Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Are Farmers Markets a Good Deal?

Many of you know that prior to joining academia I worked for 25 years in agriculture...a great career and personally and professionally rewarding...but wow there is a lot of work that makes you feel old quickly!... However, before I ever thought of starting my own company...my wife and I worked for three summers at Farmer’s Markets in Fresno...going out each Thursday or Friday and load up my van with fruit from my in-laws farm...and on Saturday morning arrive with my young bride at the Vineyard Farmers Market ...and we would sell hundreds of pounds of farm fresh peaches, nectarines and plums...great tasting fruit full of aroma and juice and color...usually at .59 or .69 a pound...and make the astronomical sum of $150-$200 per week...hard to believe that one week of selling peaches could just about pay our rent in 1981!...

...These sales kept us “in groceries” for the first three years of our marriage, until I began to work full-time in the growing and wholesale fruit industry. It was a great experience of dealing face-to-face with consumers, watching them enjoy our fruit and get a good deal in the process...But over the years, I noticed a significant change in Farmers Markets as I visited them in many towns...were they really what they purported to be?

...After a recent experience with two San Diego Farmers Markets, I have concluded that much of the time they are not a good deal for consumers...the quality of produce sold in proportion to the price charged is grossly unbalanced...and often I find the quality...particularly in fruit more so than vegetables...marginal at best and often actually cull fruit... leading me to conclude after several years of observing these markets...that often I believe that products are not in reality what are being portrayed to the consumer...not a good thing...


...An example of this is tree fruit that I see sold at Farmers Markets portrayed as being local grown. For those of us in the industry, we know that peach trees have a nearly impossible time to grow and produce fruit in southern California. (How many of you have seen these scrawny little trees around San Diego with peaches the size of cherries?) The reality is that we are in a tropical climate and most decidious trees need at least 800 hours each winter of sub 40(F) degrees to be able to produce, and we just don’t typically get that much cold weather here...



But in several conversations with “Growers” at these Farmers Markets, they tell me as they dump boxes of fruit out of boxes originating in Central California how they are simply recycling cardboard from the San Joaquin Valley and hauling empty boxes hundreds of miles to the south. Laying aside the economics of hauling empty cardboard, even if it is free, when empty cardboard boxes worth .50-.75 each are just as easily available in the immediate area it just doesn’t make sense.


...From my experience much of what I have seen is actually cull fruit that is legally packed by legitimate growers 300 miles north of San Diego, sold to someone for the going rate of about $5-$6 per 25# box...and then dumped into a box or basket here and sold as “local grown” for $2.50 a pound typically...that is a profit of over $55 on each box made upon the hard work, risk and labor of the actual grower...like my buddy Vernon Peterson pictured below...one of the best men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing...and if you want to talk real organic...truly from tree to table...contact Vernon at http://www.abundantharvestorganics.com/...


...I also have grave doubts about much of what is presented as organic fresh fruit...To an experienced eye, organic peaches are fairly easily able to discern...but I think I am seeing “organic” fruit being dumped out of non-organic boxes, which is to my understanding a violation of the organic certification laws...and when I have engaged in conversations about their growing practices (not revealing my own experience) with these peach “growers” I am usually underwhelmed by their lack of knowledge of the products they sell...I do not believe that all of them are being deceptive, but a significant number of them appear to be something they are not to the consumer...and I think it is worse in fresh fruit than in vegetables...organic vegetables are much easier to grow than organic peaches, plums or nectarines...



...This was not the Farmers Markets of 30 years ago, nor was it in the spirit and intention of those brave growers who sought alternative markets for their produce. There was a very close connection between the growers, vendors and products...But as with most things that grow popular, abuse usually follows...and I fear that has happened to many Farmers Markets...regretably...

What to do? Ruth and I have tried in vain over the past month to buy good quality watermelons and corn at local markets, but to no avail...day in and day out the best produce for the money in this area is...Henry's...and with the going rate for fresh summer corn is 3 ears for $2 at the Farmers Markets... at least two local stores have been selling it in the range of 4-5 ears for $1, way under the Farmers Markets...The quality? Outstanding!... And if it advertised as organic, with much regret, I have concluded that I have much more confidence in the store being truthful than I do someone who scrawls “organic peaches” on a piece of cardboard, stands back, and watches the consumers line up.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Boom Deeyah!

So I guess that I don't have enough going on in my life...but a couple of months ago my wife and I started Portuguese lessons...now that is something easy to do at my age!...and I have much more respect for people who try something very new later in life...no, no getting a puppy...but you know, like having triplets...skydiving...traveling worldwide...chainsaw juggling...because it is really hard!



...now I don't really have a good track record in this area...because there is not much I remember from a couple of years of high school French...as the only sentence I can remember is..."Do you want to play basketball?"...pretty good, huh?!?...your tax dollars at work...my apologies to all of my Clovis High instructors...for me it was kind of like coaching T-Ball...you just keep putting the ball on the stand for the kid...hoping they will eventually hit it...closest I ever got was hitting the rubber stand...wait!...they didn't have T-Ball when I was a kid...not invented yet...anyway...


...so what I have learned so far?...that it is better to do such things like language studies as a kid...like playing T-Ball...but if you do attempt this later in life..it is important for you to recognize how you learn...for me language studies is similar to doing a puzzle...trying to connect words and thoughts and images in my head...and it is very gratifying when you complete something...like a sentence saying...ummm..."Do you want to play basketball?"...well, in Portugal it would be soccer...but you know what I mean...

...but I think the point holds for all of us in business, education, parenthood, etc...figure out your learning style...for my bride it is much different...she wants to construct words and sentences like she is building a Mercedes-Benz...precise, perfect, well-crafted, beautiful...


...but for me it is more like building a Corvair...quick, less pain, less precise...and having a tendency to blow up and catch fire once in a while...

...so today...get up off your little hiney and get out there and do something!...think of a way of improving your company tomorrow..making someone's life a bit better...cooking a new dish...water skiiing...selling Avon...or learning Portuguese!

Friday, August 6, 2010

USPIGS?


I just returned from several weeks in Portugal, which is my sixth trip in the past five years. These trips have allowed me the opportunity to visit many towns and regions outside of the two dominant cities of Lisbon and Porto, and spend time with a variety of Portuguese citizens. It is an ancient country, from its Roman ruins to splendid palaces, cathedrals and castles, and it should make any American realize how short our own history is.

Today, as a peripheral country of the European Union and broader global economy, Portugal is at a crossroads. Kenneth Wattret, the chief euro region economist at BNP Paribas in London stated in April 2010 that ”The reason we’re concerned about Portugal is not because its public sector debt ratios are excessively high; it’s more that the Portuguese economy doesn’t really grow.” This small seafaring country which once controlled much of the world, dominating the trade routes to Japan, India, Africa and South America, is now the fodder of economic and political pundits, being labeled one of Europe’s “PIGS” (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain), a poster child of European government mismanagement, bloated public sector and pension systems run amok.


Last week, over lunch (fresh sardines!) in Lisbon with a Harvard classmate who is a prominent entrepreneur in Portugal, we talked about our respective countries. He shared with me that while Portugal has made much progress since the long oppressive reign of António de Oliveira Salazar (1932-68), often simply referred to by Portuguese as “the Dictator,” he took special note of the lack of capacity and willingness of Portuguese to take risks of any sort in any business. While there are other factors (colonialism, wars, etc.), the contemporary view is that Salazar and his government machinery created in the Portuguese a mindset that the government would take care of everything if the populace just gave them their votes and acquiesced to its policies. It is frequently said that what Salazar did was to keep the country occupied with “Football, Fado and Fatima” (Portuguese sports, music and religion, respectively). What Salazar actually did was disembowel the inherent Portuguese entrepreneurial spirit, leading to a population ill prepared for the global world.


As Americans, what do we draw from this? While we must be careful to not attempt to overreach in the analogy, it seems clear that when people lose their inherent skepticism towards its government, regardless of its particular form, that with time the people inevitably are harmed. The rulers invariably win over the ruled. I am reminded of Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political thinker who over 160 years ago said “I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.” (Tocqueville also said “Socialism is a new form of slavery” but that is a topic for another day.) Tocqueville accurately predicted the Portugal of 2010.


I am convinced that the future of Portugal rests not in the hands of its political leaders but its ordinary people, who get up early and stay up late trying to secure a better future economically, socially and culturally for their family and communities. In many instances these are the entrepreneurs, those strange and restless personalities who undertake opportunities where they find it. They will likely not create the next multi-national company, but they can create something better than they have at the moment. And in Portugal, and perhaps here in the U.S., we need to encourage those who do this, in all their variant forms and contexts.


If not, and we choke off these restless spirits, we may find that the painful acronym has grown to “USPIGS.”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hope Still Exists...


Those of you that know me well have some idea of my complicated views of the government...I am a "puzzled patriot"...and know that the idealization of the USA as the noble and always in the right "good guys" that I received in my youth was somewhat shattered by the Vietnam War...
...my own spiritual journey no doubt shaped this as well...coming into contact soon after my discharge from the Navy in 1980...and enjoying some splendid years with those who had a different view of the government...and our history and symbols than I did...but no doubt some of this was just the product of the post Jimmy Carter era...(note to self: next time we want to elect a good natured peanut farmer to the White House lets bypass that step and send him straight to building houses for the poor...a much better use of a person)...but anyway...


...so as I watch the headlines of these present days...and think deeply about a world where more than 50% of the citizens of a country retire at 50 years old (France)...where angry citizens fire bomb a bank and kill three people because they don't want their outrageous pensions slowed (Greece)....and the thrifty and wise people get hosed (Germany)...and everything seems so complicated and confusing...

...In light of all of this it was a good diversion for me...after another long week...to go out on a Friday evening to a school presentation from Literacy First Charter School in El Cajon...where my daughter Rachel is a 1st grade teacher...there she is below with some of her students from Friday...


...this is the second assembly I have attended...can't believe its been another year...sheesh time flies!...and so we drove out to a packed church where the end of the year assembly was held...and watched the American experiment once more...

...so for the next hour or so I sat near the back of the room...while my bride took pictures (of course)...and observed a very diverse group of fairly new Americans...from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and countries of origin...I watched them stand up spontaneously and applaud and saw sincere and authentic patriotism...not the John Wayne or idiotic politician type...but real appreciation based upon their own experiences...as to how their lives were so much better in America...


...and I must admit it was pretty emotional for me...because it was real and heartfelt...watching 1st and 2nd generation immigrants stand and robustly recite the pledge of allegiance...or sing a patriotic song...with expressions of joy as they watched their young children...respectful and responsive...sing and present as well...with Mom and Dad and siblings and extended family all filming and photographing...and when they asked all military veterans to stand to be recognized...it was a nice moment...one that made me recall that prior to moving to San Diego few in 25 years had ever said anything about my 4 years on the USS Bainbridge...so long ago...


...so instead of bailing out after my daughter's class presented at the beginning of the event...we stayed for the entire time...and enjoyed it immensely...and I realized that the American experiment is still alive and well...in some places...and that the best place to see this is in the face of young Mexicans, Chaldeans, Africans, Asians and others who still come here seeking a better life...and the reality is that regardless of what we think many of them do indeed find this better life...not a street paved with gold but a far better reality than they had...

...so to all of the teachers, staff and students and families of Literacy First this old veteran...and American...is very grateful....thank-you so very much for reminding me that hope still exists...



Monday, May 3, 2010

Where did Hank go?


Where is Hank? Well kids, he is leaving town...and it is not just Henry it is his sister Henrietta...and they have been replaced by their European cousin...Henri...so honey, hide the silverware!...


...First coined a few years ago, Henry represents those individuals that worked hard, usually by starting a business or obtaining a professional certification (doctor, lawyer, etc.)...who it just turns out are the kind of people that create most of the good jobs in the good old US of A...Henry stood for High Earners Not Rich Yet...and formed the basis of most of the payments into our tax system...

...but now...due to Obamanomics...Henry is being replaced by Henri...or the High Earners Not Rich Indefinitely...who have seen their incomes dramatically reduced...and stand to get hosed by the tax code...at the worst possible time...populism prevails once again over reason...because heaven knows these mean awful rich people that build these businesses should now be punished...along with those tyrants who studied for years and amassed huge student loan debts...time to put those bad people in their place...


...Honey, has the mail come yet?...I am waiting for my check...wow, I love this country!...

...I have another new acronym...how about simply HE?...which stands for Hosed Entrepreneurs...now I know that many people are legitimately hurting...and these are tough times for our country...but there are way too many just hanging out...and we have created a system that penalizes those who work the hardest...think about it...and read the article at




Friday, April 30, 2010

Writing, thinking, teaching...





Last night completed my MBA class in entrepreneurship...another adventure with 19 young (well, relatively young) students...a very good class and semester...and I was generally pleased with the class and how it went..it reminded me again how important it is to continue to read and write and talk with people in the field...because things are happening so fast for entrepreneurs...



...I have come to realize that this is not always true for academics...and we continue to teach things that we are comfortable with...our own interpretations...desires...biases...opinions...and I guess that is OK on one level...but where it really bugs me is in fields that change quickly...which I suppose is mainly in the professional schools...but certainly the sciences as well...and while it is a great deal of work to continue to update my teaching material the gain outweighs the toil...as evidenced by the student reactions this semester...


...and some have been asking me why don't I blog more?...well I guess it comes and goes...and for the past months...well about 8 or 9 months actually... I have been doing a great deal of research and writing...and that has gone well and I do enjoy it...but it does take a lot of work and time....as I toil over the ancient wooden desk...by candlelight...well, not really, but it is a nice image...




...I have just posted in the research column on this blog a couple of those articles that will be published this summer...in several journals...and each provides a critique...in very different spaces...that some new thinking is required for those of us in the Schools of Businesses...and in other programs...so you can find them to the right listed in my research...and I try to explain to theologians and pastors that they pretty much don't have a &#?!+(*ing clue when it comes to understanding business...entrepreneurship...and the field and careers that so many of us are involved in...and have committed our lives to..many times to help people...with our own time, money and effort...and they seem to have only expertise in our field when it comes to how much a business person should give or tithe...



...so as the semester comes to an end I have several boat trips scheduled with my students...and look forward to that a great deal...and the wonderful meals that my bonita espousa prepares for the classes as we celebrate the completion of the semester...


...above are a couple of my homies from the MBA program...Pablo and Freddie...nice guys and great colleagues...as we enjoyed a boat ride late last summer on a spectacular day in San Diego...so for now I better go clean the boat and get ready for my MBA students!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Obi-Wan redux

In 1977 me and about five Navy buddies went to see Star Wars...somewhere near where Fashion Valley in San Diego now sits...and it was quite an event...I remember that there was almost a party-like atmosphere as we waited outside...and when we left the theatre there was another huge line outside waiting to get in...with excitement and energy in the air...the only other film that had done something similar was The Exorcist in 1974...which I saw in Carmel Village with some high school firends and my cousin...with people fainting and screaming...seriously...




...but unlike the Exorcist Star Wars turns out a bit better in the end...and there was no hurling vomit either...always an advantage when jumbo popcorns are involved...

...anyway I had a similar experience yesterday...with the movie Avatar...and while I am not one to swooooonn over movies...this one was really unusual...and in the same way as long ago at Star Wars...this was an experience...and one that isn't content with running a 5 yard play but throws the ball way down the field...and everyone else is running around and trying to catch up...


...from an entrepreneur point of view it is remarkable...huge risks and new technology all at once...and the risk/reward analysis is unclear due to the bad history of 3D in movies...ask anyone older than 40 and they will tell you...


...so my recommendation is to go see it...and even though I could have done without the rip-offs from Dances with Wolves...I mean the voice of Wes Studi for the Na'vi leader...c'mon...and the walk through the waterfall was straight out of Last of the Mohicans...another Wes Studi film...I kind of expected someone to say "tatanka" at some point..


...so get a discount coupon and make sure to do the 3D thing...and see what the future of movies is all about!