Red Barn and new Handsgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Daily Tales : One Thread
Red Barn Hands
It's a laundry night. Payroll. Nice quiet evening, listening to the rain and letting my fingers take me someplace different.
>I do. And even if I didn't, these words want to come through you and
>have a right to exist, independent of other considerations.
Thank you. I do hope you get something out of these word wanderings. I know you say the words want to come through me, and I know they want to come through me to you, so I'm just trusting that Spirit has a purpose in all of this, too. But I look at the spectrum of story over these weeks and hope you don't mind all the channels.
Though I've sometimes been a bit like Nick last night, when he worried somehow that sending you a note would be an intrusion, I found that I was able to reassure him easily (for he does care for you, you know), because of how certain you make me feel that you welcome me. You do good.
Nice news on the selling front, today.
A while back I had a conversation with a couple of fellows - my main Red Barn hands - who work for me, about selling the store to them. I don't remember if I mentioned this or not, but it's turning into an option that mother and I are strongly considering. It's a very interesting solution that presents some problems I'll have to think through carefully. What's more, it's rolling forward fast, fast, fast...
This has all the makings of being a very alternative transaction and, consequently, lots of the standard business buying adages - qualified buyer; secure financing; return on investment; profitability; location - won't apply.
For example, I know these guys don't have any money. There's money involved in this and no amount of liking them or wanting them to have it will make that any different. Mother provided the cash for the store originally, and I bought her out. (basically, no loans except for to mom) so it's owned outright. The principal is all family principal, and not a bank's. That's a good thing, but with its own set of thorns.
It took a bit of Other Peoples' Money- i.e., visa stuff - to cover operating losses for that 18 month period I was in total fiscal free fall 2 years ago. That's cash out, and owed, and due to the Piper, and I don't want to walk away owing that.
The price I paid my mom in 1993 is more than it's worth today, due to the significant gross sales decline *if* one is a business person looking solely for return on capital, and I just don't have the stomach to add the products that I know would punch those sales back up - the tobacco, alcohol, sugar, and cheap corporate organics from Asia and South America. I also don't have the energy and enthusiasm any more to take the biz partially on-line, where I'm sure it would be wildly successful, and where it should go next. That's a potential that I've laid the foundation for, but am not working yet because I don't - and won't - have/put the personal resources in place.
Therefore, the rationale behind the price (a bit more tricky) can't be solely about ROI, either. It would be a lot more about "can the cash flow make the payments" - possibly looking like perpetual rent, but there you have it.
There would need to be a lot of creative financing. Mom's contemplating taking a capital hit (I paid her almost 3/4 of the loan already in interest - and she was almost completely out of the market when it fell) in order for me to have something left. If I carry paper on it, and continue my current light-on-cash lifestyle, I can perhaps scrape out enough time to finish the book, and let that carry me on to the next thing.
OTOH, the Red Barn isn't about making money. It's about making a lifestyle - it's rent that you pay in order to live largely, and differently. I think that's legitimate social change work. That's what I've done for 12 years. If a person buys this business thinking they're going to make money, they're not going to be happy.
That's what happened to Galen, I think. We got into this thing together, and 6 months down the road it was obvious to him that he hated it, and that it wasn't going to make him enough money to make him feel he was getting ahead.
I remember being very prepared to grit my teeth and get through to the other side. We talked about selling it after a few years, and so I proceeded to really "get into it", seeing an endpoint in sight, and just willing to put my head down and plod toward the goal.
I think Galen resented how much I appeared to be enjoying the work. I think he thought I was more "cut out for the work" than he was. It was menial to him, although now he's not proud of that, but that's the way it was (and he's changed). I wasn't more cut out for it - I was just more cut out for making the best of the disillusionment of it. I've had more practice at reaching for a rose and grabbing a thorn than he has. (One irony is that, after our divorce, Galen actually went to work for me, and remained working for me as my produce manager for almost two years.)
But it's true - I did enjoy the great things there that emerged to be enjoyed, and it wasn't an act. I got really into food, and what the food chain is all about. I went to Washington DC to lobby for legislation. I used the store to practice a form of practical benevolent neglect that gave the staff a tremendous amount of freedom while still being structured enough to operate as a system that I could recognize whenever I needed to manage it. I screwed up some, and stuck around and through, and fixed a lot of it. It's been a very cool time, in many ways.
And all this by way of saying that the right buyer is probably the most important thing that can happen here. The wrong buyer, and everything I've done changes rapidly, and perhaps some of the work, and the potential, is wasted. But with the right buyer - the one for whom this is certainly a passion place - everything I've done becomes so valuable, and a useful tool for them to use.
One of the fellows, Kris, joined me in 1998, out in the blueberry fields. You say you know someone by their dance. I know someone by their work.
Kris was great in the field. He has been one of my best over the 15 years I've hired folk. When we had an opening at the store, I asked him in, and he came. Several months later, his best friend, Daniel, (they're from Oklahoma) came out to join him. I grabbed him, too.
They wanted to farm organically. I encouraged them - pointed them to land, people. Gave them a market when they would get big enough (they sold me a lot of produce this year). Counseled them through partner problems with others. In 2000, when it became obvious that my own work with farming was going to come to a halt, I sold them the greenhouse.
They've continued to be diligent and thoughtful workers. We have a great - I mean, a *great* - relationship. Professional. Honest. Loving. Intelligent. During harvest, I have to give them "boss talks" about focus, divided energy, health. For example, Kris was a vegan, and getting damned anemic around harvest 2 summers ago, so I told him to go buy a quarter of a cow and start eating some meat again (hope you don't find this offensive - some people are really meat-sensitive, though it seems like you wouldn't be - if so, let me know, and I'll spare you my meat commentaries in the future). The next day, he came into the store with a big grin on his face, telling me I was right. Seems like a neighbor had shot a nutria near the river, and they'd roasted it over the fire like true barbarians, and he hadn't felt that good in years.
They rise to the occasion. We get through with harvest, and things get smooth again, like about now. And they have room to consider things like whether or not they (in their late 20's, one has a bad back, the other carpal tunnel) really want to (or can) truck farm for 20 more years; whether or not this lifestyle of dirt-farming on leased land is conducive to baby-rearing and wife-holding; etc.
My dream for the store (when I took on the blueberries; when I took on the plants and set up the greenhouse) has always been to see it producing some of the food that it sells, and *in that* - not in propaganda, nor classes, nor anything else but the simply doing of the work - deeply educating the community that serves and supports it. I know it can be done. I know that it will work in this valley.
Sunday, mother and I got more serious about Barn selling talks, and she asked if the boys (we call them the Boys) were still interested. Today they said yes (we'd agreed to sit on the idea for a month and let it perk around).
I've put the idea out to a few folk in town who are interested in the future of the store, and know I'm at my time's end with it. They're willing to form a mentor-group, ala the Grameen Bank process, that will offer counsel if the guys get into a bind. My assumption is that they will when they begin to break the paradigms I was stuck in.
If Mom and I retain a lot of "deep pockets" responsibility (and thus, some fiscal oversight and control) for the store, their mistakes could be hard on the investment, and I might veto good things they want or need to do. If there's an intermediary mentor group of people I trust, I might be able to stay out of the picture, let the store evolve, cross my fingers and hope for the best.
We tried to turn the store into a consumer cooperative in 1991. We had 400 people who wanted to be members, but only 4 that had any time to work on the project. I've struggled with trying to birth the best form for this store here - sometimes I'm the midwife, sometimes I'm the zygote, sometimes I'm the womb - the sperm - the egg - ooh, la la, what a wiggle! Perhaps a form is finally budding out of the ooze of it all.
Kris said they talk about it every day. He said sometimes the idea of owning the Red Barn makes him dance around the house. I've been very upfront with them about the fact that there is no significant money to be made here, and that this is not about them buying a business that they can then turn around and sell for a profit. I repeated it today, and he looked me fully in the eye and said "We know. That's not what we're looking for."
They already know it's not about money. They've been doing this work for free, just like me - well, room and board and an occasional plane ticket to see the folks - for several years now; and not even working for themselves. They've been doing it for me, and for the work itself. This is about freedom. It's a living - a very good living - because it makes a good life.
That works, doesn't it? "A good living makes a good life."
Writing this out has been very useful.
Today, for the first time, I let it sink in that these two might buy my store, and that I might find a way to make this happen. I think about prayer link I put up for you - one of the first - in One Abode, the one that describes how to pray change, and I practice that.
I contemplate what a gift it would be to not have to go through the process of transacting in cool real estate to people who really can't know what they're getting into, and instead transferring guidance of the store, and responsibility for the store, from one part of its current body to another part of its current body. Such a healthy process - a real internal expansion, as opposed to the common truncation in selling.
It is a very, very big thing for me to let myself have this kind of hope that this thing could happen. It would be so wonderful - like having one's sons take it on, and knowing that if anyone could succeed, they would, and if they failed, I'd probably find a way to be there with them.
Man, the Universe always writes better stories than me.
Now - it's off for the day, and more laughing wind into the sails of it all.
PLUR. Remember PLUR
-- Anonymous, December 06, 2001