Success at business is success at putting your values into action. In farming, that’s good for the world, and it’s going to continue that way as long as family farming survives.
One of my personal distractions this spring will be planting sugar maples and white oaks that we’re acquiring with the help of the local conservation authority.
I’m particularly interested in the white oaks, which can live 600 years and produce incredibly strong and workable wood.
In part, I know this because there’s a stream running through a gully on our property. An Irish family — among the earliest settlers in our region — dammed up the stream almost exactly 200 years ago. There aren’t many such sites for a watermill in the area, and our settlers did an unbelievable amount of work to erect a grist mill that they ran for about six months a year, grinding an average six bushels an hour — which was close to half an average per-acre yield in those early days.
That mill soon got replaced, but the sill of the dam is still where they laid it — a 40-foot long beam of white oak that measures about a foot and a half by two feet, and that seems as fresh today as the day they cut it.
Given the dimensions, there’s a good chance the tree it came from was 300 years old or more, which means it would have sprouted perhaps 500 years ago. So, if the saplings we plant this spring have a full life, we could be talking a combined span of a millennium.
I can’t imagine what the world will be like in another 600 years, and neither can you. But despite what we will say to each other when we do the planting, this doesn’t really matter. Of course we’d like whomever is here at that time to have such trees to stand under, but the real reason we’ll be working our shovels this spring is because planting these trees — despite all our uncertainties — is an expression of our values.
I know you’ll have similar stories on your properties too.
The oddest thing is that when we’re planting these oaks, we’ll also take time to chuckle that our pioneers — who put their life’s blood into clearing this place — will be rolling in their graves as we replant it. “What are you doing?” they’ll shout.
Yet their values and ours are nearly identical, based on such things as family, usefulness, hard work, community. If they were here today, they’d make similar decisions to the ones we make.
I raise all this partly just because I like thinking about such things, but mostly because our culture too rarely seems to realize that business is all about values.
As you read through the March 16 issue of Country Guide, I hope you’ll do what I so often do. Ask yourself: What are the values that are motivating this or that person?
Agriculture is getting more heterogeneous, as discussed in our last issue, and you’ll see it in this issue’s stories too. But despite the differences, whose values in this issue would you not stand up for?
Spring is coming. I’ll plant some trees. You’ll plant some values too. But do tell me, are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].