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Two Lessons from the Land

20100509glendainthestcroixcovefieldAfter college, I went “back to the land.”  The reasons are diverse but after growing up in rural North Carolina, I spent four years in a military school, and then another four at Harvard in Cambridge during the Vietnam war.

As I have often said, the city was never for me so rural Nova Scotia and eventually the hardwood hills north of Fredericton, New Brunswick seemed to be to be a good place to figure out life. The urge to work the land was strong.

I started with a two hundred year old farm house on 140 acres on the Nova Scotia shore. We grew lots of vegetables, butchered our own animals, and learned the basics of farming. That bit of knowledge convinced me that there were better places to make hay than the foggy shores of the Bay of Fundy.

We ended in the small settlement of Tay Creek where we built barns and a big herd of Angus cattle that became known for high quality bulls and breeding stock. We brought our foundation stock from western Canada and our big red Angus bull from Montana.

We raised cattle for ten years, but we dispersed our cattle herd of 200 head in the fall of 1982.   When I went to work in town at the age of thirty-four, I was far better equipped for success after ten years on the land than I was when I graduated from college.

The two lessons I learned on the land are really simple but the trick is figuring out which applies to your current situation. The first lesson is that there are times when you are truly on your own.  There is no one else who can help you but yourself. There will be no one coming to rescue you. The bucket with tines that you use to lift the round bales that the cattle eat has broken. It is snowing on a Saturday and you are twently miles from town. If you are going to get out of the situation, the only way to do it is through your own efforts. It you don't know how to use an acetlyene torch and a welder, you have a serious problem.  Your ability to solve the problem is based soley on the skill, the strength, the determination and intelligence that you can muster with the tools and materials at hand. In this moment you are the master of your own fate.  If you are not  skilled enough to meet the challenge, you will have consequences that could be worse.  Two hundred head of hungry cattle bring a lot of focus to your efforts especially when the rest of the world is cut off by a snowstorm.

The second lesson is that sometimes it is impossible to succeed without the help of all your neighbors and perhaps the whole community around you. Sometimes you have to ask for help and other times it will miraculously show up.

We saw it when we dispersed our cattle herd in the fall of 1982.  Our herd dispersal was less than a month away.  Wet, cold weather set in, everything turned to mud and it was impossible for my workers and I to get things done with my tractors. I will never forget the Monday morning when many neighbors just showed up to help. I still get emotional when I remember it.  How they knew we never found out but there we suspected one person organized it. Other farmers made time to help even where there was no time in their day. One friend with a job in town took time off to help. They worked for days in conditions that only the closest friends or family would endure.  One even got sick but wouldn't stop working. All they would take is a "thank you" and whatever hot food my wife could get on the table. It is impossible to forget that the people of Tay Creek and nearby spots rescued us from a dire situation which we could not get out of by ourselves. We would have never been successful dispersing our cattle and moving onto the next stage in our lives without their selfless help. 

Our community showing us to rescue us is one of the most memorable experiences in my life.  It shows how deeply our the village of Tay Creek and surrounding communities were woven into our life on the farm. Farming teaches you independence but it also builds a spirit of community. It doesn’t matter how big your equipment is. At some point, you will need your neighbors.  It is just as likely that they will also need you.

Being on the land teaches you lots of other things but the need to be independent while being part of a strong community (interdependent) is the essence of what I learned.  That knowledge has served me well during nearly twenty years at Apple and the decades since then.  The idea of interdependence is lost on today’s talking heads and overly-rich executives. To them success is just an individual thing and has nothing to do with the hard working people who support the dreams or the network of others (including the government) who enable success. It is unlikely those talking heads have ever had their hands in real dirt or faced situations that farmers regularly resolve without any headlines. 

The land schooled me well for the tough years at Apple.  In my book about Apple I provide this accurate description.  "The sales people not its executives were the ones who kept Apple's lights on until the iPod and then the iPhone showed up to rescue the company."  They learned early in their careers that no one from Cupterino was coming to help them and that if they were going to succeed it would be with their own intelligence and the help of people on their local team.


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