by Blain Mikkonen
Last week you may have had the opportunity to read Pat’s perspective about the Grain Designs team members. The post had some great readership, which indicated that there may be some interest in what type of antics could unravel when “a hipster, a male model, and a farmer walk into a bar”. I’ll admit that his interpretations were strikingly accurate, but occasionally exaggerated in true Pat Bresnahan fashion. Opinions aside, we thought it would be interesting to elaborate on our brief introductions so you can understand our side of the story. I’ve found that there are many parallels between my farming background and my current line of work at Grain Designs so I’ll elaborate on a few main points of contention that Patrick kindly pointed out, but from a Farmer’s perspective.
This is accurate and for many farmers it is a hereditary or learned trait. For me it was both, as there is a firm foundation of economical males in the Mikkonen lineage. In the event I wasn’t born into frugality growing up on the our farm, I would have picked up on this characteristic fairly quickly by admiring day to day operations. Last week in Pat’s blog he joked about my frugality on display with the latex gloves; this is not untrue. In fact, they have created a dedicated box for used gloves labeled “Blain’s Gloves”.
To their fascination, I’ve made great use of the box and it’s lightly used contents. It has even helped ensure that used gloves get picked up because Pat and Phil are anxious to ‘pour salt on the wound’ and make use of the box – I mark this joke up as a win.
In all reality, this quite possibly has only saved the company tens of dollars as Pat proclaimed but the principal of repurposing and reusing is in a farmer’s blood. I would argue that the principal can be learned and applied to many other areas of the business which would add up to substantial cost savings over time. Using old t-shirts for shop rags, coffee cans and peanut butter jars for storage, or implement parts to rig up a shop chair are just a few of the money saving tactics I’ve learned from the farm. I have to imagine that these frugal farming principals, in addition to many others, have added up to thousands of dollars saved over the past 60 years.
In similar fashion to being frugal, farmers are also resourceful. The business concept behind Grain Designs is also very resourceful. First, we build primarily from reclaimed materials but we do our best to generate as little waste as possible. We keep nearly every piece of usable material knowing that down the road it may have an applicable use – this is surely a blessing and a curse. This behavior generates what many farmers can relate to as a “bone pile”.
Not literal bones, but parts and pieces of outdated or broken equipment that will come in handy when the local implement dealer has closed its doors on Sunday during peak harvest. We too, have a bone pile. Hinges, handles, hardware, wood scraps, and steel cutoffs that get thrown into a corner to be sought after months later. The photo above illustrates a small portion of respective bone piles at the farm and Grain Designs. This area of the shop is commonly referred to as “the dump” as it poses a strategic tripping hazard, most commonly punishable to Phil.
Finally, I’ve realized that our scope of work isn’t entirely different. What do Grain Designs and farmers/ranchers have in common? We’re both rewarded by the process of curating something seemingly insignificant into something valuable. A seed and a piece of reclaimed wood seem like they’d be tough to compare, but both when carefully nurtured through an ongoing process of steps, can create something much more substantial. This is the process that we all take great pride in and are rewarded for at harvest or the projects completion.
In conclusion, our business operation at Grain Designs isn’t unlike that of a seasoned farmer. We’re self-employed business owners who are managing our own risk and each financial decision impacts the future. We find value in things that are no longer valuable and are always looking to save a buck at the mercy of a little physical labor. Personally, I think the perspective of a farmer is great; It’s important to run a tight ship because a ship with holes in it is a sinking ship, every penny matters. This may be especially true in agriculture now as we’re seeing low commodity prices that will effect long term farming operations; rejoice in low gas prices. High fives all around!