When I was twenty-four interviewing for my first real job as an actuary, the president of the company asked me, “If you could do anything in life, what would you do?” I answered without hesitation, “Be a farmer.” I got the job anyway.
Thirty some years later, after a career that stretched from advising major corporations as an actuary/benefits consultant to guiding the financial resurrection of a struggling independent school, I found myself wondering what I really wanted to do in life.
I had reached that dangerous age when one begins to question why they have been doing what they have been doing every day for decades and the answers weren’t coming.
However, I did know a few things about myself:
- I wanted to be doing something that had meaning and enhanced the well being of the community and the natural world.
- In spite of spending thirty years behind a desk, I loved working outside in all kinds of weather.
- I took great pleasure in understanding and working with animals.
- I enjoyed designing, analyzing and working with complex systems.
That was as far as I’d got for quite a while until my farmer friend said, “maybe you should raise grass fed beef.” I looked into it a bit and then went though my check list:
- Properly grazing animals restores and builds the health of the land and provides nutritious food for people – OK, passes the test for meaning and for building the health of the land and community.
- I’d get to work outside in temperatures that range from -20° to 100°, in thunderstorms and blizzards and 50 mile an hour winds – Yep, get to be outside in all kinds of weather.
- I’d have an opportunity to understand and develop a respectful relationship with creatures that weigh at least six times what I do and could easily crush me if so disposed – that works.
- Let’s see, I need to develop a system that respects the nature and needs of the animals, restores and enhances the fertility of the soil and the health and diversity of the pasture land plant community, and that produces beef of superior quality. All of this would be operating within a natural world of vast complexity and an overwhelming variety of unpredictable variables most of which we humans don’t fully understand or even know exist. Oh, and of course the whole thing has to be profitable in order to be sustainable. So I think that pretty well covers the complex system requirement.
In my mid fifties I had found my calling.
I love animals and I love eating nutritious delicious meat. I’m still working on resolving this contradiction. If you want to know more, see my blog at Hudson Valley Food Network.