation for me and also when I reflect back on some of the things we did with the food pedalers. Where we found people were missing tasks, you know, and actually one of them would be shutting down at the end of the day where you had to lock everything up, lock up the bikes, put everything away, there was often one or two things being missed or something being missed, which was potentially devastating, like not locking, you know, the space where you have all your harvest equipment and your cash. S we would, we would have, you know, basically here's your checklist at the end of the day, it's posted right there.
And so that's one thing with some of your tasks where you're finding, if, if it's really important to have a reference, you can have a basic version. Cause we kind of do like a detailed and a basic standard operating procedure. Like there's, you know, if you want to look at it, the process of harvesting a sunflower shoot.
And when you think about all the points and the sub points and little things you do with it takes up a page, but really it comes down to like put the tray down, cut it, put it in the water, rinse it, you know, there's very basic steps. It's often the sub steps and the comment in there that makes them really detailed. So having a simple, a simple version of your tasks basically to refer to is a good idea. And yeah, I think building it into an app is a great idea as well.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:58:23] That's a good point about the sub steps and like the details creating a lot of the work. If you didn't like, like you were saying before that, you know, writing the standard operating procedures is one thing cause it like gets you to look inside out at your entire operation, but then reading them as quite another thing. And if you have all those sub steps in between, it can get kind of monotonous and you know, just kind of a chore to go through them. But if someone's already done a job ten times then, maybe they only need that shortcut list. And they'll just through a muscle memory. Once they see, rinse, the trays, they know the four or five sub movements that go along with rinse, like the trays.
Diego: [00:59:04] Chris, going off your experience, what's kind of a rough guess of, he brings somebody new on how long before you feel very comfortable about letting them go and just you're on your own. You can do it. I believe in you. Is that more or like a week? Is it more like a month? Where do you think that kind of falls?
Chris Thoreau: [00:59:25] It really varies depending on the task we're talking about and the, and then the individual. Like some people you bring them on, you're like, yeah, like I would give you my newborn baby and send you off on a unicycle right away.
And other people that you're like, I wouldn't give you my newborn baby and the most secure car with the most padding on the planet. So a lot of it comes down to, like we talked about earlier, just your intuition. How that person interacts with your system. I've had some people come on and really just like, you know, I'm going to get you just prepping trays again today.
I'm going to get you doing this. Whereas other people's like, yeah, come harvest with us. You know, let's do this right away. The trick is, some of those things I think can backfire. If you've got somebody who maybe needs more motivating, and because they need more motivating, you're giving them more menial tasks, chances are they're going to get less motivated much quicker and be like, Oh, I'm already kind of bored and I'm just getting these crappy tasks and I'm not into this job. I want more responsibility, even though often they're not doing the things that they need to do to earn that responsibility.
And then I think other people, if you move them along too quickly, they maybe missed the importance of understanding all the steps that led to there. So, we used to just start people off with picking hulls. Actually, first thing you do is like, you're just picking sunflower hulls all day and it's all you're doing. But you're, you're actually right in the depths of like our biggest, most important product and right at the point where you're most likely to contaminate it.
And so I still feel pretty confident in that because there'd be three or four of us there. And that first day we'd be saying to that person, Oh, you need to wash your hands now. Oh, you need to wash your hands. All you need to sanitize that. And that's, that's fine way of learning. I think you throw someone under the bus, you do it gently and they learn that stuff very quickly, but I like the idea of working your way up from tasks and kind of earning that responsibility or earning that right to do more responsible tasks. Cause you do get some more of that observation time and if something isn't going right, they're doing it at least at a less crucial stage in your process.
Jordan MacPhee: [01:01:37] I remember when I worked on a on a community at a community garden a couple of years ago, it was after our first year of running our CSA, we took it a year to save up for the next year. And there were a lot of volunteers coming to that community garden. We were donating produce to local charities and a lot of people just wanted to kind of pitch in and do their part.
But with you getting like extremely a lot of variability in the level of gardening skill where some people have never worked with a garden before, and some people are like complete green thumbs with like 30 years of backyard gardening experience and maybe the occasional former market gardener.
So it took like, it was a lot of volunteer management, but in the same way, it was kind of a crash course in getting new people to come onto a farm. You have to work with them for at least a half hour or an hour at a task before you can see like kind of what their basic abilities are and understanding of working with crops.
And then you can kind of graduate them to the next level of complexity. Like, and I never thought of it the way that Chris said, but just in the�basically the amount of harm that they can do to a crop at any given point. So like maybe starting them at picking hulls from sunflower seeds when they're washing them in the right point.
Like you said, because in hindsight that was a key point of contamination, but it was an easy job. So it's like, how do you find somewhere that's an easy level of entry and allows them to get a feel and familiarity with the crop before you graduate them to the next level.
I'll just have to kind of like think through the steps of the process to make sure that each employee is kind of being graduated step-by-step through the various levels of either the microgreens facility or the field operation.
Chris Thoreau: [01:03:30] Yeah. You know, and you bringing up volunteers kind of sparked something with me. I think, you know, in the beginning, starting up my business, and I hear this with others, and people would come and volunteer and all I'm thinking about is.
Volunteer free labor, less work for me but it didn't take very long before there was no way I would have a volunteer because the amount of work you have to do to get that volunteer oriented towards a task that could be a contaminating task is too much. And there's a mindset you have as a volunteer that's different than your mindset as an employee that I don't think makes most people take the same care and attention.
And we still at the food pedalers got a lot of people like, Oh, can I come do a bit of work or, you know, come help you guys out. And it's just like, no, you know, you can't, you know, you wouldn't generally go to a restaurant or go to a welding shop and do that. Like you just there's too much liability to do that. So, you know, I, maybe I seemed a little casual with how I treated, you know employees and the responsibilities.
But once again, like going back to earlier in the conversation, I could do that casually because I was there almost all the time, because other staff I had knew the process really well. You were always with someone and that's a little bit of a contrast to your situation, Jordan, but you you've kind of. You've set yourself up well, where you've got you and you've got Morris well-trained your next employee is your dad which in a way it's actually really good, but you know, maybe as a bit of an aside, I mean, maybe you've done this already.
You should sit down with a coffee or a beer one night and just talk about what that relationship's going to look like. You know, is how well will your dad take direction from you or how well will he take it from Morris, for example, and just a little discussion about what this looks like and why certain conversations might happen. You would think you could rely on a family member, but I'm not always, right? So that that's still a relationship to manage.
Jordan MacPhee: [01:05:37] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I really should sit down with him and talk about how the relationship Amex are going to work on the field versus just our interpersonal relationship. Like he comes over to my grandmother�s.
In fact, today we can talk casually for two or three hours, but yeah, you know, there's never a point where I'm kind of raking the dynamic of a father, son relationship and telling him what for. Now, I'm going to approach it when we're working together side by side, but it is going to be a bit awkward to overcome it first.
And I mean it was awkward for me to overcome even with Morris last year, because he�s someone who's just a couple years younger than me. And all of a sudden we're in this kind of Boston play relationship. And like you, I hate thinking of myself as a boss. I like to be, you know, one of the guys I'm one of the workers and working alongside somebody.
But yeah, there was like a bit of resistance internally that I had to overcome to not feel awkward about like giving a demand and giving constructive but gently like worded feedback that wouldn't, that was like, you know, the main point is to just communicate the message of what you're trying to say.
You're not trying to emotionally alter someone. You just want them to understand the process and carry it out. So I think of my dad understands that. And the other employees who are working for me understand that, then we're going to be able to get along with one another a lot better.
I want them to understand. They shouldn't take criticism and feedback personally, or it's like in a personal affront has their value as a worker, but should be a kind of a sign of respect that I understand that they want the farm to do well, because they believe in the farms greater mission. And if they believe in the farm's greater mission here is how I think that they should be carrying out the individual tasks that they're doing on the farm.
So I need to have that overarching conversation with everyone, but especially my dad, because we're in an obviously a family relationship outside of work.
Chris Thoreau: [01:07:40] Well, the other conversation, and this isn't just applying to you, but applies to be in everyone else in a manager role, as well as you need to have that conversation with yourself.
Some people have an idea whether it's adopted from some management strategy or from their parents, if somebody does something wrong, you should criticize them for that. You know, you should tell them they've done a bad job and they need to do better. Whereas another management style might be like, Oh, like, you know, I just want to remind you of this.
There's different ways of dealing with mistakes or gaps in process. And I think it's important that as a manager or an owner, you have an awareness of that because some people, and I know I work with some people and every time they give me direction or feedback, it just rubs me the wrong way, and when I stepped back, I can own part of that as my sensitivity.
I just don't like to be given direction, period. So that's always on me. But it's like, why don't I like it from this person? Well, you know, it's because of this, this and this. And so as I experienced those things in a sort of subordinate role, it makes me a better manager or collaborator, because I'm always thinking about that when I'm in that situation and how other people may respond to the way I'm giving them feedback.
Jordan MacPhee: [01:08:59] Oh, and I forgot. You mentioned going back to the conversation by volunteers, I would never have a volunteer come into the microgreens facility. I totally agree. There would just be like, it would be too much work to get someone up to speed about all the different processes before they could farm.
One kind of horror story we had at the community garden was we taught someone how to harvest Michelin mix. And you were just like using a paring knife and harvesting each baby lettuce plant at a time and harvesting into a bucket. And then they thought they knew how to harvest greens. So then the next morning at 5:00 AM, before any of the workers showed up, they harvested three, full, 100 foot beds of spinach, the same way that we had showed them how to do the baby Michelin mix.
Not only did they harvest the spinach two weeks ahead of time, but they harvested it in such a way that it killed all of the next three or four weeks of succession plantings. And, you know, the hundreds of pounds of total produce that we expected off of those beds.
So if you just take that, that was like a pretty extreme example, but if something were to happen like that in a microgreens facility, We're on only two racks. There could be potentially a 15 to 200. Let me do the math here. Oh no, sorry. 800 to $1,000 of product.
And you gave someone kind of free reign without giving them complete training? A lot of damage can be done, but yeah. Sorry. That was kind of an aside off of what you were saying just now, but I wanted to make sure I hit that point before I forgot it.
Chris Thoreau: [01:10:27] Yeah, I love extreme examples. Those are the best.
Diego: [01:10:30] What are your guys� thoughts on this. I've heard people within this space mentioned this, I'll lead you a little bit by saying this idea personally resonates with me.
When you hire somebody, you kind of lay out a plan that looks something like this: I'm hiring you today at a rate of X dollars per hour. We're going to come in and it's a four-week trial period. You get paid for this trial at the end of four weeks. We'll have a review.
If it's not a fit for either one of us, we can cut ties, move along, no harm done, no hard feelings. And if it's a fit and things are working well, we move you to X plus Y in terms of your pay, that gives you a chance to real world test somebody. And because they might be a great interviewer, like Chris said, or they might talk a great game.
It gives you a feel for how they fit into the culture and just what their personality is. And it pays them to try and work hard to get that potential pay bump at the end. And then it gives both people an equal out if it just, they hate you or, you hate them, people can move on.
Chris Thoreau: [01:11:43] I think those are some good suggestions. So the way the labor laws work in Canada, when you hire somebody, within the first three months, you can let them go without any notice. So I think a lot of people go into a job aware that the first three month months technically is always a probationary period. And this year I think that's, that's good.
If something is clearly wrong before you're invested too much, you cut your ties and you move on. I think the I think naming that though is a good idea. Like, you know, we're going to do whether it's three months or four weeks and maybe being clear, like not this isn't a fit for everybody, a lot of people come into this position and they think it's going to be one thing and it turns out to be another and you know, then they stay on cause it's a job or because they don't want to let you know, you don't want to let us down, but it kind of lays that stuff out. And yeah, then there's the incentive as well for a higher wage.
And I usually let people know that right off the bat, like it's either, it's sat just like, you know, we're going to start you at this. But our goal is to pay people as much as we can afford. We want to be our goal is to be paying a living wage for this area. Things like that, but I say, we kind of have to work towards that just because we can actually or pay people so much.
My goal is always to be hiring for a little more than what they would typically get paid for that position anyways. One, because it's going to attract more people. Two, if not, then what happens is you hire somebody, a lower wage, they may work out good, but right away, they find, they find a job at a better wage.
They're like, Oh, well it's similar work, higher wage. So I'm just going to go there. And that attitude and that risk really fluctuates with the job market. And I bring that up now because the job market in Canada, it's a job seekers market. You know, if you've got a position posted at minimum wage, you'll be lucky to get an application.
And I've talked to many farmers this year who just like they advertise positions where they would typically have 30 or 40 applicants and didn't have any, or had one or two. And so it really, really it really spoke to that importance of having that wage to attract people. And so maybe having advertising a wage and saying what the potential to be this or this within this period of time is a great way to bring people in even if they do start on a lower wage.
Diego: [01:14:08] Jordan, when you look at hiring here, I mean, what are your thoughts in terms of, if it's not a fit and paying to incentivize people? I mean, cause this is a real risk, right? For any new employer, you might need to bring four people on this year. And for those people might not be a fit.
Jordan MacPhee: [01:14:27] Yeah. I guess like the scenario you mentioned about kind of increasing pay after a certain amount of time, that's kind of the approach I took last year. I won't go into exact figure, I'll just preface this by saying, I think the amount of physical labor and kind of mental gymnastics that any average farm worker has to do in order to help run a successful small-scale organic vegetable farm including microgreens facility, they deserve something like 18, $20 an hour, but just given the real realities of farming economics, it's hard to pay a barely above minimum wage, especially in the first few years of starting a farm.
Now we never start anyone at minimum wage, but we can't start at much above that. What I did was just after a month or two and seeing a Morris go all out for those first two months, while we were getting into harvest season, we just sat in the truck at lunch one day and I just said, Hey, I'm upping your pay by 50 cents an hour. And although that's the only, you know, extra 20 bucks a week, it's a, it's still showing that I appreciate the amount of effort that he's putting in to become a better worker.
And I've also tried to, well, I haven't tried to yet, but I've been daydreaming about eventually having profit incentive systems where at the end of the year, if we do well for revenue as a farm, that I would share a percentage of those profits with the employees themselves so that they actually have a sense of direct ownership in the farm.
I'm hoping that if they feel like every sale that we do, and every ounce of waste that we removed from the farm is actually going to directly benefit them and not just benefit the farm in my bottom line, I feel like that's going to incentivize more dedication and commitment to what we're doing.
And I think it's only fair to do that. Like, I shouldn't be expecting a hundred percent from people if I'm not going to reward them any differently than if they're getting giving 80% or a hundred percent. So I would be fine with it for other employees. Like I upped the Morris's wage to $14 dollars an hour this year, and I know that's a lot of, as far as like startup firms go, but it's not nearly as much as I think he really deserves.
It's just what I can afford to pay right now. So when somebody comes on the farm, a brand new and our minimum wage in Prince Edward Island is $12.25. I'm going to be starting them at a little bit above that figure and make it transparent to them, Hey, if you. Are fitting in well after a couple of months and we have the ability as a farm to do this, we're going to raise your pay in kind to the amount of contribution you're adding to the farm. I think that just makes them understand the direct impact of how their contributions to the farm add up over time.
Diego: [01:17:19] Yeah. I think that's really important. I mean, cause there's definitely this you know, entitled mentality out there nowadays I think within the labor force. So, like I need, I should get this just because I should. And I think it's our jobs as small business owners to try and convey what makes sense and that we do we can and why increased productivity helps everyone and it just goes back to something I mentioned before of this core, them understand the process.
If the business does well, we can pay you more, but we can't just pay you more out of the gate because you want more, or you think you deserve more. Thinking about everything that you've heard today. Do you have any final questions here for Chris or concerns that are still there or new ones that came up?
Jordan MacPhee: [01:18:14] The only thing maybe specifically we didn't get into, we danced around it a little bit was food safety both in practice and in terms of certification none of the sales streams that were distributing microgreens through right now HACCP certification.
But in the long term, we'd like to start selling to the larger grocery chains in Atlanta, Canada. And in order to get into those chains or any local schools or local hospitals, we have to have that HACCP certification. Now, I feel like what we're doing, in terms of our processes from planting, the harvesting are pretty up to snuff.
I've like looked up the documents online that there are available for HACCP. But I know that our materials, for example, that we use in our microgreen facility will not pass certification. We had someone take a look and it's just like, even down to the walls that we have in the unfinished basement that there's, that like wooden panel where there's like the lines in between, maybe this is too involved for us to get into at the end of this conversation.
Diego: [01:19:26] Yeah, I know where you're going. And I would say this, I think HACCP and food safety is a whole other conversation, but let me pose it like this. And cause I think this is manageable and ties in.
If you think you're eventually going the route of HACCP. And you're bringing on new employees, Chris, what are some things you want to convey to those employees and practices you want to ingrain in them from day one to make eventually flipping that switch towards HACCP smoother and easier?
Chris Thoreau: [01:19:55] Yeah, , you know, maybe just a comment on HACCO yeah. HACCP, there's a lot of detail. And the first question you have to ask is: is my facility is my operation even certifiable? And if not, like, is there still enough business out there? And we were looking at selling at whole foods at a certain point, and then looking at HACCP certification, our setup, which once again is pretty good, but it's not status quo.
Cause these frameworks are built assuming you're a big business in a warehouse like with all these assumptions, and you're always finding ways to sort of fit into that model. So we strayed away from that. We deal with smaller restaurants and grocers that don't require that, but still give us good volume.
I would think if we got to the scale where we were doing whole foods, so be safely, whoever it is, and we're doing that kind of volume, everybody, as it is now, everybody who works with the food Pedalers gets their food safe training, which is, you know, very, very, very basic HACCP in a way, so I would have everybody continued to do that.
But there are sort of introduction and basic HACCP courses in the workshops you could take. So it might be that they do that individually online and then have to do a task to past. And then we're like, okay, well you pass the test, great. Or it might be something we all do as a group, like we all do a one-day workshop or something there.
So I would have an additional training component as well to make sure people really, really did that. What you're doing in that case is often you're giving them a certification, right? So you're giving them something that's transferable. It's not just, I need you to do this for my job. I'm actually teaching you something that you can take with you elsewhere.
Jordan MacPhee: [01:21:43] Yeah, it's I guess I'm just a, it comes down to transferring attention to detail and across the entire scope of all the skills that they need on the farm attention to detail is crucial. And I think, you know, when it comes to food safety, attention to detail is no more important, is there's no more important place for attention to detail to be then when it comes to food safety.
I think that question and that answer basically sums up where I've arrived with food safety fear. I want to make sure that we're doing it in practice and that we're delivering a product that�s safe for our customers, but the reason I'm not going for certification this year is because there's plenty of room for our farm to grow without having to go through all those hoops, unless we've saturated every farmer's market and wholesale.
A buyer who's going to take our product. We don't need to try to start serving like the larger Atlantic, like Sobey size grocery stores. We can just kind of contribute to our kind of local food economy and the basic amount of food safety that we need is just for people to internalize those processes of keeping things sanitary from their hands to the trays, to the seeds and everything in between.
And just making sure that when the customer is eating that product and that they can feel safe, that they're not going to come to any harm, having something that's supposed to be a trustworthy piece of food.
Chris Thoreau: [01:23:04] Yeah, well, an analogy I use a lot is at the farmer's market. There's people that do jams and baked goods and breads and prepared stuff at the farmer's market.
And because they're just doing it at a farmer's market, they're able to prepare it in their house. They do need to have their food safe certificate. And then there's a declaration there that says this was, whatever it is, this was prepared in a non-official facility, you know, in my home, blah, blah, blah. But if you want to take that same jam or bread and sell it across the provincial border or across an international border, each level of scale has more and more scrutiny and level of detail.
So the same thing sort of applies here. Okay, we're going to the farmer's market. We're going to restaurants we're going to do some small grocers. And so you're interacting with those people on a daily basis, you know a lot of what's going on and if you have to do a recall, you're doing a recall like individually. And when we talked to the CFIA about that sort of stuff, they're like, well, actually you just have to do a recall with grocers. You don't have to do it at the farmer's market, you don't even have to do it with restaurants, like, Oh, okay.
So there's just these weird protocols in place. And some of them don't even make sense, even though they're technically we are a higher standard. So I think once again, though, the thing is, I'm in Vancouver, we're a Metro area of 2 million people. I know PEI does not have that same population density. So you may need that distribution to get a big enough market to make your model viable, to really grow things. And in that regard, you may want to look at that. Yeah. And you would just train your employees as you go to whatever standard you think is going to be appropriate for the tasks they're doing.
Jordan MacPhee: [01:24:51] And last thing for me, I guess, is just like going back full circle bouncing off of what you said is about like the example you brought up with the farmer who was doing eight acres with the employees and he was running around and feeling hassled. I'm just trying to find that happy medium for my own farm, where we're paying our bills. We're making a modest, but reliable income. We're providing a modest, reliable income to our employees and we're providing good, a steady stream of food to our community.
As long as we hit those major goals, I'm not really interested in world domination. And that includes Atlantic, Canada domination. I don't really need to produce all of the microgreens for Atlantic Canada, as long as we're at a happy medium, I want there to just be a healthier food economy.
So if that means leaving space in new Brunswick and Nova Scotia for microgreens producers to come up there without having to compete with Maple Bloom Farms from Prince Edward Island, that's all the better because I want there to be that opening in those other places.
Yeah, that's basically my thoughts. I want to scale up to the point that's minimally viable for us to have a decent and anti-fragile farm.
Chris Thoreau: [01:26:08] Yeah. Cool. That's a great approach.
Diego: [01:26:10] So a lot here in this one, and I hope this helps people out there listening. And I hope it helped you, Jordan. I want to thank you for coming back on today for people that want to follow along with Maple Bloom Farm, everything that you have going on and see expanding microgreens production, where's the best place to go?
Jordan MacPhee: [01:26:27] Oh well, you can look up information about our community supported agriculture program or our microgreens at MapleBloomFarm.ca if you go to our Facebook page, Maple Bloom Farm or Instagram, Maple Bloom Farm, you can see our microgreens display at the farmer's markets, how we package our microgreens for restaurant and grocery stores and wholesalers across PEI.
And yeah, that's basically, that's kinda quiet around the time of on social media, but I'm going to be ramping that up as we get closer to the growing season.
Diego: [01:27:08] Jordan McPhee of Maple Bloom Farm. If you want to follow along with everything that Jordan's doing, be sure to check them out on Instagram or you can visit some of the links below in the show notes for this one. And if you want to learn more about food to save these specifically around microgreens, be sure to check out Chris Thoreau�s Growing Your Microgreens Business Course available @permaculturevoices.com slash microgreens.
That course is meant to help somebody who's new get their microbiome business up and going. The focus on that is professional microgreen growing. It's not really for the hobbyist. It's aimed at people that want to start doing this professionally in a very systematic and smart way that's going to allow your business to scale over time if, and when it needs to, you can learn more. Again, permaculturevoices.com/microgreens or just visit the link in the notes below. That's all for this one. Thanks for listening until next time. Be nice. Be thankful. And do the work.
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