The Farm-to-Table Secret to Motivating People

The kitchen was a complete mess. I tried to clean the utensils and machines right after I used them but I couldn’t keep up with my own cooking frenzy.

I baked one loaf of carrot nut bread and two loaves of zucchini spice bread. I made a carrot-dill soup, a chilled yogurt-cucumber-dill soup, and a kale-swiss chard-carrot soup. I also shredded a beet-mint salad, cooked an eggplant-green pepper-tomato thing, and grilled peppers in the oven.

Just for the record, usually the only thing I ever bake is cookies, by squeezing batter from a store bought tube. If I make dinner, it consists of steamed veggies, rice and — my pièce de résistance for the kids — frozen pizza. Warmed, of course.

What’s even more curious is that it wasn’t a special occasion. We weren’t celebrating someone’s birthday. No guest was coming for dinner. It was just going to be me and my family.

So what possessed me? Why did I work so hard to create such a feast?

My family had spent the weekend at Isabella Freedman, a non-profit Jewish retreat center (full disclosure: I’m on their Board of Directors) that also has a ten-acre farm.

There are many things that were lovely about the weekend — we were together as a family, the setting was beautiful, the food was excellent, and my cell phone didn’t get reception.

Our kids felt comfortable roaming with more freedom and independence than usual. So when they woke up at six in the morning and asked to go see the goats, I was more than happy to let them go and get a little extra sleep myself.

Thirty minutes later, I awoke with a strong pang of regret. I couldn’t believe I would let them go by themselves like that. While I quickly got dressed, Eleanor turned over and saw I was going after them. “Relax,” she told me. “They’ll be fine.”

“I’m not worried about them,” I told her. “I don’t want to miss the goats.” She thought for a second, jumped out of bed, and we ran down to the goats together.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever milked a goat before, but if not, I suggest you find yourself a farm and try it. Not just because it’s a cool feeling. Not just because it’s good to know how the whole get-milk-from-an-animal thing works. And not because you better know how because one day you might be thirsty and really need to get milk from an animal. It’s not a knowledge or understanding or capability thing.

It’s an experience thing. Because once you’ve milked a goat, you’ll never drink milk or eat cheese the same way again. You’ll choose your milk more carefully. You’ll want to know who milked the animal, how that person treated her, and what she ate. And when you drink the milk, you’ll have a much deeper appreciation for the taste.

In short, you’ll care more about your milk than you ever did before.

After the goats, we went to the vegetable fields where the kids (I include myself here) went crazy. We pulled carrots out of the ground. We broke off stalks of kale and swiss chard. We gathered bunches of dill. We picked zucchini. We plucked tomatoes. We collected green peppers.

That day, in the field, my kids ate more raw vegetables than ever before.

Where and when you enter a process is a strong determinant of how connected you’ll feel to the outcome. If I’m on the receiving end of a new initiative, I’ll approach it more critically than if I’m one of the people involved from the beginning.

New sales process? Don’t figure it all out yourself and then tell your sales people about it. Let them figure it out with you. If they do the seeding and weeding and picking, they’ll be far more likely to eat the produce.

Want customers to buy your service or product? Involve them in the creation of it. I never write proposals anymore and if a client requires it, I’ll take myself out of the process. Not because I’m above it — it’s the opposite actually — I take myself out of the process because I know I won’t win the project.

The projects I win — and the only ones I do now — are the ones I design with my clients. Those designs are always far better than anything I could propose on my own because they are informed by my clients’ deep knowledge of their companies — their culture, personality, and capacity to absorb change. Most importantly those projects sell — and succeed — because the people impacted by the work feel responsible for its success. Which is entirely predictable since they designed it from the beginning.

And they’re always happier with the outcome. They feel something deeper than the success of a project gone well. They feel pride of ownership. They feel satisfied by the journey that brought them to their success.

So we returned home with a car filled with fresh produce. And I spent the next day inspired — chopping, shredding, boiling, and baking — preparing more food than I had in months. I needed no external motivation. I had no sense of urgency because guests were coming (they weren’t). I had no desire to perform for money (I wasn’t making any). There was no need for a proverbial carrot or stick. My motivation came from a real carrot — one I pulled from the ground myself.