A little parable from a place far far away in another time...
Once upon a time in the land of Oneupmanship, there lived a wealthy man, named Richard. His nickname was ‘Rich’ and he had a beautiful wife and family. He was very proud and happy because he had been able to buy them everything their hearts’ desired.
He had a friend named Paul, who lived out in the country. Paul’s nickname was 'Poor'. He was a struggling farmer, contracted to grow mono-crops on his land for a large food consortium which paid him poorly. Poor also had a beautiful wife and family. They had to be very careful with their money, but fortunately they had a small organic vegetable garden, a few fruit trees and some laying hens, which sustained them. They had a lot of ‘old world’ knowledge about gardening, and always collected enough seeds from their plants to ensure future plantings.
One day Rich noticed that Newspaper Headlines were starting to report ominous tidings about a world wide economic collapse. ‘Boring sensationalism’ he thought, and flipped idly over to the stocks and shares pages. The stockmarket had taken a hit and the value of his shares had tumbled. ‘No worries! It was just a minor hiccup! The sharemarket would rally again. It always did!’
The newspaper headlines worsened day by day, forecasting worldwide recessions and/or depressions. Unemployment was rife and many people could no longer pay their mortgages. He spared a flickering thought for all those poor people who would be affected, but knew for sure that he and his family would be okay. After all, he had lots of money in the bank.
The news got worse and worse, banks were in trouble and large ‘solid’ companies were foreclosing.
Rich’s own business dealings started going belly-up for all sorts of reasons related to the state of the economy. This was all getting too close to home, and Rich could feel the first twinges of concern.
When the supermarket shelves began looking patchy and sparse, he was too slow to respond to the tell-tale signs. Almost overnight, Rich’s life became surreal. He and his family couldn’t comprehend what was happening.
The headlines were now all about ration coupons and keeping calm. Strict penalties would be imposed on looters. The Government was spending billions of dollars on rescue packages. Their urgent attempts to prop up financial institutions and large business concerns was failing. The Government coffers were emptying breathlessly fast, until seemingly overnight they slipped into deficit.
Rich’s money had lost most of its buying power. All his old ambitions of wealth and prestige no longer motivated him. He felt sick and scared. All he really wanted now was the ongoing ability to buy food and essentials for himself and his family. However, because Rich had worked so hard in the rat race he hadn't spent anytime connecting with his local community. He didn't know anyone well enough that he could turn to. The only person he could think of was his old farmer friend, Poor. Strangely, it seemed that Poor was now the wealthy one.
Rich instinctively knew he had to travel to the country and visit his old friend.
Rich knocked on Poor’s door. He had always felt superior to Poor. He had believed that money was the measure of worth. How blind he had been.
Poor came to the door, and just the sight of him filled Rich with hope and comfort. There was something solid and honest about Poor. Poor’s rough, calloused hand reached out for Rich’s fine skinned hand. Next moment, Rich was in the kitchen where the most delicious aromas of good wholesome food awaited him. Poor’s family waited on Rich as though he were a king.
As Rich partook of excellent home grown food and even more excellent company, he felt his heart expand. Something beautiful was happening to him, and he knew he would never be the same again. Some of his core values were changing!
Rich returned to his family with home-made soup, eggs, fruit and vegetables. All were generously given by Poor and his family. However, the most precious gift of all was contained in a large jar which Poor had thrust into Rich’s hands.
It was a jar of seeds. Poor’s rough hand applied pressure on Rich’s arm as he said earnestly. “Rich, these seeds can become your new wealth if you nurture them carefully. Mother Nature will pay you compound interest on your seeds if you respect her ways. You will have enough food to feed your family, with plenty to spare and share.” Rich was deeply moved by his friend’s generosity and he headed home pondering on Poor's words.
Prior to the rapid decline of the economy, Rich used to rise early each weekday morning to travel to his office. He was the Managing Director of a large, aggressive marketing firm, which used cutting edge technology to stay ahead of its competitors. Recently however, the last of his clients had informed him that they could no longer use his company's services. With a heavy heart he laid off his entire workforce and then he too was out of a job.
Without the discipline of his structured work schedule, Rich felt bewildered and lost. Here he was, sitting at the kitchen table with his wife Gloria at 11 o'clock on a Monday morning. In front of them the large jar of seeds.
Although Rich was bewildered, Gloria had come alive. Their dilemma had activated some sort of primitive survival switch deep within her, and she was on a mission. The jar of seeds was having a bizarre effect on her.
Before the sun set that day, strange happenings had occurred at Rich's house. Paving stones that lined the edge of their backyard pool had been dislodged to reveal some soil for planting. Egg cartons and all sorts of pots and trays were being filled with soil and seed and placed in little orderly rows toward sun facing windows. Prior to the arrival of the seeds there hadn't been a speck of soil to be seen anywhere in their state-of-the-art backyard.
Over the next few days, the house also underwent a transformation. There was a mushroom farm in the bathroom and the sunroom had been converted into a greenhouse.
Poor had given Rich enough seeds for a decent sized family food garden. As Rich's seeds grew into seedlings, he discovered that he did not have enough space in his back yard to plant them all. Rich and Gloria decided to plant the remaining seedlings wherever they could, as they were not the only ones in need of food. They wanted other people to benefit from nature's bounty.
It felt rather strange and wonderful to discover that they actually cared about their community. They felt a flush of happiness as they made their plans.
That night, Rich and Gloria crept stealthily around their neighbourhood, with a tray full of seedlings. They planted their remaining seedlings amongst the flowers, in other people's front yards. They even planted between the shrubs in the centre of a busy public roundabout and on a couple of median strips.
By the time they had completed their mission, they were giggling like a couple of naughty school children. Their clothes were covered in dirt but their faces shone like the sun.
Rich had never bothered reading the local paper before, but now he started flipping through its pages. He noticed an advertisement urging members of the community to attend a public meeting. It pertained to the development of a survival plan for the community.
Rich and Gloria attended. They got to know some of their neighbours. They shared ideas, and volunteered to help other people plant vegetable gardens. They were deeply touched when a few members of the community volunteered to join them in their endeavour.
It was surprisingly enjoyable doing manual work in the gardens. They felt a wonderful sense of fulfillment helping others. Friendships developed and strengthened in a way that they had never experienced before.
Rich and his family were frequently invited to share a meal with their new friends. Even though they still had inadequate food supplies at home they never went hungry. Food was always given to them from somewhere.
A flash of insight caught Rich by surprise and he was quick to share it with Gloria. "We may not have much financial capital anymore", he exclaimed" but our newly found social capital is keeping us wealthy. I feel richer now than I've ever felt before."
Slowly, a sense of order was arising out of the economic chaos. The community became more cohesive. Vegetable gardens and fruit trees sprang up in odd places. Even people living in high rise apartment blocks were not exempt. Pots of herbs and vegetables flourished on their balconies.
Rich was amused to find himself whistling happily and often. The pressure of being a High Flyer had gone. He felt light and playful.
The vegetable garden flourished and Rich learned how to collect the seeds for future plantings. His fine, manicured hands were beginning to look rough and sinewy. He didn't mind at all.
Rich and his family were happy and healthy.
They spent many heart-warming hours dining with their new friends, enjoying stimulating conversation, exchanging information and sharing resources. Rich's garden only had a limited variety of vegetables. However, by sharing and swapping with others, his family continued to eat well.
The local market flourished in defiance of the harsh economic times and stallholders willingly bartered with each other, swapping food, goods, labour, equipment and knowledge.
Rich's marketing and technological skills became a valuable bartering commodity and he became a great asset to his community.
Every now and then, Rich heard rumours that a new resilient economy was arising out of the ashes of the old crumbling economy. One day he received an email from a friend, telling of a website that offered new ideas, new resources, new methods of trade heralding the emergence of an economy that respects the laws of nature and is transparent to everyone.
Rich usually disregarded these sorts of emails, however his curiosity got the better of him and he decided to investigate the websites. He liked what he saw!"
The website was called Ooooby and was a network of food gardeners and local food lovers. It provided ways to buy or barter food from a network of local backyard food growers. Rich scanned it excitedly, then shared the good news with Gloria. "Gloria, this is a kind of online local grown food market. All the members display what food they have in their gardens, and then they can all shop online and at local markets for food directly out of each others gardens." It makes a lot of sense. I think we should join. What a great idea!"
Gloria wasn't so sure.
"There isn't anyone else registered in our local community, Rich. It may be useful in the future, but it can't help us right now." "That may be so" responded Rich. "However, I would like to promote it in our area. We can at least encourage our friends to join. That way, we will always know what each of us has to offer. We can just update our lists as needed."
Gloria was thoughtful. "I guess it's a bit like planting seeds. Not much happens at first, then there's no stopping the compounding growth that occurs."
Okay! I'm willing to be a pioneer for our community. We can list all our excess tomato seedlings for starters. Do you think we should list Granny's old manual meat grinder?" "I can't see why not", laughed Rich. "The bigger this network gets, the grinder is bound to be in demand. We can just indicate that it is for hire. We don't actually have to part with it. We can hire it over and over again."
"Okay! You've got my attention! So what do you want to do?" Rich drew in a deep breath! "I would like to share these ideas with some of our friends. I think we should get these initiatives started in our town as soon as possible.
"It would certainly be wonderful if our town achieves self-sufficiency. I would like to think that other towns would do like-wise."
"Gloria, we don't need to worry our heads about all the other towns. There are people out there just like us who are looking at these ideas too. They have the same opportunity to make a difference."
ARE YOU ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE?