“Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied.” – George Washington Carver
My husband Alec is an engineer. He spends his days using math and science to solve complex problems. I work for two youth-centered non-profit organizations where I spend my days helping people navigate in leadership and learning. I don’t often take the time to understand how to best get to an end result; I just know that I need to muscle through a task and get it done. A few months ago, Alec helped me develop systems around shipping items for my online side business. We spent an entire evening evaluating my storage, workstation, and procedures for packaging and labeling with postage. What used to take me hours during the weekend, now takes 45 minutes thanks to the systems I now have in place.
In July, VALOR visited Southwest Virginia. The area once booming with textile and furniture companies, now is dominated by the agriculture industry. The land is well suited for livestock and is home to a diverse range of crops, vegetables, and forestry. The people are kind, creative, and hardworking. It is the exciting combination of innovation and hospitality, tradition and progress that makes SWVA uniquely special.
Since Alec and I worked on my processes I have really grown to appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes into efficiencies designed to make a process more seamless. At Duchess Dairy in Rural Retreat, Bottling Plant Manager Jordan Hall, makes sure that milk can be bottled safely and quickly on designated days throughout the week. He walked us through the entire process and then we watched a team of three employees run empty bottles through an conveyor system, fill, crate up and store hundreds of jugs of chocolate milk. A solid process combined with quick problem solving made bottling very efficient. Each employee followed a flow that allowed them to be in the right place at the right time during different stages of the process.
We also visited Virginia Produce in Hillsville. This company specializes in fruit and vegetable distribution and has an overwrapping service for corn on the cob, sweet potatoes and other vegetables. Working with food product is very delicate and requires a lot of handwork and inspection to ensure the best quality. The smaller staff at Duchess needed a broader knowledge of the entire line at the bottling plant. Conversely, the employees at Virginia Produce needed to be absolutely precise and fast as the line moved very quickly. Each styrofoam tray of corn had to be uniform and flawless. As employees learned on the line, veteran leaders would call down and hold others accountable if a mistake was made. At both the bottling plant and the produce company the standard for quality is extremely high and they both have big order obligations to fill each day. Time cannot be wasted, but speed cannot compromise quality. It is an interesting balance.
What I’ve learned is that all of this required a great deal of work upfront, a lot of trial and error, probably some frustration, and continual evaluation. As agriculturists, we should never stop striving for improvement. We may not have the best of everything or have it all figured out on day one, but over time we can grow and change things to make it better. Expertise is a product of experience. In Southwest Virginia, businesses and all of the knowledge that comes with them is being transferred over to a new generation of farmers. It is exciting to hear about the fresh ideas they bring to the table and the desire they have to continue the success of the company for years to come.