In the late 80’s and early 90’s I’d read some of Alan Savory’s writing and become interested in Holistic Management. It seemed like a good idea. I was involved in farm organizations and had seen some of my colleagues go through difficult transitions when trying to bring in the next generation. An approach which considered the people and environment as well as the finances seemed like a good idea to me.
We did some more reading and attended an overview session. When the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario arranged an introductory course in 1995 we jumped at the opportunity. We joined nine other couples for a trio of three day sessions. It took some organizing to free up three days each month for January, February and March but it was worth it. We had been farming for over 20 years by then and while we were doing ok we were frustrated that we were still working off the farm to support our family. We seemed to be spinning our wheels and stepping on each others toes both with each other and the kids.
As we worked through the goal setting, financial planning and biological planning sessions in the winter of 95 things began to change. In focusing on our holistic goal we started looking at how our farm could serve our family not just how our family could serve the farm. It ended up being a much bigger shift than it sounds. When Fran and I determined that we wanted to be full time on the farm we now had the tools to actually make it possible. We used the financial planning tools to analyze our existing enterprises and evaluate new ones. We used our quality of life goal to help us decide which ones would be best for us. We started planning for a profit and paying ourselves and by 1996 we were both full time on the farm.
Another test of Holistic Managements effectiveness for us was a quality of life goal our daughters had identified. There were lots of things they liked about living on the farm but they were very adamant that they wanted to take summer holidays like their friends at school. My paradigm was that farmers don’t take summer holidays and my immediate reaction was to say “no way”. But HM had encouraged me to be more open to other peoples needs and desires. I also thought this would be a really BIG test of whether the HM planning process could work. Again we used the planning tools we had learned in the course and amazed ourselves by taking a month long family holiday to British Columbia in August 1996. And the farm survived and prospered.
One other event that highlighted HM’s value from that time was the death of our snow blower at the start of the winter. Before HM we would have rushed out to buy a replacement. And the start of the winter does not offer the same opportunity to buy one cheap at a summer auction sale which was when we got our first snow blower. But with our HM training we put the decision through the testing questions and considered a variety of options. In the end we settled on a horse powered snow scoop which was far more in line with our holisticgoal AND cost so much less than a snow blower that with that one decision we saved more money than we had spent the year before to take the course.
For several years we were part of a management club made up of the families who were with us in the course. Over time it petered out but we continued doing our annual financial planning and reviewing and updating our holisticgoal. We continued to feel that HM was a valuable part of our farm planning and our enjoyment of life. The “cause and effect” question and the enterprise “weak link analysis” helped us address the root causes of problems and focus our resources where they would do the most good in each enterprise each year.
In 2006 we decided to go to a Holistic Management Conference being held on the prairies. We were astounded when we got there. This was during the height of the BSE crisis in the beef economy. At that time Ontario farm meetings had all the energy and joy of funeral dirge. But here in ranch country were a bunch of beef farmers and ranchers enthusiastically participating in a conference, some with their children and grandchildren. Despite the crisis they were optimistic, they had quality of life goals and plans for achieving them. It made us appreciate that HM had not only been good for us and our family but was of clear value to a great many other farm families. When we got home we started thinking about becoming certified educatorsso that we could offer HM training in Ontario. It seemed to us that Holistic Management had provided the best overall approach for making sustainable decisions.
With climate change, peak oil and bubble economics creating huge challenges for societies and families a planning process that integrates quality of life, environmental stewardship and solar dollars offers hope and security. It helps us focus on what is important and what is real. We know what it has done for us. We’ve seen what it has done for others. Each family can use it to create the goal and plan that is right for them. That is what makes it so exciting!
It isn’t a formula or a destination. It is a process for creating the future you want together by making better decisions. For more information on Holistic Management in Ontario.
Tony and Fran McQuail
or visit Holistic Management International for more info on HM