Review: Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables

The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables is the sequel to Ben Hartman’s 2015 book The Lean Farm. Ben is a successful market garden farmer based in Indiana. His first book details his methods for achieving a profitable farm through reducing farm waste, increasing labor efficiency, and high productivity from staff and employees. The first book is aimed at those who can successfully farm and market high volumes of market crops but are struggling financially due to high costs and long hours. I enjoyed the first book but it was somewhat frustrating since it was low on farming details and focused on combining steps, reducing space, etc. I wanted to know more about how they actually farmed – seeding methods, crop choices, preventing weeds and pest damage, packaging the harvest and so forth.

This new book answers those questions and more. From planning your growing calendar, to bed preparation, composting, starting seeds, transplanting, weed management, and customer sales this is a fairly complete guide to successful farming. This shows how Ben and his team achieve the abundance that they must manage “lean” in order to make a profit and support their family and several employees. Several case studies on some of the more important crops really bring everything together so you can envision how the growing AND the “leaning” work in practice.

Throughout the book, Ben reminds the reader that this is not a how-to book but rather should help develop a mindset to look for ways to continually improve your farm. Aspiring farmers can see what works for Ben specifically in enough detail so they can make the transition to developing a successful “lean farm” in their own community. Consider this book along with Jean-Martin Fortier’s 2014 book The Market Gardener as the two bookends in your essential small farm library. Both farmers have similar approaches and scale but there are many differences and few redundancies in the books. Any small farm grower would do well to extensively study both these successful farmers and develop a plan that will work for your own farm. Jean Martin is in Quebec while Ben Hartman is in Indiana so Ben’s book may reflect seasonality that’s common to more American farms. I am longing for a third book “Market Gardening along the Gulf Coast” that would detail success in Texas’ challenging long, hot, dry summers amidst invasive Bermuda grass.


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