Renewable Farming

Ben Hartman told farmers at ACRES how to make a living on one acre

ACRES speaker Ben Hartman stressed management  as the means to make a good living on his 1-acre farming operation near Goshen, Indiana. He raises fresh garden produce for local retail customers, farmers’ markets and restaurants.

Dec. 1, 2016 By Blake Carlson  Part of Ben’s production comes from four 9,000 square foot greenhouses. He focused strongly on the aspect of simplicity on the farm.

Here are some main points:

  • Doesn’t need to be complicated; only use the tools you need.
  • To keep efficiency high, he recommended short, frequent cleanups
  • Developing a habit of good efficient behavior, and to sustain with a visual system such as photos to remind workers what the workplace needs to look like. The background of these points is also explained further at this link.
Ben in greenhouse (Courtesy of Food and Farm Conference)

He reminds workers of customer value.

  • Be scientific: don’t use assumptions about what buyers want. Use actual data coming from surveys, interviews and more.
  • Learn about what they want, when they want it, and the amount they want with an agreeable price.
  • He sends an email twice per year asking customers how his Community Supported Agriculture service has been. He will also ask them in person.
  • Big thing is convenience for customers (make it really easy for them).
  • Keep track of the types of vegetables certain customers want (restaurants liked the big ripe tomatoes right away). The little stuff matters!
  • Ben sets up customer pickup locations with coolers for produce.Communication was key: Find time to find exactly how customers want deliveries.

Three types of activities on the farm:

  • Type one: Necessary activities such as eating lunch and cleaning that don’t directly add value. Time spent on activities such as those need to be minimized.
  • Type two: Pure waste needs to be eliminated.
  • Type three: Value adding activities such as planting seeds and harvest should be maximized for optimum profit.

Ben talked about 7 wastes that should be considered when operating farms and businesses

  • Overproduction: minimize.
  • Waiting – people and product sitting around.
  • Transportation – too much driving.
  • Over processing – don’t overdo.
  • Inventory – don’t stockpile (especially seeds: buy only what you need for that time, seed companies spend thousands on seed storing equipment)
  • Motion — could people or produce move less?
  • Making defective products.

Ben was intrigued with how the Japanese use huge amounts of compost and they don’t deplete their soil. He implements some of those practices on his farm. For example:

  • He uses a raised bed compost system.
  • Beds are covered 8-12 inches with dark and rich soil.
  • New raw material for compost is brought in every year (this doesn’t have to be expensive, connections can be made to find many unneeded, once-alive materials for great compost).


Ben transplants mostly everything he grows for vegetables.

He uses a very efficient machine called a paper pot transplanter

Eliminate the things that hurt you the most during the season. Good time to analyze what was the biggest issue of the winter growing season. This in return makes work just a little bit easier every year. Ben emphasized that there was never a point where you become the most efficient. “There is always a better way of doing things!” Lastly he believes in respecting those working with you at the farm. There is no way we can be at the farm observing everything.