Monday, February 27, 2023

Here we go…. Again!!


Its February and the weather across the country has been a mess…. Intense rain and snowstorms across California where I am now working, with record snow packs anticipated this year once we emerge from a harsh Winter and move in Spring.  In this context its time once again to think/dream/fantasize about a warm southern spring and weeks in mid-April when it will be time to plant the tomato seedlings in the warming soil of the garden.  


Now I am one of those gardeners who have always dreamt about having a big expansive garden, filled with different vegetable varieties like my brother Mark, but who have just enough light, space and decent quality soil for about a dozen tomato plants.  For years, and actually many decades, my family (starting with my paternal grandmother MaMa) and I save seeds every year and start our “passed along” tomato seeds from “scratch” …. no seedlings from the hardware/garden store for us!  This year, as you can see the picture above, I have started three different varieties and am already getting excited for this year’s fresh Tomatoes from the garden later in the summer.  There is something about this annual rhythm that is very re-affirming for me… a certain cycle of life/seasons/crops that have nothing to do with business challenges, political strife, global conflicts, or any of the myriad of “stressors” that surround us in 2023… just the simple reassuring tempo of a garden and the potential for delicious fresh tomatoes in the heat of the summer!


Now lets talk about the tomatoes!!  Today we would call all three “heirloom varietals”, a phrase that was unknown to the generations of gardeners that have saved and passed along seeds fro centuries /millennium.  Two of the varieties have been grown by our family/friends for decades and decades, and I am proud to have seedlings sprouting again in 2023!!


Pictured to the right are a few tomatoes that I had harvested last summer.  The most “famous” for our family is the quirky orange/yellow tomato that was handed down from my grandmother that we have kept going for decades.  When it ripens, it has darker stipes on its ridges and MaMa called them “old stripers.”  A short plant only measuring 5+/- feet tall, the fruit are delicious and make a light, and beautiful pasta sauce.

Another old varietal that has been passed down in a friend’s family since the early 70’s is one I call “Big Pinks.”  My childhood friend Dave and his family raised these tomatoes for years and years and I was lucky enough to get a small packet of seeds from Dave’s dad a few years ago.  These plants will grow to incredible lengths, and put off very large pink tomatoes; while Dave’s dad grew fruit that weighed more than 2 lbs., I have succeeded in growing lots of the “Big Pinks” larger than 1 lb.

Finally I have the “Green Zebras,” a tomato with incredible colors that I have now grown for a few years.  My sister-in-law passed along some “heirloom tomatoes” from a farmers market box and these crazy green tomatoes caught my eye.  When ripe, that are green with dark strips on the outside, but you cut them open and they stipes of red, yellow, and orange running through the INSIDE of the tomato… incredibly beautiful and tasty!!  


Just describing them makes me hungry for summer, in the midst of a messy February.  The combination of the annual seasonal rhythm and the connection of each varietal to family and friends make this process precious to me.  I look forward to what might come this year, and maybe, just maybe I will finally raise a “two-pounder” of the “Big Pinks” ….. wish me luck!


 postscript: As I head into my 60’s, these “habits/rhythms” are becoming more and more important and more grounding to me personally. I a touchstone to my grandmother, born in 1901, and to childhood friends and their families connects me to the “long pattern” of life          (maybe a title for a future essay?!?) vs the microsecond fading reality of pop culture today… I am thankful for the tomato plants for more than just the great bounty in the summer… is a connection rod to my life and my past.

Friday, February 10, 2023

“The discipline of desire…”




In my business, its extremely common to get email updates on performance issues/budgets/forecasts regularly…. certainly, daily and occasionally, even hourly!  Early this week, one of my key leaders (way to go David!!) sent an early morning forecast update (NOT filled with good news) that included a reference to John Locke to make a point.  On a dark, early February morning in Bakersfield California let’s just say I was not expecting a quote from one of the “fathers of the enlightenment!”  I won’t go into too much detail, but John Locke, a moral and political philosopher lived at the end of the 17th century, was a contemporary and “pal” of Sir Isaac Newton and had a great deal of influence on the thinking of the “Founding Fathers” of our country.  


While not the quote referenced in the early morning email, the note reminded me of one of my favorite John Locke quotes:


“The Discipline of desire is the background of character”


I have written often in this blog about the idea of the “character” of leaders; specifically commenting on authenticity and integrity ( vs charisma and affectation) as the “foundation” of successful leaders.  ( see:  While these ideas deeply ring true, Locke’s “nudge” about the “discipline of desire” caught my attention this week and is worth exploring.


In today’s landscape of political or business leaders and their impromptu tweets, salacious social media posts, or headline grabbing prognostications, Locke’s concept of “discipline” seems a touch old fashioned or out of step.  


Discipline: noun, the ability to control yourself, or other people, even in difficult situations. 


In a fast-changing world that in my view is full of “difficult situations,” the ability to “control yourself” is the starting spot.  For me, the past six months have really put this to the test; months that combined challenging business issues exacerbated by intense weather pressures.  I found myself in mid-January absolutely at my wits end and faced an unusual “test” during a leadership mtg that I called and lead.  I had pulled together a group of top leaders to do a “deep dive” into current performance and to rebuild the “big-rocks” that should be our focus for the back half of our fiscal year.  The meeting was intense as everyone started seeing the business trends and challenges in the same stark light that I perceived.  


I could tell that my patience and energy were at a low point, after months or very tough business results and weeks of “bomb-cyclone” rains, so instead of hanging around grabbing some pizza with the team, I quietly headed back to my apartment.  This act was out of character for me ( I love to hang with the team!!) but at that moment, in that situation, I knew that if I hung around that night I might have said something, or shared something that I would regret….I was frustrated and tired and thought he best plan was to “control” my situation and head back to the apartment in Bakersfield.  A close friend called a couple of hours later trying to find out “where I went” and I shared that I was down, tired, and needed to crash… nothing dramatic, just needed a break.  


While that low point in mid-January is in the rear-view mirror today, I think back to is as a good reminder of the need for leaders to stay in control…to be focused on the “discipline of desire” … as a way certainly to build character personally but as a method of positive impact for their teams.  Think about challenging moments yourselves that you may be facing today, or in the days to come, and find ways to keep your self-awareness high and stay in-control and disciplined as you navigate the “difficult times” ahead.





Thursday, February 2, 2023

"Put one foot in front of the other" ....


The last few months, and more specifically the last six week since Christmas week of 2022 have been some of the most challenging of my career.  Late in the summer of 2022 I took on an expanded responsibility at the company, moving into the role of President and C.O.O. in September.  At the same time business challenges, combined with inflationary headwinds and other industry wide dynamics made the operating pressures very present.  What made the past few weeks exceptionally challenging was the un-forecasted "bomb-cyclone" that brought almost a years worth of rain to our growing regions in just four weeks.  The rains started just after Christmas and didn't really stop til early last week.  I always knew that farming is hard ( now who said "Farming is easy??") and that lesson was driven home with distinction in January.  We harvest more than two million pounds of carrots EVERY DAY, and that dynamic was deeply challenged by the recent rain event.

I share these "woes" as just one of many California ag companies ( and ag employees) who have had a rough ride and are now quite literally digging our way out of the rainy mess.  Its been a tough run and I am  so proud of our team battling the elements to do what they could to plant and harvest our carrots between storms, flooded fields and roads, and cold and wet weather that just didn't stop!  Its been tough, but the team I have a pleasure to work with, shoulder to shoulder, is an inspiring crew that cares about the land, our carrots and our customers regardless of weather forecast.  Its a team of "doers"that inspire me every day and are huge energy driver for me every day. As you can see from the picture to the right, the recently harvested carrots look great, and we are getting back in the fields and the harvest conditions are improving every day!

I don't usually quote song lyrics in my essays, and have never before quoted lyrics from a old Christmas TV special ( "Santa Claus is Coming to Town",) but this jingle and these words kept going through my mind as we faced challenge after challenge these past few weeks:

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door
You never will get where you’re going
If you never get up on your feet
Come on, there’s a good tail wind blowing
A fast walking man is hard to beat

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door
If you want to change your direction
If your time of life is at hand
Well don’t be the rule be the exception
A good way to start is to stand
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door
If I want to change the reflection
I see in the mirror each morn
You mean that it's just my election
To vote for a chance to be reborn

I know this song comes from a quirky holiday show released in 1970, but the actual words hit home.  I share all of this as a way to suggest that we all are facing challenges in our work and in our communities every day.  While they may not be "bomb-cyclone" driven, or caused by some sort of "atmospheric river," they are real and can feel overwhelming.   These issues and challenges in our lives call on us to respond and take action and as the song suggests, "a good way to start is to stand"!  Hang in there and remember...." you will never get where you are going if you never get on your feet."