Fixing “Broken Windows” On Your Farm: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference

Rincker Law Ag Book Club, Farm Life Leave a Comment

Last week I finished the book “Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell (admittedly, while I was laying on a beach over Memorial Day weekend).  I read “Outliers” last summer and “Blink” several years go and I think Gladwell’s books make for a thought-provoking quick read.  The premise of the book is about how the “little things” can make a big difference to reach that “tipping point” creating an epidemic change.

I was especially drawn to his discussion on the decrease in crime in New York City–specifically, the “Broken Windows” theory.  Gladwell wrote (on page 141):

Broken Windows was the brainchild of the criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling.  Wilson and Kelling argued that crime is the inevitable result of disorder.  If a window is broken and left unprepared, people waling by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge.  Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the buildings to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes.  In a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling, they write, are all the equivalent of broken windows, invitations to more serious crimes[.]

So what happened?  The authorities cleaned up New York City removing graffiti on the streets and subway cars.  It was a long process, extending from 1984 to 1990.  They fixed the subway turnstiles to deter fare-beating while encouraging enforcement.  Then in 1994, Mayor Giuliani was elected and Chief Bratton at the New York Police Department (“NYPD”) instructed his officers to crack down on “quality-of-life” crimes such as the “squeegee men” who came up to drives at intersections washing their windows and demanded a tip and folks who urinated in public.  What is interesting to me is that these are all petty crimes.

And guess what happened.  Crime rate in NYC significantly decreased. How much?  In 1992, there were 2,154 murders in New York City and 626,182 serious crimes; but after the “tipping point”, murders dropped 64.3%  (to 770) and total crime dropped by almost 50% (355,893).  It’s really quite profound when you think about how those “little things” made such a powerful difference reducing crime in the city I love.

Gladwell explains on page 146 that:

Broken Windows theory and the Power of Context are one and the same.  They are both based on the premise that an epidemic can be reversed, can be tipped, by tinkering with the smallest details of the immediate environment.

So why does this matter for the average American farm family who is going about their life trying to make a living off of the land?

If you have heard me speak recently on livestock animal welfare law, I recommend that farms fix the “Broken Windows” on their farm as a preventative measure.  “Broken Windows” are the things that you see all the time but don’t think about.  Here are some examples:

1.  Online. When is the last time you did a Google search on your farm?  Do you need to clean up your online search?  Perhaps your farm needs a website that properly showcases your farm’s beauty and humane animal handling practices.  It might be prudent to set-up Google alerts for your farm and name to easily monitor things said about your farm/business online.

2.  Your property.  When is the last time you have driven around the periphery of your farm and really looked at your property the way that general public sees it.  Do your fence lines need fixed/mowed?  Is there a pile of junk in your backyard that needs cleaned up?  Do you have several sick animals near a public highway?  When is the last time that you looked at your farm on Google Earth and viewed the aerial photo?  This may also give some ideas on how the property can be cleaned up in the public eye.

3.  Your reputation. What is your reputation like in the local community?  If an animal activist came to your hometown and asked people about your farm, what would be said?  Are there things you can do to help build your reputation in your own community?  How is your reputation among the agriculture community?

4.  Your paperwork.  Yep – I said it.  Get your paperwork in order.  It may just be the broken window that needs fixed.  Are you running your business as a DBA but have forgotten to file a Certificate of Assumed Name?  Do you have farm employees and independent contractors sign an agreement prohibiting unauthorized photography or video?  Has your limited liability company or corporation adhered to the corporate formality requirements in your state?  Are you complying with federal and state environmental laws?  Does your business have all the necessary permits?  These are just a few examples.

So pay attention to “broken windows.”  They truly are the little things that make the big difference.  It’s the little things that can have a profound effect on people and shape their impression.  The farmer who meticulously cares about his fenceline likely takes good care of his/her animals making sure they have adequate food and water.  The dairy farm with a great online presence who “opens its barn doors” via social media is likely cognizant of the animal handling techniques used on the premises by its employees.  The farm who remembers to dot their i’s and cross their t’s with paperwork likely pays attention to the details that matter to consumers.  It’s the attention to detail and broken windows that can make the biggest difference for your farm and the agriculture community as a whole.

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *