Zen and the Art of Farming
A true story
Recalled by Jeffrey Sward

While growing up in rural Wisconsin, I became acquainted with Gerhard Schroeder, who was a local farmer. Gerhard, like many Wisconsin farmers, grew of variety of truck crops and had various types of livestock. Gerhard's farm included a small apple orchard which was harvested each fall.

The growing season is Wisconsin is fairly short, running from late Spring through early Fall. Activities in the Fall are intense with various harvesting chores. From late Fall through early Spring the amount of farming activity is reduced. In November and December most farmers spend a fair amount of time with the holidays. However, the months of January and February are notable for their boredom level.

A few enterprising farmers in Minnesota and Wisconsin discovered that a legal tax write-off exists for farming conventions. With little to do in January and February, a group of these farmers organized an annual Midwest farmers retreat each Winter. The retreat was basically a boondoggle, allowing the farmers to have some recreation for a week in some resort town like Miami or Omaha. However, in order to make the conferences tax legal, occasionally farming is discussed.

Gerhard began attending the farmers' retreats shortly after I met him. At the first conference he attended, Gerhard met Shawn Anderson, a farmer from Minnesota. Shawn had a farm similar to Gerhard's, including an apple orchard. The two were talking one year and Gerhard mentioned that after the apples were harvested, a large number of unsellable rotten apples remained on the ground. It was very annoying and time consuming to collect the rotten apples. Shawn noted, "We used to have that problem. But now, after we harvest the good apples, we merely let the pigs loose into the orchard. The pigs eat all of the rotten apples in a very short amount of time. The pigs get fed and we get rid of the rotten apples."

The next fall, Gerhard harvested the good apples from his orchard, with the usual layer of rotten apples remaining on the ground. Gerhard remembered Shawn's advice. Gerhard stared back and forth between the rotten apples and the pigs for a few moments. Still uncertain the plan would work, Gerhard let the pigs loose in the orchard. Sure enough, as predicted, the pigs ate every last rotten apple in only a few minutes.

Next year at the farmer's retreat, Gerhard thanked Shawn for his advice. Gerhard noted, "The pigs worked great on the rotten apples on the ground, but there are still some rotten apples which remain on the trees. We have to send the farm hands around to each tree to remove the hanging rotten apples, and this is a lot of effort." Shawn replied, "We used to have this problem. What we do now to give one pig to two farm hands. The farm hands raise the pig over their heads and walk around the orchard. The elevated pigs eat the rotten apples right off of the trees." Gerhard listened to the suggestion with some skepticism.

Next year at apple harvest time, Gerhard used the pigs again to remove the rotten apples from the ground. Rotten apples still hung on the trees. Gerhard contemplated Shawn's suggestion for using elevated pigs to remove the remaining apples. The next day Gerhard decided to try it. Each pair of farm hands got one pig, raised the pig over their heads, and walked through the orchard with the pig. Sure enough, the pigs ate all of the remaining rotten apples directly from the trees.

At the next Winter farmer's convention, Gerhard found Shawn and again thanked him for the advice. However, Gerhard noted one more problem. Gerhard said, "It works great to have farm hands carry the pigs to the trees to eat the hanging rotten apples. But the process takes a great deal of time. How do you solve this problem?"

"What are you worried about?" Shawn replied. "What's time to a pig?"

Words to live by.


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