Friday, January 4, 2013

What we need identity

A recent visitor to the farm asked me an excellent question today on the phone.  "What do you need most?"  I was stumped.  So many things flooded into my brain that I couldn't think of any one thing to say.  We need some wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes and other tools.  We need feed.  We need apple trees because we want to start an orchard.  We definitely need to find someone to refinance our hay farm.  We need fencing and irrigation supplies.  We need seeds.  We need paint.  We need, need, need, need, need.  On a farm, you need so many many many things that it's hard to narrow it down to anything!

So I've been thinking about it all evening.  What do we really need?  And I thought, we need an identity.  One of the problems of diversified farming is that you become so diversified you don't specialize in anything.  We raise chickens, geese, pigs, goats, ducks, guineas, turkeys, cows and probably more that I'm not even thinking of right now.  And this is on top of our jobs off the farm.  It's overwhelming just thinking about it all.

Business have to grow up just like people and often have an identity crisis-experimenting with different products and services until they find what works for them
Any good business knows that it can't do everything.  If you try to do everything with your business, it will fail.  A good business has a niche.  So I've been thinking, what's our niche?  Endangered livestock and heirloom vegetables.  When we first started, we focused on our Cotton Patch geese.  That was our big thing.  That was what made us different.  Then we kept adding and adding.  I thought back to when we were first getting going.  We had our geese and we also had melons.  I haven't raised melons in a couple years now because I've been so busy raising everything else.

I think we really need to get back to our original love-geese and melons.  That's not to say that we can't still have chickens or cows, etc.  But we need to focus or it becomes too overwhelming.  And business-wise, customers get overwhelmed too.  If you're known for everything then you become known for nothing.  You can't excel at everything, but you can excel at a few things.  And when you excel, customers come running.  This is the importance of an identity in business and in life.

If you're still trying to find a niche, Joel Salatin offers the suggestion to grow what you like to eat.  If you wouldn't eat it, then you probably shouldn't grow it and you certainly shouldn't specialize in it.  I love melons.  My family loves melons.  And we all adore the geese (plus they taste great).

It's so easy to get carried away, especially when customers request this product and that product.  Our family is going to need to sit down and talk about what exactly we want to specialize in.  Is it melons and geese?  Is it apple trees?  We love apples too (see how quickly we can start getting off track again?).  Should we have a few specialities for different parts of the year?  Geese in the winter and spring, melons in the fall?  Vacation in Europe during the summer?  Well, maybe not that last one, but I can always hope.