In the beginning

After Penelope Tunnell completed her mid-career management studies, she wanted to find a simple way to understand how to set up and run a small business. In all her management studies and research, she could never find a simple yet comprehensive way to understand all the activities required to set up and run a small business. Her learning from the MSc in Information Management showed her that this understanding was required in order to identify, capture and organize all the information required for a small business.  

It was Dr. Brian Wilson’s work, in particular, his Enterprise Model that helped Penny make the breakthrough. (Wilson, B. [2001], Soft Systems Methodology – Conceptual Model Building and its Contribution, John Wiley, Chichester). She created the forerunner of the FarmOrganizer Organizational Framework for small businesses as well as guides and worksheets for each of the key activities.  

When Penny and her partners decided that they wanted to get a sustainable living from their farm, she took a sabbatical from her IT contracts to learn about organic farming. A business plan created with a consultant did not help her understand how to set up and run their farm. Therefore, she resolved this by adapting the methodology she had created for small businesses. This was the rough diamond that would become FarmOrganizer.

Penny and Harris connect at Everdale 

Penny met Harris in October 2008. Harris Ivens was the program coordinator for  Everdale's Farmers Growing Farmers (FGF). With Everdale’s Gavin Dandy, he had developed and was teaching the farm business planning course for new farmers. This course gives a thorough introduction to planning a farm business. Harris had realized, as Penny had, that a traditional business plan did not provide new farmers with the tools they needed to set up and run their businesses. He saw that Penny’s work could provide a solution which would complement the existing content of the course.  

Working together to adapt Penny's tools the FGF course now includes:

  • A farm proposal which evaluates their options and enables them to get advice on the best way forward, 
  • A yearly planning methodology that helps them create a detailed farm plan which comprehensively captures information such as all their expenses,
  • Simple worksheets to help them capture all the information they need for their farm business,
  • A comprehensive way to organize this information.

FarmOrganizer and FarmBeginnings

FarmBeginnings, a program of the Land Stewardship Project, is the older sister of FGF. At the beginning of FGF in 2007, Everdale hosted and visited Angelic Organics from Illinois who offer the FarmBeginnings program. Older, more experienced and focused on farmer-to-farmer teaching, FarmBeginnings was an excellent model for FGF to use in Ontario. After two years of developing and offering the FGF course, FarmBeginnings was interested in how FGF was progressing.  This led to two successful meetings for FarmOrganizer and a great melding of minds in Wisconsin with the FarmBeginnings Collaborative (nine organizations offering the program across six states - they've graduated over 1000 new farmers).   

 A co-operative approach

Fluke and friendships landed FarmOrganizer and the Village Co-op in the same room.  Village Co-op is in the beginning stages of forming a farmer, consumer, worker co-op which adds value to local and organic farm goods and pays a fair trade price for those goods.  This approach will increase the viability of small-scale local farms and the local food system.  Harris and Penny are using FarmOrganizer and project management disciplines to help Village Co-op get set up and operational.

Off to college

Sir Sanford Fleming has begun incorporating the FarmOrganizer into its new Sustainable Agriculture diploma.  FarmOrganizer is being used to provide a common language and frame of reference for the course. The students will also get a simple and high-level introduction to the key business planning activities.

22nd annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference 2011

Harris and Penny were invited to present two workshops at the MOSES conference in February 2011: A Simple and Comprehensive Approach to Yearly Farm Planning and Capturing and Organizing Farm Information.  The response of the two full workshops was encouraging and validated the needs that FarmOrganizer is designed to satisfy. 

In the present

Having moved to the Kingston, Ontario, Harris has left Everdale and is partnering with Penny on the development of FarmOrganizer. Penny works part-time on her farm but is mainly focused on the continuing development of FarmOrganizer and its equivalent for small businesses.

Pat Cathers, former book editor and newsmagazine publisher, recently joined the FarmOrganizer team, adding a critical eye to FarmOrganizer literature, website content and presentation. Pat’s BA Hons was in English Language and Literature, followed in mid-life by MA studies in Adult Education. She’s had contracts with community- and college-based adult education programs, including a brief stint with the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFO), and has been a volunteer with the Guelph Organic Conference for a few years.