Fractal Organization Theory
by Janna Raye (published in 56th Annual Proceedings of ISSS 2012)
by Janna Raye (published in NorthBay biz magazine, August 1, 2012)
At Green String Farm in Petaluma, Bob Cannard teaches the basics of natural-process, sustainable farming to an eager audience of international students.
On a typical day at Green String Institute in Petaluma, interns learn about the generosity of nature and how to be natural-process, sustainable farmers. Located on the former cow pasture of General Vallejo’s Rancho Petaluma Adobe, it occupies land now owned by Fred and Nancy Cline (owners of Cline Cellars and JJacuzzi Family Vineyards in Sonoma). Longtime friends Fred Cline and Bob Cannard started this 140-acre, solar-powered farm in 2003 because they wanted to bring good food to people at a reasonable cost and train an army of farmers—Cannard calls it an exercise in creativity and societal influence—and now have nearly 60 acres of vegetables, flowers, fruit trees and grapevines in production. They opened the Farm Store for retail sales in 2006 after working several years to revitalize the compacted soils, as Vallejo’s cattle weren’t the last to graze there. After five years, Green String is, according to Cannard, “very close to being economically solvent through our retail sales at the store.”
The only hope to get to this point was Cannard’s natural process, sustainable-farming system, which emphasizes soil health as the foundation for healthy and nutrient-dense produce. Cannard has been a small-scale farmer for 30 years and is a well-known maverick who shuns all industrial chemical inputs. He was the original provider of local, sustainably grown produce to Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, which continues to purchase between 70 and 140 boxes weekly from the Green String Farm Store and Cannard Farm on Sonoma Mountain.
For 23 years, Cannard taught sustainable farming in Santa Rosa Junior College’s agriculture department. He started the innovative internship program at Green String Institute in 2008. He trains interns in the use of plant, mineral and compost inputs, stressing “the importance of broad spectrum mineral nutrition,” the use of “raw crushed igneous rocks that contain every element on the planet” and “compost tea” to provide the plants with what we need to build and regenerate healthy bodies.
The approach is, in many ways, similar to biodynamic farming—and Cannard says his soils qualify as being biodynamic, but since biodynamic certification requires land to first be USDA certified organic, it’s a label he won’t pursue (more on that subject later). That said, Cannard has a lot of respect for local biodynamic leaders the Benzigers, and Green String takes its interns to the Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen for tours.
Green String leaders and instructors
Currently land manager for hundreds of acres of Cline’s grapevines, Cannard is also busy managing several farms in Sonoma County (in addition to Green String and Cannard Farm) and has gathered a cadre of instructors and leaders around him that assist with training his legion of fearless farmers. One of his partners is agronomist Bob Shaffer, who lectures worldwide on soil science and improving the nutrient value of agricultural products. Shaffer augments Cannard’s lectures with more nitty gritty on soil and why its quality is essential to our health. Shaffer is a “top composter” according to Cannard, who now spends more time on his farm in Kona, Hawaii, where several Green String graduates (Green Stringers) have migrated to learn tropical farming techniques.
Shaffer has worked for Cannard for about 20 years and describes his job as holding down science for the farm. “What is soil? How does it work? What’s it made up of? What’s going on below ground and how do we work with the soil? If a farmer or student understands the soil, they have a much better chance of preventing problems or fixing them if they occur.” One of Cannard’s graduates, Matt Gunn, has become a protégé of Shaffer and now occasionally teaches soil science to Green String interns.
Two other graduates also teach, including Emily Painter, Farm Store manager (see “For Sale in the Farm Store,” below), who leads a class in marketing. Painter loves selling people “vegetables brimming with the full-spectrum of vitamins and mineral nutrients.” Her enthusiasm “for being a valued part of my wider, local community” inspires the interns to “visit other small growers and makers of artisanal food products in the area and take time to stop by their places of business.”
Misja Nuyttens, Cannard’s assistant farmer and internship coordinator, teaches two classes on holistic nutrition. Certified as a nutrition educator and consultant by Bauman College in Penngrove, Nuyttens is highly aware of the connection between nutrition and health: “There’s a great opportunity to achieve this while living, working and learning on the farm, having abundant access to the highest quality vegetables, fruits, free-range eggs, olive oil, grass-fed beef, fresh air, physical labor and supportive community. In lessons, the focus is on quality and diversity of ingredients, the keys to meeting your body’s need through both omnivorous and vegetarian diets, supporting digestion and detoxification, dispelling nutrition myths and learning how to eat for physical and mental endurance to help [students] grow into successful farmers.”
Interns host one public event per semester, guided by the expertise of Chris Merino, Cline and Jacuzzi’s long-time event director. She provides the framework for planning, guides interns toward effective use of their resources and time, connects them with local resources if necessary and facilitates the event promotion. Merino enjoys her quarterly Green String engagement: “Through these events, we have an opportunity to share the farm experience in a variety of ways. Whether their goal is to feed the hungry, save the earth or provide families with a fun farm experience, each event uniquely conveys the value of the local farm, healthy food and farming with integrity.” Merino calls it “a privilege” to work with the program and describes Cannard as “an extraordinary farmer, mentor and steward of the land.”
Cline and Jacuzzi winemaker Charlie Tselegetos, who’s been with the internship program since 2008, says, “we review the basics such as the actual size of an acre, the number of tons of grapes an acre can produce and the number of gallons of wine produced from a ton of grapes. We review the winemaking process from grape crushing to bottling as we tour the winery, and we also look at the tools we use to keep our grape supply in balance with our sales needs.”
He continues, “The interns are learning practical things and enjoying it. They can literally taste the fruits of their labor and they’re excited about it. We’ve had interns work with us in the winery during harvest. One was responsible for preparing our yeast cultures.”
Green String interns
Interns (up to 15 at a time) arrive four times per year from all over the country and other parts of the globe for 90 days of intensive training. Many stay on subsequent semesters to increase their knowledge while shepherding the new arrivals.
Green String’s unique approach captured the attention of Pier Giorgio Oliveti, general secretary of Italy-based Cittaslow International, who met Cannard when Cittaslow celebrated the town of Sonoma’s award as the first American “slow city” in 2009. [See “Now Entering Slow City,” Green Scene, Dec. 2011.] His daughter, Matilde, attended the program in 2011 and was the second intern from Italy; the international roster also includes graduates from Ecuador, South Africa, Ireland, China and Canada.
So far, more than 130 individuals have graduated from the institute, and more than 25 percent stay on subsequent terms as graduate leaders. Cannard has a natural leadership model that encourages personal responsibility and accountability while creating a cadre of individuals that learn to collaborate as teams. Graduates become “point” leaders for various projects and tasks, and share their knowledge and experience with current interns.
Tony Najiola, chef and owner of Central Market in Petaluma, purchased Muleheart Farm a few years ago. Because of a prior association with Nuyttens, he got significant assistance from farmers-in-training at Green String: “I’ve never seen people so skinny, so happy. They were just like the happiest people I’ve encountered. I don’t know if you have any experience working under the sun, but it’s nothing that makes me smile. It’s brutal, brutal work. So I think I was seeing people who felt such a privilege to be doing what they were doing that it shows.” Najiola purchases produce regularly from Green String and remarks that “Bob Cannard definitely has his own take on things, and I think if you’re going to be a bio-intensive or organic farmer, then you should at least hear what Bob has to say. You may not follow it letter-by-letter, but he gets results that other people don’t always get.”
Green String is making a substantial investment in its interns and graduates, and many become full-time employees at some point while others move on to start their own farms or work on other farms to gain more experience. Graduate Katee Lafleur, who has a background in garden/kitchen curriculum for pre- and elementary schools, found an opportunity to farm in Petaluma through friends and family. She grows produce for local restaurants and Petaluma’s Saturday Farmer’s Market and ultimately intends “to bring my produce to school kitchens and more farm literacy to kids.”
Jason McCobb, known as “Farmer Jay” in Boca Raton, Fla., graduated in 2009 and has a business growing food, teaching workshops (more than 2,000 kids and adults so far), and providing rooftop gardening systems for urban dwellers. He launched a local farmer’s market in Boca Raton last year and is helping to raise awareness around food quality: “Bob’s my mentor and has inspired the ideas behind what I’m doing here in Florida.” He learned from Cannard the “incredible need for a new approach to agriculture” and loves spreading the word about natural-process farming.
Green Stringers often migrate to the Capay Valley in Yolo County to continue their education with Full Belly Farm, a family-owned farm in operation for 28 years. Hallie Muller, who grew up on the farm and returned after college, is now outreach and education director. Full Belly hires five interns per year from a pool of 500 and, according to Muller, “Green Stringers always rise to the top” because “they have an understanding of farming and they work hard.”
Most interns are doing farm work for the first time in their lives. As Cannard puts it, “They’re doing very well, they’re learning; however, getting basically an urban American kid who’s not used to falling down and bending over to move things and get his or her hands into the soil, takes exposure—and it takes time for them to become professionals.” For example, 15 interns will plant 5,000 plant starts in the time it takes two professionals to plant 30,000.
It’s a labor of love, and Cannard’s passion for natural process, sustainable agriculture inspires interns and grads alike to start work at 7 a.m. daily, followed by lunch and, for interns, weekday afternoon lessons with Cannard, his instructors and occasional guest lecturers (graduates usually work on independent, continued education projects during this time). Cannard gives most of the lessons on natural-process farming, from seed selection to soil preparation, planting, weeding, harvesting and pruning, as well as hands-on workshops focused on maintaining and repairing farm equipment, building fences, making signs and running a farm business.
He adamantly opposes industrial-farming practices, infusing his protégés with his extensive vision of a human/nature alliance with the microbes in the soil to the predator insects and animals they “partner” with to maintain a healthy ecosystem balance and grow mineral-rich food. This focus on healthy soils as, literally, the foundation for healthy fruits and vegetables, is opposed to conventional farming practices that have depleted our nation’s topsoils and eliminated essential trace minerals.
“Green String Certified” produce
Cannard boasts techniques that are “beyond organic” as currently practiced in our country, especially on large-scale operations that deplete soils by over-tilling and must rely on “naturally occurring” pesticides that, unfortunately, do nothing to support plant health and growth. According to Cannard, the organic labeling of some produce leads consumers to believe their food is healthy and nutritious when it isn’t necessarily so. Because he finds organic certification from the USDA to be meaningless, he and Cline created the “Green String Certified” label to distinguish produce grown in mineral- and biological-supported soil.
Nuyttens says Cannard “is creating a new precedent in farming,” and that “our connection with the land is beautiful when we first take care of the soil,” the foundation of every farm. Cannard believes the practices he teaches will help make the world a place where all humans have plenty of food. He has learned from nature that cooperation trumps control and encourages creativity in the ideas his students bring to the farm table in their daily lessons and interactions.
Interns and graduate students alike describe their situation as a uniquely positive environment where they’re encouraged to grow and expand their knowledge of natural-process sustainable farming while developing personal leadership skills through working together. This natural approach to leadership reflects nature’s tendency to cooperate and organize in fractal patterns. Fractal geometry illustrates how flora and fauna evolve and adapt to changing conditions. At Green String, the constant in the fractal formula is Cannard’s shared purpose: restoring depleted farmlands and growing nutritious, healthy food.
To take on more students, Green String Institute must become an accredited educational entity, a step that requires a substantial endowment. Nonetheless, growing an army of natural-process farmers has always been Cannard’s life path, so let’s hope he and Cline find support for furthering this noble cause. All of us world citizens deserve healthy, sustainably grown food to regenerate and renew ourselves as we are designed to do. The process of soil reclamation takes several years, so the faster this army grows, the better for our collective health.
FOR SALE IN THE FARM STORE
The atmosphere at Green String Farm Store is as inviting as the individuals who farm and work there. The mid-spring harvest at Green String includes chard, lettuces, beets, artichokes, cilantro, leeks, fresh herbs, Meyer lemons and oranges.
Flower starts such as daisies, fuchsia, stock, lavender, and butterfly bush are available as well as palm, buckeye, Italian olive, and Japanese maple trees among many others. Plants for home gardeners include cabbage, lettuce, chard and kale varieties along with onions, tomatillos and summer squash. Herbs include basil, marjoram, oregano and rosemary. Crushed volcanic rock is piled in front of the produce bins, encouraging home gardeners to add these essential minerals for robust and nutrient-rich soil.
Inside the store, workers play vinyl records, evoking memories of slower-paced times. In addition to calcium-rich eggs from Green String chickens and frozen beef from a sister ranch in Red Bluff, the store offers Sonoma’s own Vella cheeses and butter as well as selections from Carneros Caves. The requisite olive oil and red wine vinegar is also available, along with a wide selection of sauces and preserves prepared by Melissa Rebholz, a Green String graduate from a few years back, at the Cline Cellars commercial kitchen. You can find it at 3571 Old Adobe Rd., Petaluma, Calif. (707) 778-7500.
Living with the Intelligence of Nature
by Janna Raye (first published in the Sonoma Index-Tribune, July 9, 2010)
Emerging everywhere around us is a growing human desire for more cooperation. While the chronic stress of conflict and resulting decline in our overall health and happiness are undoubtedly a factor, the underlying reason is the expanded desire throughout society for living more harmonious, creative lives. Life is supposed to be good for us. We live on an abundant planet. As we have navigated the landscapes and seascapes we occupy here on Earth, some of us have learned how to become good stewards while others have not, usually because of ignorance, lack of information, or a lack of integrity.
Finally, we now have enough information to take a different tack and work with Nature’s intelligence. We can take advantage of decades of scientific research and mathematical discoveries and begin to act naturally here on Earth in all of our situations. Nature’s way of doing things is easy and flows more smoothly than ours. This is why an emerging field of technology development, biomimicry, is having such great success with adopting Nature’s designs for a range of applications from propulsion to protection to flight.
It is time for us humans to operate naturally in our organizations as well. For centuries we’ve relied upon the top-down hierarchy to get things done. And for a long time that system worked well, mostly because the majority of humans were uneducated and there were no alternatives. Education has changed everything--it has expanded not only human capabilities but also human desire for better lives. More of us know it is our nature to be creative and we want to participate in the work we are doing, not just be directed or told what to do.
In smaller organizations it’s easier to act naturally and keep the flow of information moving toward collective goals. With fewer layers of bureaucracy, the resistance to information flowing in all directions is less than in your typical corporation. One reason for this one-way flow of information is that corporations believe that humans are as controllable as other things and processes. Not that humans work on assembly lines anymore, at least in this country. We were replaced by robots long ago, as machines are actually controllable and don’t ask for wage increases. Yet, most organizations that reach numbers of 50 or more resort to the top-down model for their organizational structure and end up with the same systemic issues it has been causing forever: redundant work efforts, internal competition for positions and resources, negative gossip about relationships and uncertainty, and the resulting turnover as people seek new situations with more rewarding outcomes.
Larger organizations will continue to need structure in order to use resources efficiently, so what’s the alternative to the old way? The Fractal Organization. This natural hierarchy actually enables an even, balanced flow of information between the center, where the core leaders make decisions for allocating resources, and the edges of the organization, where managers of things and processes are interacting with the external environment. The chain of leadership in the Fractal Organization creates and sustains the shared vision and goals of the collective. Leaders are the conduits of information flows to the center and back to the edges.
In a Fractal Organization, leaders are dedicated to being leaders: to inspiring, guiding, and mentoring their managers of things and processes. In conventional hierarchies, leaders are often managers with their own functional duties and tasks, which divides their attention and takes their focus away from the people they are leading. In this situation, leaders are not capable of being the conduits of information flows that modern organizations need in order to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions around them. Nor do they have time to maintain the key connection between the shared vision and their employees, the connection that creates the pattern integrity that keeps everyone on the same page and prevents personal agendas from superseding collective goals. In part two of this article, we’ll explore the skills leaders need in order to facilitate better information flows and drive results toward desired outcomes.
Leadership through Shared Vision: the Fractal Organization
by Janna Raye (first published in the Sonoma Index-Tribune, July 16, 2010)
Leaders in a natural hierarchy spend less time doing things and more time being there for the managers of things and processes. This may sound luxurious, except that information has increased exponentially and continues to do so, driving change at more rapid rates than ever before. Without ensuring clear conduits of information flows through thought-leadership, making timely decisions is nearly impossible. You can still make decisions, it’s just that they’ll be made with less information and in a less timely manner than if the information was flowing more freely.
Every day we humans produce more new information through our interactions with one another. In organizations that focus efforts on customers and clients, you never know what will unfold, as each person is so unique. Project-based work is also unpredictable, because the unfolding of the project always reveals new information yet to be considered. Planning is obviously important. Even more important is having and holding a shared vision for the project as the foundation for conversations about ideas and issues that arise along the way.
In fact, shared vision is likely THE most important thing in any organization--it is the glue that holds teams and organizations together and keeps members on the same page and in agreement about their collective goals. New issues and idea are considered for their potential alignment with the shared vision. New positions are created and filled with individuals who buy into the shared vision first and foremost, otherwise their personal agendas may supersede collective goals. Personal agendas create an atmosphere of distrust, and the job of leaders is to continually emphasize the connection between their team’s projects and the collective’s shared vision. An important reason for doing this is that people will keep the vision in mind as their projects unfold and they address unexpected changes as they arise.
Along with all that is sharing resources and information about resources. The real or perceived scarcity of resources is one of the types of internal competition that erode pattern integrity. The other is competition for position. These types of internal competition are based upon a perception that resources and opportunities for advancement are limited, a perception that triggers a “survival of the fittest” mentality that is rather sparse in Nature. Only humans have developed the perception that the world has limited resources, a perception directly due to our own mismanagement of Earth’s resources. Our scientific observations of species in Nature show us that, within species, members cooperate internally in order to compete externally for resources. Nature is remarkably symbiotic and regenerative, mostly in the absence of human settlements...
Along with sharing vision and resources, and the information about those resources and their availability, thought-leaders develop trust, appreciation, and the willingness to fulfill the collective’s goals by sharing their wisdom and knowledge. They do this through being open to other’s perspectives, honest with their word, respectful of other’s time and energy, generous with their own time and with the necessary resources to accomplish projects, and committed to their team members through mentoring and guiding their work as necessary. When leaders act in these ways that improve communication flows in their organizations, they always receive the right information at the right time in order to be able to help resolve situations or steer projects back on track. This is the beauty of the feedback loop, a scientific discovery important in the evolutionary process. Species in Nature evolve through iterative processes and we do, too, just not as cooperatively as our Earthen brethren. Why? Probably because of our beliefs, which are often colored by our perceptions in situations--our knee-jerk reactions--that remind us of past learning and experiences. [Endocrinologists term this the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis.] This response produces stress hormones and is often based upon false evidence appearing real (FEAR). Successful leaders help keep their teams in present time, using past experiences as real learning yet being courageous enough to take measured risks.
Leaders also need to put in writing the agreements their team members make around how things will get done, by whom, and by when, knowing that the agreements will need amending as processes unfold and new information is revealed. Though having many conversations and writing agreements may seem like a lot of work, this process is important for several reasons. For one, written (and signed) agreements reduce diction errors or misunderstandings that might arise during conversations, which goes a long way in preventing the infamous blame game. Agreements are also the foundation for developing trust among team members, whose responsibility is to make and keep agreements. When they recognize a change in the environment that requires amending an agreement, they are also responsible for speaking up and bringing forth the new information they have discovered. This process is iterative and fractal in its nature. There are no “mistakes,” only opportunities for expanding information toward the collective goal by using resources timely and effectively.
Team leaders are responsible for ensuring that the members stay connected to the vision and have the resources they need to accomplish projects. In Fractal Organizations, information flows inward toward central leadership, informing them of resource needs that reflect current changes in the environment. With this continual flow of information from the external environment to the center of the organization, core leaders can allocate resources more effectively in real time and adapt to the changing conditions, just as all complex adaptive systems do in Nature. And time is speeding up, as you may have noticed. We are more in an improv play than ever before, and we can choose comedy over drama. The only difference is, in comedies the characters figure out what’s going on in time to do something about it.
Now, let us play together creatively!