Preface to the Second Edition
My parents on the family farm in 2006
As I sit and reflect on the second edition of this guide, the questions I'd like to address (beyond business) are where I get my creativity, practical approach, and common sense! It wasn't learned in school, that's for sure.
As a child, my parents decided to move from our rural Massachusetts farm to a larger farm in Maine. Weekends were spent driving north to look at farms. We spent hours tracking down places on bumpy back roads, with my dad checking with the local soil and conservation agency to ensure some degree of agricultural success. We found our farm and moved shortly after I turned nine years old.
The youngest of six kids, and the tail-end of a blended family, I was arguably the least useful of the bunch. My parents worked hard for organic certification and by the time I was eleven, people were arriving to the farm in their cars with out-of-state-plates, like clockwork, right after black-fly season ended.
My job was to greet these fine folks and point them in the direction of the goods: long rows of flowers for cutting, long rows of peas and baby corn to admire, incredible vistas of blue skies and the fire tower on Musqash Mountain. To say I loved the job was an understatement! It meant I could play a little hostess, and interact with people, and learn about them and the world.
I didn't just work in customer service on the farm. We seeded, weeded, harvested, washed, and packed our organic vegetables for wholesale contracts. My father was a genius at making things he saw in agricultural catalogs-a mulch laying attachment for the tractor, a parsnip-washing machine. These very expensive tools were made from scratch and his willingness to put in the sweat equity.
Harvests were always hard, and joyful. Seeing vegetables pile up, and then get washed up for the baby food company who had contracted us to grow certified organic produce, was as satisfying as painting a beautiful picture. We got up early, joined the seasonal crew, and worked for hours, first in the cool of the morning and then, after an hour-long lunch break with lots of carbs, we worked a short, hot afternoon. My father often worked evenings in the field, back and forth, his meditations on the tractor offset by the setting sun.
When I was twelve, our largest contract unexpectedly ended. The company went belly up. There we were, with tons (literally, tons, the actual unit of measure) of organic produce. I didn't know it until later, but that failed contract was a $20k loss affecting the family finances.
Even though it was probably terrible for my parents to have to figure out such a loss after putting in months of labor, you know what I remember? We still ate together as a family, usually twice a day and sometimes even breakfast. My parents chose a career that meant they were around. They were home-based. This gave me a sense of security and stability. Our meals were delicious and featured foods we grew ourselves as well as typical meat and potato plates, Shake n' Bake chops and buttery mashed potatoes with a side of farm peas or beans from the freezer.
My parents didn't belabor the crisis; they had too many other things on their plate. They moved on. They grew different crops, utilized past skills, continually educated themselves for professional development and eventually found other jobs entirely. They lived the dream and are now retired on that farm. And, as my father reminded me when I asked him to fact check this piece of writing, in the midst of their crisis, they donated some of the "lost" crop to a central food bank, and were able to sell some of the rest of it to a processor. It wasn't all loss. It was agility and benevolence in tough times.
Now that I, too, am growing a business and a family, I am astounded at the fortitude of my parents, who certainly took negative circumstances and continued to provide a reliable, positive home base for their children. They managed to pivot and find other ways of providing, while keeping a consistency about our family dynamic based on family interaction and not "stuff". This gave me a foundation of prudence, and a desire to work within financial stability in my business.
For the reasons above, I have an approach in this guide that encourages launching your business without incurring unnecessary debt (can you build it yourself instead of buying it, like my inventive and persistent dad?). I want you to pay very close attention to what you spend in terms of time and money. Not everyone has the skillset of my parents, who, at the time of that contract, had raised four children already to adulthood, and my parents were in their forties. They had seen a lot of crap already, and this contract crap was just one more thing to shovel in the compost which would eventually enrich their wisdom.
I hope you see that business failures do enrich our wisdom, just as much as success, and so does establishing a basic level of your own personal risk towards business. What is most important is that you build something that works for you and your family, because if it is the other way around, you will feel very bitter about any loss.
For me, I am not willing to risk much money. I risk my time, and it has paid off. I have my mother and father to thank for this perspective.
Paul and Jan Beane, you did well by us. Thank you.