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Business is Business

Posted by Todd Parlo 
Business is Business
February 01, 2017 11:04PM
Can business and holistic growing be happy bedfellows? Is it instead a sort of compromise? Can we balance meaningful livlihood, ethics, and capitalism? I am sure many of us who read these pages wrestle with this idea. What have you discovered?

Before beginning this topic, if you have not read it already, take a quick peek at the Tree Fruit Field Guide discussion, as it is germane.

A comment was made in that thread of how nice it would be to have lengthy commentary on orchard specifics like there are in a (most certainly) tangent discussion. I agree, totally, but it is interesting why this sort of thing peaks interest.

I believe that actually, this whole concept of business is absolutely central to what most of us commercial orchardists (be it small) fill our little heads with most often. That realization surely sucks, but there it is. The lot of us deal with this daily, but add to the mix a passion as income situation and it gets even more difficult. The crux of the matter is capitalism itself, which constantly and forever will pit the consumer against the producer or practitioner in a sort of unholy game. There is no end to or escape from it. Many of us in this forum are in the producer/service camp, but as humans are also consumers. Every last one of us wants a high price for goods and services rendered, but a sweet deal on purchases made. Your nextdoor neighbor will want your goods cheaper, and sell you his for more. Enter impasse, and enter despair. I do not want this to be long winded or to have an endless blog on the merits of socialism or the forfeit of a monetary system. But, there is no answer to this problem. There will be winners and losers, and more often than not, especially in agriculture, those that are "successful" often live a tiresome and harried existence. Even well meaning ideas like self sufficiency and simple living rarely help a society, if that system requires someone buying their goods. A library is wonderful. A library reduces book sales. A conservation club sale or scion swap gives free or reduced plants- a great thing for society in general. And..it reduces sales for professionals in that field. Sometimes the best things for our culture (think free youtube lectures and music lessons), are a real bummer for those selling those wares. The point is, there isn't likely to be an equilibrium, just winners and losers, often based on luck, sometimes on skill, and nearly always on how thin you are willing to stretch yourself to get the upper hand.

So, why the depressing commentary? I thought perhaps the group could weigh in more on how some of the more businessy aspects are dealt with. That might be a little more on the pricing decisions and competition, but also how we are all juggling this in our lives. This latter point of balance between work and play impacts everyone in the forum, whether commercial or not. Maybe how they found peace with lower sales but a slower and more fulfilling existence. Some tips and encouragement have a place here. And then everyone, go make a darn comment on fruit growing will you? Netflix will still be there tomorrow.

Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard
Zone 3 in Vermont

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 02/03/2017 11:58PM by Todd Parlo.
Re: Business is Business
February 10, 2017 07:47AM
Perhaps an easier equanimity can be achieved through the realization that capitalism and democracy do not exist; at least in the tradition that has been dogmatically foisted upon the public through textbook and pundit to date. Context is a most soothing balm. The apothecary in this instance comes in the form of aisle after aisle of dusty tomes in your nearest Land Grant Institution under the E and F schedules of the Library of Congress; or History of the Americas. If mandatory education did its job, you came away with an incorrect understanding of why and how independence was sought, not to mention the nature of the system that arose in the absence of Crown rule. You also have a healthy distaste for reading history, be it primary documents, biography or treatise. My curiosity got the better of me.

First off let's look at the idea that we live in a democracy, or more appropriately a representative republic; neither of which is the case. In 1907 J. Allen Smith, a professor of Political Economy at the University of Washington, published a book titled The Spirit of American Government. On page 37 he opines,


Of course the spirit and intention of the Convention most be gathered not from the statements and arguments addressed to the general public in favor of the ratification of the Constitution, but from what occurred in the Convention itself. The discussions which took place in that body indicate the real motives and purposes of those who framed the Constitution. These were carefully withheld from the people and it was not until long afterward that they were accessible to students of the American Constitution. The preamble began with, "We, the people," but it was the almost unanimous sentiment of the Convention that the less the people had to do with the government the better. Hamilton wanted to give the rich and well born "a distinct, permanent share in the government."' Madison thought the government ought "to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority."' The prevalence of such views in this Convention reminds one of Adam Smith's statement, made a few years before in his "Wealth of Nations," that "civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all."' The solicitude shown by the members of this convention for the interests of the well-to-do certainly tends to justify Adam Smith's observation.

The founders were unequivocal in their concept that the rabble was not to be trusted let alone given the right to vote. This is one of the main reasons why the Constitution left voting rights to be decided on at the State level. At the time of the Convention, the plebiscite was almost exclusively white land owning males. To whit, less than ten percent of the populace was able to vote for the Congress member that voted for the elector that cast a vote to appoint Washington as the first "elected" President of the United States; lest we forget there were 8 appointed Presidents prior to the election of 1788. Why this attitude? Simply put, they shared Plato's view of government where Democracy is only slightly better and always bound to become Tyranny. The answer? Aristocracy. Under this system of governance those who achieve are put into power because, in having succeeded, they must be the best suited to create and maintain a system whereby success is eternally possible. Those who are constantly struggling only do so out of inability, which should prove their unworthiness as a candidate for office. Jerry Fresia, in his Toward an American Revolution : Exposing the Constitution and Other Illusions, explores extensively the machinations of and opinions expressed by the founders that led to a document and a nation that discriminates against the masses and preserves power for those already in possession of such. It should come as no surprise that in any given era, from colonial to present, two statistics have held sway regardless: 1% controls approximately 50%, and less than 10% lay claim to 90% of the nations wealth.

Which brings us to the dogma that we operate under a system of capitalism. Rana Foroohar claims in her book Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business, that only 15% of the money invested in the various American stock markets actually finds its way into making capital improvements in any form of business. That would make the markets the world's largest legal casino, not the cardio-vascular system of capitalism. So, we can sleep easier having disabused ourselves of the dogma that we participate in capitalism in a representative republic. Does that make garnering the fiat currency it takes for taxes and toilet paper any more palatable? It can.

Without being glib, the conversation over the relative merits of our economic restraints is non-starter. Supposedly the pen is mightier than the sword. Truth be known, I think I could have raised more awareness about Peak Oil running through as many congress critters with a cutlass than I did with all the writing to them and local as well as national media. Point being, we are not going to change the paradigm by pushing pixels. The systemic inertia is too great.

In all of these noble but ego destroying moments my last bit of comfort comes from the answer to a question posed to an enlightened one as to what they did after achieving such. To paraphrase, "About what I did before, chop wood and carry water."

Lakes Region NH @ 1200' or so

393 planted towards a 440 goal mixed apple, pear, plum and apricot...
Re: Business is Business
February 10, 2017 04:07PM
Now those are some vast sentiments, Chris! No argument here. We simply have to roll the revolution into our fruit growing.smileys with beer

Resiliency comes up when I think of my living being tied to a successful apple harvest. The on year, off year nature of fruit trees is inherent only to the degree we thin crop load successfully. And now even that seems less certain. The warm winter preceding the last growing season set up growers throughout the East for the Valentine's Day massacre followed by an April's Fool cold. Most blossoms proved unviable. We're going to see more of this. Having other revenue streams as part of one's living is vital. I worked as a carpenter far more hours in my start-up years. That has shifted to doing more consulting and speaking in this decade. No one aspect makes it for me; I have to juggle many things. And that's what can get far too intense . . . especially when those incredible trees do kick in!

The scale of what we take on needs to find that sweet spot where we keep things within the reach of own labor, for the most part. A product diversity component is also invaluable, not only to deal with less marketable fruit, but to put that "less marketable fruit" on the shelf in the form of value add products and perhaps even more so in the barrel in the form of cider. (Read up on the Whiskey Rebellion if you want to follow the story of democracy even further as it affects farmers.) We learned early on that "wheelbarrows of lettuce" had little long-term value compared to quality herbs dried in the solar tunnel for medicine throughout the year. Community orchardists need to create outlets that extend beyond three months of fresh fruit.

Meanwhile, here we all are in these turbulent times, with trees growing and hopes inevitably renewed every spring. Business is Business, as Todd says, and somehow we need to keep that fun while silently wringing the necks of people who have no clue what it takes to grow healthy apples. More folks are coming to understand where value lies when it comes to vitality and flavor, and are willing to pay fairly for truly nutritious food, and in that is our redemption.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/10/2017 05:03PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Business is Business
May 24, 2018 04:03AM
Todd opened this thread by asking:

“Can business and holistic growing be happy bedfellows? Is it instead a sort of compromise? Can we balance meaningful livelihood, ethics, and capitalism? I am sure many of us who read these pages wrestle with this idea. What have you discovered?”

They are really good questions, and ones we have grappled with over the years. We think that it is important to avoid “playing the game”, and to develop a business model that uses a set of rules different to what generally applies in the mainstream. Part of this includes supporting the smaller local businesses, who may charge slightly more, but tend to provide better service. And knowing that supporting smaller local businesses keeps money and jobs in the local economy, for the betterment of the entire local community. Part of it is realizing that it shouldn’t all be just about the price.

We are firm believers in the concept of localization (the antithesis of globalization), and have been inspired by the work of Helena Norberg – Hodge (see localfutures.org and the documentary The Economics of Happiness) and that of Samuel Alexander (simplicityinstitute.org), on whose site there is a great quote by Buckminster Fuller: “to change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”.

Another quote worth remembering is one by Gandhi: “you must be the change you wish to see in the world”

To explain our thinking – we are in a rural area about 30 minutes drive from Mount Gambier, the second biggest city in South Australia, with a population of just 26,000 people. About 5 ½ years ago we were involved in starting the weekly Mount Gambier Farmers Market. The market usually has 12 to 16 stalls manned by local producers covering most of the basic food types. We have maybe 200 to 300 people come through the market on a regular basis which on one hand is quite good – we sell a lot of apples, apple juice and cider vinegar, and it is certainly worth our while being there. But on the other hand, we are attracting only about 1% of the population! The problem is that 99% of local people still go to the major supermarkets and fast food outlets to buy low-priced, poor quality food that has been produced by an industrialized food system.

The market is growing slowly and when it gets to the point where we are attracting 2% or 3% of the local population, Kalangadoo Organic will not be able to meet the demand. We will need more apple growers. We will need more vegetable growers, meat producers, egg producers, etc., etc., etc.

In essence, we don’t think there are too many small producers competing in a “dog eat dog” environment. We think there are simply too many consumers out there who just don’t “get it”. But things are changing, albeit more slowly than we would like. More and more people are coming to appreciate the social, economic, environmental and health benefits of eating locally produced wholefoods.

So take heart, and keep fighting the good fight. Keep promoting the benefits of consuming locally-produced wholefoods. Educate people. “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. And in any case, we believe the economic model used by Western “civilization” is totally unsustainable. Change will be forced upon society, regardless of whether or not we small producers actively try to educate the masses.

And at those times when the bank balance is lower than we would like, and it is hard to find the money to pay some of those bigger bills, we just remind ourselves that change is coming, and that things will get easier.

P.S. We have a poster in our office which we purchased at the Bread and Puppet Theatre when we were over your way. It reads “Resistance of the mind against the supremacy of money”. Just so we don’t forget!
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