Sustainably Yours: Gardening Is My Business

It’s always been striking to me how little the modern school system teaches about finances, relationships and interpersonal communication skills – you know, the adult stuff. The “life lessons” stuff. Also, gardening, which as you have gathered, I think is an extremely important skill, not just in and of itself, but for the lessons it can teach about  other  “life subjects”.

Let’s take finances and business. I was recently explaining to my 6 year old, the definition of an asset. An asset is an investment which eventually bears fruit independent of our efforts. I explained that some people work to survive (without assets) much like growing lettuce which needs to be planted and harvested yearly because it is an annual crop. The same effort is required year in and year out and you find yourself in the same point where you started when the cycle is complete. An asset would be like planting an apple tree – the first few years require the labor of installation, protection and nurturing – but eventually the roots take hold and the apple tree will bear fruit year in and year out with minimal effort on your part as the gardener. It will bear fruit when you are sleeping or on vacation. If all goes well, it will bear fruit for your children’s children. It was a beautiful thing to see her eyes light up with the comprehension of what an asset is, a concept many adults struggle with defining. Thank you, gardening!

In recent years, as I have honed my entrepreneurial skills, the garden provides wisdom on parallel with Forbes. For examples, the techniques of advanced, high yield vegetable gardening rely on these methods (amongst others): companion planting, interplanting, succession planting and keeping accurate records.

Companion planting is the practice of pairing certain vegetables and/or herbs that co-exist in symbiosis and avoiding pairings that impair eachother. The wisdom in this goes from why grocery stores sell peanut butter and jelly side by side to the importance of picking the right business partners. Is this partner a good fit because she can provide our startup protection during the tender stages – like a tomato providing needed shade to the lettuce planted underneath? Or because he can attract the right funders – like Brazilian verbena attracting the pollinators for the cucumbers?

Another technique is succession planting – staging out a succession of crops that will yield an immediate, midterm and later harvest, ensuring there are no gaps in the harvest schedule. Not only is this relevant to setting immediate, middle and long term goals, but to organizing business ventures for immediate cashflow, which in turn support longer term and hopefully higher yield goals. This thinking is also the buffer against bad times – if insects, disease or foul weather take out one crop, you still have others the make up for it. The gardening version of diversifying your portfolio!

Then we have interplanting. In vegetable gardening this means maximizing physical space – pairing crops that have complimentary root forms and above ground growth forms. For example, taproots like carrots don’t interfere with the lateral root habits of peppers. An even more advanced version of interplanting is understanding the chemical secretions of different crops, and knowing what helps or hinders the neighboring crops. Perhaps a corporate version of this is the marriage between gas stations and convenience stores. With an intimate knowledge of the customer’s tendencies, convenience stores around the world have nestled along side their gas station partners because of symbiotic habits.

As for record keeping, need we say more? High yield gardening requires the accumulated wisdom of past experience, in the form of records, to not repeat mistakes , notice patterns and improve yields in the future. Just like accounting and other forms of business record keeping, the written word helps leverage the future with lessons of the past. Drawing a garden plan or diagram is like the pretty picture of a business plan – ideals, inspiration and guiding goals, over a timescale, committed to paper. Knowing the financial picture, knowing where the money is going, allows one to control that flow better. Guarding how one’s time is spent, via keeping records, allows one to be productive. Tracking your vegetable varieties, allows the gardener  to learn what works in the region under what conditions. Record keeping!

These are just a few of the reflections that gardening can inspire to a “budding” entrepreneur or individual looking for meaning. It wrests ponderings from the purely mental realm and gets your hands dirty! So, here’s to gardening: one’s  property, business and one’s life.

Emily Majewski
Emily Majewski is Co-Founder of PHYTOSTONE, a small firm based in Nayarit dedicated to creating advanced natural materials for home and garden.