Is a mission statement just a bunch of nice-sounding words or could it be useful on your farm?
Ontario farmers Dale and Marianne Donaldson have one, and six “values” to go with it. Here’s the tale behind the one that states: Recognize the truth even if it is difficult to accept.
Dale Donaldson was 24 when he and Marianne started Everspring Farms in 1985, and the plan was to find a niche in ducks and geese.
One particular goose, a low-fat breed slaughtered at a young age, seemed especially promising. It was a popular Chinese food not raised in Canada, and the couple had a distributor eager to serve this untapped market. It seemed perfect.
“We expanded way too much and way too quickly,” Donaldson said.
“To make a long story short, we had thousands of these birds that were the wrong breed and processed at the wrong age. They all ended up in the Toronto food bank. Obviously no money was made that year. It was a very bitter lesson and now we stick to a ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach.”
Here’s another life lesson distilled to just a few words: listen to others and recognize that everyone has a need.
The value is the reason why Everspring has a line of products that appeal to consumers who aren’t exactly fans of duck l’orange: barley grass juice, sprouted grains and seeds and a product called SmartGrain.
“A lot of people who buy these products are vegetarians or vegan,” said Donaldson.
“We have a poultry processing plant, so certainly that’s not our thing at all.”
The couple first grew barley grass when a vet told them of its nutritional benefits and recommended it as a feed ingredient.
“All we knew was that our animals just loved this stuff,” said Donaldson.
“Then we started getting calls from people.”
It would have been easy to brush off those callers. They had worked with a feed company on a process that turned the whole plant (roots and all) into a liquid, which was then dried into a powder and fed to their geese and Muscovy and Pekin ducks .
Making juice meant processing just the blades of grass as well as developing food safety protocols and special packaging. It was a whole other game and a good reason to say, “sorry, we can’t help you.”
But they didn’t.
“When people believe in something and come to you, it’s a mistake if you don’t at least sit down and listen to them,” said Donaldson.
“It goes back to that value: everyone has a need. And if fulfilling it fits with your business and your goals, why not try to fill that need?”
So Everspring Farms began making barley grass juice. They’ve since added a range of sea buckthorn products, sprouted grains and the SmartGrain line, which uses a patented “ingraining process” and fish oils to boost omega 3 levels.
Every product has at least one partner connected with it: the feed ingredient company, a host of farmers who raise ducks and geese for them, their sea buckthorn supplier and the university professor who developed the ingraining process. So it’s no surprise that another of Everspring’s values is: everything is a win-win situation. There is plenty for everyone.
It’s been a dozen years since the couple wrote out their vision, mission and values. It’s not a document they look at every day, but Donaldson said it makes a real difference.
Those words come to mind when contemplating a new venture or hiring someone and wondering if they’d be a good fit.
Of course, the couple’s values — listening, looking for win-wins and facing the facts — were deeply ingrained before they were written down. But even then, it was hard to capture them on paper.
“It can take years to put into words what you’re trying to do,” he said.
“If you can articulate it and then look at those words from time to time, it reminds you of what you’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes we have to stop and take a few minutes away from the busyness of our lives and ask, ‘why are we doing this?’ ”
A mission statement and list of values can be nothing more than nice-sounding words. It depends on how you use them.
For the Donaldsons and many other farmers, they are a way to ensure the things that brought success in the past continue to do so in the future.
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