My wife, my mother and Abraham Lincoln were all Aquarians, someone born between January 20 and February 19th. "Aquarians know too much about everything, which is a blessing and a curse." They are like the teacher that knows all the right answers and everybody else are the students each with different levels of understanding. Fortunately for America, Abraham Lincoln was an Aquarian and held fast to his belief, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
“Bloom where you are planted,” was my Aquarian wife’s mantra, her truth, her philosophy of life. It was one of the first cross stitch patterns she completed. She had it framed and intentionally hanging on the wall in our bathroom, as a daily reminder. I didn’t pay much attention or think much of it until we bought nine hectares of land, with a barn, in the countryside, 50 miles southwest of Houston. The acreage 150 years before belonged to a plantation that was sold to the slaves, that had been freed by that earlier Aquarian Abraham Lincoln.
Shelby, my Aquarian wife, chose this location because it was the cheapest real estate in the Metropolitan Houston area. ‘Race’ was the major cause for the low cost of land, Shelby and I, were the only white people in this poor farming community, surrounded on all sides by white farms and businesses. The grocery store, the gas station, the anything you wanted to buy store, except the Post Office, were in the adjacent villages. We didn’t care, we were there to raise dairy goats, not show horses. We were there to bloom where we were planted.
I literally slept in the barn with fifty goats for a month until Shelby found a forty-foot park trailer in the “Thrifty-Nickel,” that we called home in our first “down on the farm,” year. Although we planted ourselves in October 2000 we didn’t start to blossom for six years, beginning in January 2006. That was a very long, long time and at least, a half million, pre Bush-O-Bama dollar investment. Only, an all-knowing Aquarian could find the funds, patience and resources to endure such a long growing season, two years longer than honest Abe took to free the slaves.
“Overcoming Fragmentation Through Differentiation,” Michael Eugene Porter
Professor at Harvard Business School. He is a leading authority on company strategy and the competitiveness of nations and regions. Michael Porter’s work is recognized in many governments, corporations and academic circles globally. He chairs Harvard Business School's program dedicated for newly appointed CEOs of very large corporations.
I’m a Virgo (August 23 – September 22), and as long as someone provides the capital, the money, my hopes spring eternal. Overcoming fragmentation through differentiation is my mantra, my marketing strategy. Every American knows, “buy low and sell high” but Michael Porter, preaches the gospel of differentiation - what makes your product unique?
I thought, the world would beat a path to our farm, just because, what could be more different than goat’s milk .
However, save for a few colitis sufferers and health food crazies, we seldom received visitors. After Shelby threw another 100 grand into building a certified grade ‘A’ raw dairy, and I told our story about Raw milk versus Pasteurized on www.realmilk.com, there appeared light at the end of the barn. On pleasant-weather weekends, the ‘yuppie lifestyle’ Whole Foods aficionados would make the 100 mile round trek out to the farm. Even so, the $200 fair weather revenue did not begin to cover our $500 weekly feed bill for our now 100 happy, but always hungry, goats.
“You have to go where the people are” - Nina Planck at nine years old running the family's roadside stand next to their farm in Loudoun County, Va., about an hour's drive from Washington, D.C. "We couldn't make a living and lost money that year. You have to go where the people are."
“Harvard Smarvard.” My Michael Porter textbook marketing strategy was not working and in desperation or as fate would have it, I read about Nina Planck, and how her family grossed $375,000 selling organic produce at 17 farmers’ markets a week in the Washington DC area. It was simple down home marketing, so when we started taking the milk, cheese, and yogurt to the ‘yuppie lifestyle’ Whole Foods vegetarian health food crazies, at the eight Houston farmers’ markets, we brought home $500 - $1,000, from each market, just like Nina’s family had done in DC. The goats were happy, I was happy, and Shelby was all-knowingly happy.
Shelby and Abe are no longer with us and I and approximately 750 other foreigners from around the world are planted in the middle of Mainland China, searching for ways to bloom. Each of us is a genius, each of us can do something better than all of our other six billion plus brothers and sisters on the planet. It is human nature to help our fellow man, contribute to society and make a better community. By exercising our unique talents in a collective manner we can produce a renaissance in Zhenghou, Henan Province, the birthplace of China, the home of 22 dynasties and 200 emperors. But how?
I have had three years to size-up the situation and formulate my Aquarian plan to save-the-world from the ground up: Create a Utopian, 100 Family, ECO-Farming Community, sell the production via French grocery-café style outlets in the city and utilize the all-volunteer, Toastmasters association form of management. It is called Social Entrepreneurship, and of course Harvard has been fathering the field of study since 2001.
The late Richard Holbrooke used to give the essential piece of advice for a question driven life: "Know something about something. Don't just present your wonderful self to the world. Constantly amass knowledge and offer it around.
Past experience is the best indicator of future performance. My past food production and marketing experience taught me about the importance of differentiation and going to where the people are. The US government has outlawed the sale of raw, fresh, natural, real, non-pasteurized dairy products for 100 years. Once we delivered the real stuff to the city it was easy to sell.
When I was planted in Zhengzhou I thought it would be easy to buy and dine organic foodstuffs but not so. It is actually more challenging in China because even the non-organic product is of unknown origin. China and the US have both decoupled the interaction between the farmer and the consumer. Henan’s organic produce is shipped to Hong Kong where the customer is willing to pay the price for the good stuff. The reverse is true for the 80's generation mommys, here in Zhengzhou, who must get their infant formula imported from New Zealand and Australia.
The people are here. Henan’s, 100 million population is spread across the province in smaller cities like Luoyang, Xinxiang, Anyang and Zhumadian. Two-thirds of the farmers are still here, as well as, the farm land. The mass migration of farmers to the cities continues because of the 10/1 income disparity, but just as organic farming in the US employs - some say exploits - illegal alien Mexican labor, in China the workforce is already on both sides of the river.
My hopes spring eternal for saving the world through organic agricultural production in China, in Henan, in Zhengzhou. Right here, where you, and I are planted. It is time to blossom. Let me know what you would like to do to help get the food on the table. While you are pondering, read C. K. Prahalad's, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.