Gathering the data for success

Once there was a town where apples were grown in great abundance. Yuppies moved in years ago and now there are few orchards left in the area, but the story related here took place back when agriculture in that part of California seemed quite viable and farmers could plan for a future.

A fellow in his late 30s returned to his hometown after wandering the world. He took over management of a family orchard. Although, from his background, he knew more about apple farming than most people reading this story, he didn’t know it all. One thing he did not know was where to buy the best rootstock for a particular variety of apple tree, the most profitable in the area.

To find out the best place to buy the most profitable rootstock, he decided to ask the old apple growers. First, he selected a grower who had the reputation for growing the best apples in the region, and he asked him what the best nursery was. The grower told him. Next, he asked the richest grower in the region the same question. This grower told the fellow he would think about it and get back to him.

The next time the richest grower and the best grower found themselves together before dawn drinking coffee and eating pancakes, they started talking about the young grower. Interest in the subject of a new grower in the region lay somewhere between shooting deer out of season and whose tractor driver was in jail that morning. But if you have breakfast in the same restaurant with same company since the end of World War II, novelty has its place in the conversation.

“He asked me what the best nursery was,” the richest grower said.

“He asked me the same question,” the best grower said.

“What the Hell?” they said to each other. “What did you tell him?”

“I told him the best place,” the best grower said.

At that point another grower, chimed in, “He asked me the same question.”

“What did you tell him?” the best and richest growers asked.

“Why should I tell you?” the other grower said. “I will say I didn’t tell him the best place.”

“Why not?” they asked.

“I never liked his grandfather,” the other grower said.

“Yeah, but he’s going to get crap from that nursery,” the best grower said.

“I hope so,” the neither the best nor richest, grower said.

“But, why’s he asking everybody where to get the best rootstock?” asked the richest grower. “Any one of us could have told him there’s only one good nursery for that variety.”

“Don’t ask me. Must be part of Modern Business Management Practices,” the other grower said. “’Check with your local growers. Sometimes the peasants have valuable experience that, if scientifically cultivated, can produce great wealth and prosperity?’ Something like that?”

“Well, what are we going to do about this guy?” the best grower asked. “He asks me, he asks you and you and who knows how many other people. That ain’t right. If you’re going to help a guy, that’s a personal deal. It’s nobody else’s business. Hell, I never would have said anything about it if you hadn’t. I was embarrassed about it when he asked me, to be honest with you. He's not my son, is he?"

So, the growers assembled their valuable peasant experience and figured out a line to feed the young modern agricultural manager about getting just the right trees that would guarantee that his new block of the profitable variety would be unprofitable.

This unprofitability came to pass in due time and the young scientific manager came to the feed and seed store and asked the growers what happened. Employing peasant cunning, they asked him what phase the moon was in when he’d planted the trees. He consulted old calendars in the public library until he returned with the right answer.

“Ah,” the best, the richest, and neither the best nor richest grower replied unanimously, “wrong phase.”

“But, you never told me about the moon!” the young grower exclaimed.

“Did he ask you about the moon?” the growers asked each other, shaking their heads.

“You never asked us about the moon,” they agreed.

“But you should have told me!” the young grower said.

“Who should have told you?” the best grower said. “Me? Him? Him?”

“What difference does it make?” the young grower asked. “Somebody. Anybody.”

The richest grower asked the best grower, “Are you Somebody? Am I Anybody?”

“Naw,” said the neither the richest or best grower, “you’re nobody but a couple of apple growers.”

After the young grower retreated from the seed and feed store, the richest grower asked the best grower what phase of the moon he used.

“The one my father told me to use,” the best grower said.

“What one is that?” asked the neither best nor richest grower.