The company retreat

Harvesting the abundance from the garden is one of the great joys of life. The fruits of your labor in a harvest basket. Lettuce and salad greens, greens for a super food smoothie, tomatoes for a sandwich, potatoes for soup or fruit for a salad.

A feeling of accomplishment and wholeness ensues and sharing this with family, neighbors and friends is the unavoidable benefit. I recently had my friend Eric over for lunch and most of the ingredients for our soup came right from the garden. I also had my 90 year old dad who has Alzheimer’s disease over for lunch and he enjoyed the omelet made with fresh eggs from my hens. A great way to share the joy of the harvest with my dear old dad.


Okay, so you get my point, the joy of the harvest is an unexpected fruit of our labor and makes all the work worthwhile. This is one reason why the design science of Permaculture admonishes us to obtain a yield from our designs regardless of whether it is a garden, a business or an art project.

I mention this because although it wasn’t a traditional garden harvest there was a very similar feeling present at a recent Terra Nova company retreat. The harvest was of our collective brilliance. We took the opportunity as a company to hold a retreat where we had the time to listen to each other and speak about the things that we thought would help the company thrive. Spending this time together we are doing our best to live up to our stated vision which is that, “We are proud to be a triple bottom line company. We achieve our goals of financial profit as we care for our people and our planet.” Steven Covey’s time matrix from his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ is a good reference point to see why this kind of time together is so beneficial. The opportunity to find commonality and a bond as a company falls into the surprisingly important second quadrant of the Time Matrix. This is time spent on important but not urgent tasks like designing, strategizing and planning. Sometimes these activities seem like a waste of time yet without this kind of focus we revert to crisis management simply because we did not think ahead. The saying, “planning is best done in advance” becomes well heeded advice.

Here is the Time Matrix.

So there we are at the retreat and our primary exercise in the four hour retreat and lunch was for each person to present three ideas that would further the company as a whole. Ideas that would help us create the ideal company, where we are doing exciting work, we are paid what we are worth, we are serving the community and making a difference.

So there we are at the retreat...

Everyone presented their three ideas and then we were going to vote on five ideas that we collectively thought were the highest priority. The goal was to walk away with action items that we would pursue together and individually to further the company. When everyone had presented their ideas and we discussed them together we discovered that most of our ideas fell into three categories…Accountability, Mission and Marketing. So without voting we came away with three ideas and action items that we could work on as a company. We had lunch together and took a company photo for prosperity.

Terra Nova Crew: Ken Foster, Rupert Poole, Kate Brovarney, Kyle Sanders, John Kostoff, Zeya Schindler and Kory Mc Adam - March 29th, 2012

Quality time together produced a yield that the company will benefit from for months or even years. The experience had me drawing parallels between garden design and business design. Mission, focus and commitment produces a yield.

We held a similar yet more intensive company retreat years earlier in 2003. At this two day retreat we had an unexpected yield that benefited the company long term. We called this retreat a Collaboratory.  The first day of our Collaboratory we invited members of the community to join company staff for a brainstorming session. Our financial advisor present that day offered a piece of advice: he said we should install a garden at the San Francisco Flower Show and win first place! Well as it turned out a landscape designer, Susan Wyche who was at the retreat and heard the advice came to me a few days later saying that she wanted to have a garden at the San Francisco Flower Show and she wanted us to join her in the project. Together we designed a garden and it was accepted for the show. We planned and prepared for months and at the show our garden won Sunset Magazine’s “Western Living Award” which is considered the “best of show” award. A year later our garden was featured in two full pages of Sunset Magazine.

Sunset Magazine's "Western Living Award"

Terra Nova garden at the SF Flower and Garden Show 2004.

This is the kind of yield I’m talking about. The kind of yield that is a permanent shining feature of a business portfolio. Regardless of whether it is a “best of show” award or a beautiful purple cauliflower, when time is spent on important but not urgent concerns the yield is bound to be beneficial.

Ken Foster



About ken


  • I really enjoyed reading your blog post, and nice photos, too. I had never heard that term “obtain a yield” related to Permaculture’s design philosophy. Interesting.

    I presented a design yesterday in my landscape design class, and I framed it from the point of view of regenerative design. “Obtain a yield” — this means to me that you are not just sitting in a garden but interacting with the space, deriving something from it. That may be produce, or fun, or spiritual uplift… Very nice, thanks.

  • John Pinto says:

    I love it when I’m given the chance to incorporate food into the landscape. If people love it and are natural about their produce, we can use all sorts of natural goodness to enhance the landscape and do our bodies good!

  • Allison says:

    Hi — very nice metaphors! I teach holistic practitioners how to build their businesses, and I use the idea of the “personal compost pile” quite a lot in reference to life experiences many people would throw away or ignore. When you allow your whole life to be part of who you are now, you obtain quite a wonderful yield from every day! So, like Jillian, I’ll probably borrow the phrase, too because it works on so many levels.

  • Very nice – food for thought as well as beautiful pictures.

  • Beautiful post that reminds me of how blessed we are to be so connected with Mother Earth and All That Is! I was fortunate to have a mother who nurtured and harvested much of the food I grew up on and I attribute my vibrant health to that! OK, that & LOVE!

  • Ken Foster says:

    Ivana, Allison, John and Jillian.
    What a bunch of thoughtful comments. Blessings of the harvest to you all!

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    What cat? All I saw was…like…umm…f*** it (fap fap fap).

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