Sustainable Agriculture: Protecting Our Environment, Business & Community

The term “sustainable agriculture” is a hot topic but what does it mean and how does it work in practice? Kevin Warring, of Persistence Creek Farm, teaches us how their farm uses sustainable practices that minimize fertilizers, maximizes yields, and provides food and shelter for wildlife. Winner of the Leopold Conservation Award this year, their family believes that sustainable agriculture is about “soil, water, and wildlife.”

Some of the things we discuss during this interview were:

  • Can we honor the environment and and still remain a profitable agriculture operation?
  • How to partner with county, state and federal to share costs and knowledge.
  • The role of cover crops and buffer riparian buffers.
  • Stream restoration and stabilization.

“Passing it on to the next generation is so important. Owning our farm is a blessing and we want to pass it on to the next generation better than we found it.”


Empowering the Dying and the Ones Who Care for Them

My Mom died in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. Her dying was a terrible part of my life and I miss her everyday. You may be surprised though, that the months and years leading to her death were also some of the best times. It gave her, myself and my family the chance to talk about things important to us and gave me the honor of caring for the woman who had cared for me. Death is not fun. It is not wanted. However, it can be a beautiful and significant experience so I was happy to be able to interview Katie Duncan, a death care coach about how we can empower our loved ones and ourselves during this process.

Katie helps families navigate the dying process so they can find the good parts. She is the author of “The Dying Process: Your Essential Guide to Understanding the Signs, Symptoms & Changes At The End of Life”.

Some of the things we discuss during this interview were:

  • Opportunities end of life brings to our loved one, for us and our family and friends.
  • How to open conversations about end of life.
  • The signs and symptoms of end of life.
  • Why your loved one may not want or need to eat and how to feel okay about that.

This is not an easy interview to watch. Most likely you are watching it because you are either going through this process or worry about when you might be doing so. I urge you not to be afraid though — the best way to find joy in this process is understanding it and knowing how to work your way through the process and this interview will give you some great insight.

“Dying is like the sunset at the end of each day as it beautifully transforms and uniquely lights up the sky even after the sun is no longer in sight.”

Katie duncan

5 Steps to Make Decisions Easy

Most people hate making decisions.  Mostly because it is a terrifying possibility that we may make the wrong one and then have to live with it or we may be mocked for it.  Whether it is what to wear to a party or what color to paint our kitchen, the process can be intimidating and may even cause you to choose the ultimate wrong choice – doing nothing because you are afraid of making the wrong choice.  Doing nothing is okay but doing it because of fear is NEVER the right choice.  So how can we change this narrative?

  1. Realize most decisions are not that important.   What you eat for breakfast or wear to work on a Tuesday will not be remembered in a year, or probably even the next day.  It is more about what is not the WRONG decision.  Think of it like the 80/20 rule.  80% of the choices are just fine.  20% may be not be the best.  It is easy to choose ANY of the 80% of choices and know they are just fine and there is no perfect decision among that pool but at least none of them are bad.
  2. Narrow your decision pool.   It is hard to choose among 100 choices.  It is much easier to choose between three choices.  Whittle it down and the choice becomes easier.
  3. Flip a coin.  Once you have the decision narrowed, you probably have it down to ones that are at least not wrong so the choice really matters less.  At this point, flip a coin, play rock/scissors/paper, set up a dart board.  Leave it to fate at that point.
  4. Set up routines and have less choices.  If you have problems deciding what to wear in the morning, create outfits that you rotate between each week.  Monday is black pants and colored top.  Tuesday is blue dress day.  Wednesday is khaki pant day.    Same for what you fix for dinner – ever wonder who came up with Taco Tuesday?  Probably someone trying to simplify their decision making!   Create lists of shows you want to watch so you aren’t flipping through channels.    Get rid of clothing you don’t wear anyway and there will be less choices and so the decision will be easier each morning.
  5. Document the data. Decisions become easier when you can see the data in black and white. Deciding between two cities to move? List the pros and cons of each so you can easily see which makes more sense. Trying to decide between two jobs? List the benefits, pay and work type in side by side columns to easily see the right choice.

My last piece of advice is that once you make the decision, don’t second guess yourself. Remember there is no perfect choice and you did the homework to make the decision. Trust your decision and don’t agonize over it.

Planning a Wedding you Enjoy

This blog brought to you by Jaclynne Hall, our intern from Goucher College in Winter 2022.   Jaclynne is an International Relations and Spanish student, will graduate in 2023 and is interested in a career in international relations.

When planning for a wedding, where do you even start? You can drown yourself in Pinterest boards which give you extravagant ideas but burns a hole in both you and your fiancé’s pockets. Asking friends and family for advice may turn your own special event into theirs. This interview with Janet Virgin, a wedding planner with years of experience, I gained some insightful advice. 

Plan a dollar amount budget. Individually, the photographer, caterer, and decor may be decently priced, but the costs can add up quickly. You want to make sure you prioritize what’s important to you and your partner. 

“There’s no wedding law… It’s all about what’s appropriate for your relationship and your event.” –

Janet Virgin

When it’s all said and done, it’s you and your partner’s special day. What works for your relationship may not be what your family may want, but that’s okay! If you’re falling into the cracks of deciding the nitty gritty details of the color of the flowers, the type of linens, the music, take a step back and think to yourself. Looking back on this day, what do I want to remember? How do I want to remember feeling?

 “What do I want to warm my soul from that day?” – Janet Virgin

The answers to these questions are what you need to focus your planning. So no, you may not remember in ten years what type of silverware you had on the table, but you will remember enjoying that thoughtful conversation with your cousin in the midst of the celebration. When planning perhaps the greatest day of your life, plan for the memories, not the “perfect wedding.” 

Turn Table Scraps Into Rich Soil with Worms

This blog brought to you by Jaclynne Hall, our intern from Goucher College in Winter 2022.   Jaclynne is an International Relations and Spanish student, will graduate in 2023 and is interested in a career in international relations.

Why should we compost? Doesn’t it smell? What about the worms getting out? And as one of the viewers so aptly put it, “I don’t like worms!”

In an interview with Cathy Nesbitt, we learn that composting isn’t as gross as we may think it is. And towards the end, I even thought to myself, maybe I should start composting here in my college dorm!

There are so many benefits to composting: minimizing your food waste, creating a fertilizer in which you know the contents, and you’re doing a small part in affecting climate change. Before watching this interview, you may be a skeptic like I was. But with the right care and patience, composting with worms produces so many benefits.

There is a garbage crisis. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, we generated 292.4 million tons of waste in 2018, which translates to 4.9 pounds per person per day. A majority of that waste went to landfills. Cathy, who’s Canadian, disclosed that the US and Canada had struck up a deal to send their garbage to the US since Canadian landfills had been put out of use. With all the waste we produce, we don’t think long term about the consequences of what this could mean for the environment. By composting our own food waste, we make a small but meaningful impact. And personally, we can gain more of an understanding and appreciation for the creepy crawlies of the world. 

But why compost with worms when we can compost without them? They break down food faster and alert you when your mixture of waste is unbalanced. If you place too many acidic items or put too many scraps in at once, it’ll start to smell and the worms won’t be able to process it. With the right balance, there’s no smell, no mess, and no unwanted visitors — aka fruit flies. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all experienced having fruit flies in the house. Were we composting? Not necessarily. I know that I wasn’t composting when I had them. By burying food scraps and allowing the worms to work their magic, they can break down our waste into wonderful “black gold” as Cathy described it. 

Composting is also a great learning opportunity for your kids! They learn about the importance of caring for other living things and that the fertilizer composting produces can help plants flourish. They can also gain an understanding for respecting the environment. I see nothing but great learning opportunities from this.

Take a bit of time to watch this interview because it was truly interesting to hear how beneficial and simple it was to compost with worms. I hope this inspired you!

— Jaclynne


I like to talk and I’ve always told my employees that they need to tell people what we do and what we WANT to do to help grow our business. But, there is a big difference between talking and public speaking. I recently met Leisa Reid who is not only a public speaker but also teaches people how to use their speaking gigs to grow their business and is the author of Get Speaking Gigs Now.

you can attract your client from the front of the room and that is a fun and effective way to grow your business

Leisa reid

Leisa stressed right away that the speaking gig should not feel like an infomercial. You need to provide value to the audience and enough value that they want more of what you have to offer. “If you are someone who likes to teach and you have expertise to share, you can attract your client from the front of the room and that is a fun and effective way to grow your business.”

Other tips Leisa shared were:

  • how to get paid for speaking and if you should be paid
  • how to get bookings and who to approach
  • how to to get “your talk ready to rock”
  • how to get rebooked
  • what is a speaker sheet
  • and how to get booked on the first try!

Alternative uses of farmland is key to preserving open space

A cooperative effort between Retreat & Learn and MissionGO helps preserve farmland while demonstrating the potential for faster transport for blood laboratory testing and organ donor matching

Since 2007, Charles County, Maryland, the homeplace of Retreat & Learn, has lost more than 10,000 acres of active farmland and the average farm size has dropped more than 14%.  Besides being a place to learn and promote wellness, another goal of Retreat & Learn is to preserve farmland and for the past year, a cooperative arrangement with MissionGO has worked towards that goal.

The location of Retreat & Learn is Ravens Crest, a 173-acre working farm just south of Washington, DC on a cliff overlooking the Potomac River.   The farm grows hay for cattle and horses, soybeans, and wheat.   While the farmhouse hosts retreats and workshops, the farmland continues to grow many of the same crops it has for decades.

Ravens Crest also serves as a test site for MissionGO — a Baltimore based company developing and testing unmanned aircraft systems (you may know them as drones) for the eventual purpose of transporting organ transplants and blood for laboratory testing.  As you can imagine, it is imperative that before the systems are put into live use, they must be thoroughly tested under nearly every condition and many hours of testing occurs at Ravens Crest.

On August 10, MissionGO along with the The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland (The LLF), who are responsible for organ, eye and tissue donation services in Maryland, conducted a successful flight demonstration at Ravens Crest.  On the day of the demonstration, the crew flew blood delivery shipments on four 5.3-mile circuits representing the direct line flight path for blood delivery. Traveling at approximately 50 miles per hour over a 60-minute period, they clearly demonstrated a better transport method is possible that removes many of the negative variables such as traffic.

Frank Paskiewicz, EVP of UAS Cargo Operations, remarked, “Our team at MissionGO greatly appreciates the ability to conduct these vital test operations at Ravens Crest and we are pleased to be a part of preserving open space in Maryland.”

Retreat & Learn is proud to partner to help those in need of organ transplants.   The use of the farm as a test site is a perfect example of an alternative use of farmland that helps preserve open space and land that grows crops to feed our community.  We are grateful MissionGO chose Ravens Crest as their test location to help us in our goal to preserve farmland.

Photography by Kipke Photography

Government Contracting: difference between Direct Cost and an Indirect Cost?

The FAR clause 31.201-1 reads, “The total cost, including standard costs properly adjusted for applicable variances, of a contract is the sum of the direct and indirect costs allocable to the contract, incurred or to be incurred, plus any allocable cost of money pursuant to 31.205-10, less any allocable credits. In ascertaining what constitutes a cost, any generally accepted method of determining or estimating costs that is equitable and is consistently applied may be used.”

Shoot.. I’ve done this a long time and even I find that a bit confusing.  Let’s break this down into something a bit more simple.

In a compliant DCAA (Defense Contract Audit Agency) accounting system, you need to create multiple “pools” of costs.  Think of the pools as piles of receipts… you could pile them all into one box or you could file and sort them into a filing cabinet.

Now imagine that filing cabinet had three drawers and then various folders within each drawer and the costs were segregated by the type of cost.  That would make it a lot easier to both find particular receipts later and also allow you to make better budget decisions because you would know exactly how much you spent in each category.  So besides being compliant with DCAA, it is also good business sense.

So, a simplified look at our filing cabinet would look a little like this:

  • Drawer 1 – Direct Costs
    •  Folder 1 – Labor
    •  Folder 2 – Travel
  • Drawer 2 – Indirect Costs
    • Folder 1 – Administrative Labor
    • Folder 2 – Overhead Travel
    • Folder 3 – Rent
    • Folder 4 – Utilities
  • Drawer 3 – Unallowable Costs

We will talk a bit more about Unallowable costs in another blog post but what are the differences between Indirect and Direct Costs?

A Direct Cost is something that can be charged “directly” to the contract.  For example, if you are a services company and you have sold the government hours of a Software Engineer’s time, the cost of paying that person’s hourly rate is a direct cost.  If you pay him $50/hour, that amount is a Direct Cost.  Any travel that was authorized by the client to be charged would also be a Direct Cost. So for example, if the client asked him to visit another site that requires a flight to visit, the cost of the flight and hotel and car would likely be a direct cost (if it was approved under the contract).  Commuting costs are not allowed, however, to be charged.

But that is not the only cost of employing that person.   Someone needs to process his timesheet and payroll, you need to pay for office space for him to sit, a computer for him to work, etc.  The costs that are necessary to provide the service or product to the government but are not directly billable are called Indirect Costs.

Both Indirect and Direct Costs are considered Allowable costs and are charged to the government but just in different ways.  Direct Costs are charged at what it cost you and Indirect Costs are charged by applying a % to the Direct Costs.  The % cost is created by combining your Indirect Costs into a “pool” that you then divide by your total labor costs across all your contracts.   You can read more about how to develop your total rate to charge to the government in my blog, Developing Rates for Government Contracts.   In general though, your invoice to the government would look a bit like this (assuming an Indirect Cost of 80% and a Fee of 7%):

Labor CategoryDirect CostIndirect Cost (80%)Fee/Profit (7%)Total Cost Per Hour
Software Engineer$50$40$6.30$96.30

Doing the Same Thing Expecting Different Results

In this two part series of videos my horse and I amble around our farm while I ponder why we keep trying the same approach expecting different results. Years ago I had a bad fall off my horse and I struggled with gaining my confidence. Finally, I realized I needed to try a different approach and learn to be kinder to myself.

I kept trying to get my internet to work on the shoreline… over and over… until I finally tried a different approach and did my morning live video on horseback… that worked!
In this video I share a story about my fall from my horse and the resulting lack of confidence… and how I got it back!


What is a Wrap Rate and How Can It Make Pricing Proposals Easier?

A wrap rate is a simple way to calculate what rate you can charge to the government under a Cost Plus Fixed Fee or Cost Reimbursable contract.

The way you calculate the rate you can charge is typically done this way assuming these are the salaries and indirect rates for your company:

Salary:  $50,000

Direct Labor Rate:   $50,000/2080 = $24.04

Fringe:  $24.04 * 30% = $7.21  (Subtotal $24.04 + $7.21 = $31.25)

Overhead:  $31.25 * 20% =  $6.25 (Subtotal $31.25 + 6.25 = $37.50)

G&A:  $37.50 * 15% = $5.63

Total to be Charged before Fee:  $43.13

That’s a lot of calculation and if you are sitting with a client and they want a quick Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) – or in the midst of writing a proposal, you don’t want to be scribbling on paper that long.

So, a simplified version would be to calculate your wrap rate and use that instead.

Doing the same calculation above, but using $1.00 instead of $24.04 gives you the number 1.794.  That would be your wrap rate.

Now take your Direct Labor and multiply it by the wrap rate:

24.04 * 1.794 = $43.13

Much easier, right?

You can then take each of your employees and make a simple chart that you can use when creating proposals that let’s you know what you “break even” (price before profit) would be on each staff member.

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