It’s incredible what you can learn from an expert.



I currently feel as if I could be an expert salami maker. This is not based on experience or expertise. I’ve taken one class on the subject and read one book.


I recently went to a salumi class at the Fatted Calf in Napa. I learned to make Cacciatorini, little air-dried salami, and Guanciale, cured pork jowls. The owner of the store made me feel so confident in my charcuterie skills I had no doubt that I could do it at home. How was this possible?


The instructor had been curing meat for um-teen years and had the experience to teach me exactly what I needed to know. When he rolled up his sleeves and worked right beside me I could learn and ask questions. This is far superior to watching a YouTube video (I do admit that these videos are awfully handy if you can’t find an expert!) He imparted his skill and confidence on me for a brief moment and I feel as though I can conquer the dry-cured meat world.


If you want to start farming/sewing/wood-working, find an expert and ask to learn. Offer to volunteer. Find a part-time job. Pay for a lesson. Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” It’s so much easier to see from up there.



Economic Development

Lake County Rising

I got to stir the pot last week at Lake County’s Economic Outlook and Forecast event. The gathering came in the wake of recent fires, but most would agree that Lake County was due for economic encouragement well before the tragedies.

My topic was business and agriculture, two things I have no trouble getting excited about.  Since a few have asked for the slides, here they are, along with a written version of what I said at the conference, or at least what I MEANT to say ; )


“Meet the Smith family.  Ignoring the fact that they are fictitious, they play an important role in Lake County’s economic recovery.  Why?  I’m glad you asked!  Because they live within 150 miles of Lake County, along with 7 million of their closest friends.


That means we have an audience larger than the population of Denmark, just waiting to make the 3 hour drive, IF properly motivated.

If we ask the Smiths what they know about Lake County, they will have  several answers.  They may say good things, like beautiful scenery, good wine, and excellent fishing.  And they may say some not-so-g00d things, like algae blooms, cannabis cultivation and terrible roads.

Now let’s consider what they should say:


Giant Lake, Outdoor Adventure, and Local Food & Wine.  Those are the real assets of our area, and those are the things we should encourage them to think about when thinking Lake County.  Because, like any great business, a great area should create a clear, concise story, and plant it in the mind of the world.  That way guests know what to expect when they come through the door.

Fortunately for us, a few relevant journalists have written about the area.  Lettie Teague wrote in the Wall Street Journal on the rise of Lake County grapes, while the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an 18-page weekend section on everything from hiking to fishing to wine tasting.  And Sunset Magazine has covered Lake County in several recent issues, on various topics.


But likely the Smith family  learned more from friends and family about Lake County than they did from reading the newspaper.  They asked on Facebook, at Starbucks, and at work: Where should we go on vacation?   And those friends shared their stories, good and bad, from their own travels.

That’s why Walt Disney was so clever when he created Disney Land on the following premise:Slide09

Disney Land in Anaheim, by the way, employs 65,000 people, approximately the population of Lake County.  It’s remarkable the impact that a well run business can have on a surrounding economy!  But I digress.

Where did the friends learn about Lake County?  From YOU GUYS!  You all, 180 of you here in the audience (and now all the Lake County locals following along on the blog – ed.) , are the movers and shakers that make this place happen.  You created their experience, and wrote the story in their minds.

Because those friends likely drove up some Friday night, and stayed at the Tallman Hotel.Slide11

They got up the next morning for a cup of coffee at Studebaker’s, and a hike on Mt. Konocti.  Slide12

Then they rented a boat from Disney’s Water Sports, and went out on the lake.Slide13

And ended the day with dinner at a great local restaurant.Slide14

Then, because I’m a little biased, I hope they came out to Six Sigma Ranch for a Ranch-to-Table dinner.Slide15

All these things they could have learned about from the media, their friends, or one of our local associations, from those of us (YOU!) who get to craft the story.  Slide16

And what is that story, to be specific?

You see, we have a real advantage here in Lake County.  While some areas struggle to decide on a focus, ours is obvious: Start with the giant lake!   And it’s surrounded by mountains, and a climate perfectly suited for food and wine.  So our story, when we have just a few minutes to share with a friend or a reporter,  is simple:  Giant Lake, Outdoor Adventure, and Local Food & Wine.  Slide17It is our responsibility, like any great business, to share it with the world.

What then, shall we do with the Smiths when they come to Lake County?  Slide23

I suggest we treat them like royalty.  We connect them with a boat, some local olive oil, pears, and a few bottles of wine.  We might even sell them a pair of Bob Maher’s Maharaja water skis.

And then we send them home, so THEY can tell their friends, what a great time they had with the Giant Lake, Outdoor Adventure, and Local Food & Wine. 

THAT, I believe, is the path to Lake County’s Economic Recovery.”



Personal Growth

A Not-So-Secret Formula

IMG_4203 (1)Consider the organization you dream of building. How big is it? How may people does it engage? How many lives does it change?

Now consider the person running that organization. What does he or she do every day?

What does she read, and how much? Does he watch tv? How often does she exercise?

Now get personal. What does she do on the weekends? How long does he sleep, and whom does she hang out with? How does he treat people when he is worn out, and wishes they would go away? (That one hits particularly close to home for me.)

Now, what if you or I begin acting like that person, every day, starting now?


Personal Growth

Sad Day at the Ahlmann House

IMG_3765 (1).jpg

We buried Maggie on Monday. Maggie joined our family as a puppy from the local pound in 2008, just as we were beginning life in California. (We acquired her as a cattle dog, until we realized she was more terrier than heeler, a bad fit for rounding up livestock!) She saw our first house, new jobs, and birth of two kids, both of which had a tough time coming to terms with the fact that she’s gone.

What the kids don’t know, and Rachel has graciously forgiven, is the fact that Maggie wouldn’t have left the yard and run into traffic if yours truly had mended the fence in a timely fashion. That fact makes the loss a little more frustrating.

So, what’s the lesson? Fix the fence when it’s broken?   Maybe. Or maybe it’s simply that some days things go according to plan, and some days your buddy gets hit by a truck. I’m not quite sure what the lesson is. But when we set out to write a blog about “success and failure in the business of agriculture,” we intended to share the good and the bad. Now you know we meant it.



Cover the Ground, Change the World


That is my tomato patch. It’s pretty pathetic. In a rush, I planted the plot without improving the soil or covering the ground. I did cover it later, but it was too little too late. Thus, my tomatoes are sad and unproductive.

As opposed to what you find under my tomatoes plants, healthy soils are usually dark. That dark color comes from carbon.  Plants capture carbon from the air and put it in the ground. Carbon also ends up in the soil by decomposition from organic matter (think compost). All this good stuff leaves the soil through evaporation if it is not covered.

The good folks at the Savory Institute speculate that the grasslands of the earth have the potential to absorb enough carbon to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations to pre-industrial levels. They believe Holistic Planned grazing can accomplish this. See http://savory.global/assets/docs/evidence-papers/RestoringClimateWhitePaper2015.pdf

One aspect of this grazing strategy is to increase the number of animals and put them on a small piece of pasture for a very short period of time. They enjoy all the good grasses and trample all the other plants. The trampling covers the ground. No bare soil = a huge carbon sink.

I try to replicate this in my own garden by laying down thick green mulch. The success of this method is evident in my peppers. See below. They enjoyed soil improvement and mulch this season. This is just one contribution to changing the world.




What’s Your Number?


I recently met the owner of a local business.   While sharing about his company, he told me that they now have 50 employees. The same figure came up in casual conversation later that week with one of his employees.

It amused me that both men shared this seemingly arbitrary figure. (A company likely would do better to measure growth based on revenue, or club members, or subscriptions, just to mention a few.)

Several business experts, including Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) and Jack Stack (author of The Great Game of Business), emphasize the value of what Stack calls a “critical number,” a metric that represents the success or failure of an entire organization.

The value of such a number, one that unifies the effort of the team in a single direction, is obvious. And it’s interesting to observe that humans are programmed to pick such a metric, whether on purpose or not, and use it as their measure of progress.

With that in mind, one may be well advised to think that “critical number” through, and make it official, before a figure like “employee count” (and a bloated payroll) takes over as the key measure of success.



The $0 Small-Business Hack for Increased Sales

coffee-house-large  I know everything you ever wanted to know about scheduling unreliable staff. I also know more than most about the drama of relationships between 20-somethings in small-town California.


Because those topics are discussed at length behind the counter of my local coffee shop. The stream of chatter among the baristas is interrupted just long enough to take my order and my money, and then it’s back to in-the-know gossip while my espresso brews.

The scene is harmless, really, and it happens so often in most coffee shops, tasting rooms and farmer’s markets, that I hardly notice it.

But it’s a real shame. Because while I stand there unengaged, I could instead be connecting with the staff, if they invited it, and add a cookie to my order. I could be supplying my email address for their list in response to a smiling request, and I could be increasing my emotional connection to the establishment.

The Walt Disney Institute, the brains behind Disney’s industry-leading guest experience, trains staff to consider the difference between “On Stage” and “Off Stage.” The concept is obvious: When guests can see you, you’re on stage. You control their experience, and it better be good.

Disney then designates an off-stage area. That’s were the customers can’t see or hear the staff, and that’s where the discussions of staffing, weekends and baseball games should take place.

When defined and executed properly, the result of on/off stage is increased customer engagement, increased sales, and increased word-of-mouth referrals, all at a cost of $0. Does that sound too good to be true? I bet the response from highly engaged customers will prove otherwise.


ps.  Thank you guys for following along, sending your comments and signing up by email.  We love the topic of small business in agriculture, and we love having this conversation with you about it.

Personal Growth

The Myth of “Not Enough Time.”


I can’t tell you how often I leave the office wishing I had more time to finish an exciting project. And then I leave for work the next morning thinking “if only I had more time to play with the kids or pick there persimmons in the yard.”

Time is a tricky resource, because we can’t create more. We can make more money, buy more land, and irrigate more grass, but we can’t make more time.

Or can we?

Sort of.

The trick, according to the late Zig Ziglar, is to know that time usually isn’t the limiting resource.

Consider Zig’s famous talk about “the last day before vacation.”  Mr. Ziglar observed that all humans accomplish on average twice as much on their “last day before vacation” compared to normal a day.  This debunks the myth of “I don’t have enough time,” because obviously that last day doesn’t have twice as many hours in it.

What then, is the real limiting factor?

In most cases, the limiting factor is focused energy, not time.  When we march into the office (or pasture, or workshop) on a mission, like it’s our last day before vacation, it’s remarkable what we can accomplish. That’s when we focus on the important tasks, the ones that make a real impact, instead of the mindless easy ones that don’t.

The great news then is that we have taken a resource that cannot be increased (time), and turned it into one that can, energy.  We can create more energy, of course, by sleeping well, eating right, getting more exercise and focusing on things that we are excited about. In fact, it’s about time we did.


Personal Growth

My Snooze Button is a Hindrance to Greatness


I’m a snooze button girl. Waking up in the morning feels un-natural and my big bed with the down comforter is soooo cozy. The heaviness of my eyelids and that extra 10 minutes (or 30!) of sleep often win out over exercise in the morning.

Richard Thaler, in Misbehaving, says people have a Planner and a Do-er inside of them. The Planner sets the alarm, limits personal funds for restaurant spending, keeps the house free of junk food (chocolate!), schedules the tough conversations at work and seriously writes goals for future success.

The Do-er pushes the snooze button, blows the budget because cooking is just too much work, sneaks chocolate at the grocery checkout, avoids hard things at work, and spends free, low energy time on Facebook. Thaler argues that it is the Planner’s job to design systems so the Do-er can’t make as many impulsive decisions.

It is my Do-er that often keeps me from reaching my full potential. The solution appears to be making self-control easy; my Planner should design systems or routines for personal triumphs.

I’ve been working on my Planner. It turns out it’s a lot easier to get up to exercise if my alarm is on the other side of the room and I’m forced to choose between my comfy bed and ending the incessant beeping. It’s a small win in my world but it is a step toward major personal growth.



It’s Not Fair


A toy store is selling the last dream doll this Christmas, and 5 customers in line have expressed their desire to buy it. What would be the fair way of deciding who gets the doll? Options include: An auction to the highest bidder, a lottery or selling it to the first person in line?

From an economist’s perspective, the answer is an auction to the highest bidder. We are, after-all, trying to make a profit, and theory suggests that the person who wants the doll the most will be willing to pay the most for it. Supply will equal demand. That answer will get you an A in your business class, but is it the best way to run a business?

Of the persons who took a survey organized by Kahneman, Knetsch, and Thaler*, 75% considered an auction to be the “least fair” option. Thaler, in particular, is an economist that studies how people really behave as opposed to rational business behavior.   If you said “to the first person in line,” you agree with 68% of the people surveyed.

People seem to have deeply seeded rules of fairness. The rules may vary from place to place, but as a business owner it is important to know them. If a business makes a decision that is wise and efficient, but violates the generally accepted rules of fairness, they will lose customers.

Don’t get me wrong; it is important to know what maximizes profit. Not knowing that information will close business doors pretty fast. But every decision should also be balanced by a look at what is best for your customers and the little girls that would love to get that amazing doll for Christmas.


*Kahneman, Knetsch, and Thaler. Fairness and the Assumptions of Economics. Chicago: Journal of Business, 1986.