by Lee Pitts
My first experience in commercial agriculture was as a six-year-old sharecropper when I turned one of my mom’s tiny flower beds into a radish ranch. My cash crop consisted of two rows planted way too close together and I waited impatiently for the first green sign that my crop would not fail. I can remember to this day the pride I took in harvesting my first radish. Despite the fact that no one in my family liked radishes, they raved about mine. It’s a huge concept for a little kid to wrap his head around, producing something that is a necessity of life. (Not radishes, but food in general.) From that time forward I knew that my life’s work would be in agriculture.
When I was in the fifth grade we moved to a 100-year-old house on an acre of ground on the outskirts of town. Over the next dozen years I grew every crop imaginable trying to find one that would make money. I was passing time until high school when I could finally become a Future Farmer of America and proudly wear the blue and gold. My wife and I have moved nearly a dozen times in our 41 years of marriage and every time I brought along my old FFA jackets and my four California Farm Account Books.
There are several sections in the Farm Account Book, the first being a calendar of events. In my first entry on October 1, 1966, I wrote, “Entered walnuts in county fair.” I don’t recall how the walnuts “faired”, but from then on nearly every square was filled with entires about my vast livestock operation, parli-pro practice, work experience, speech contests, running for offices, etc. As a freshman I wrote that I had three lofty goals; to become only the second FFA member from my chapter to become an American Farmer; the first member to win the state public speaking contest; and the first to be a state officer, preferably President. I’m proud to say I achieved all three goals. The FFA was my life and my escape from a terribly mean alcoholic father.
Shortly after that first entry I see that I “bot” two commercial lambs. That’s the way we financial geniuses abbreviate the word “bought”, to save space for me to pad my resume. I named those two lambs Amos and Andy after my favorite comedians and from then on I gave every one of my animals a named that started with “A”. Except for one, that is, a steer I named after my grandfather.
I’m sure he was deeply touched.
My first account book showed that I made an $11 profit and a 33 percent return on my investment with the lambs but that’s not taking into consideration the 55 hours I’d invested in building the pen, feeding and cleaning it daily. Circled in red is the entry for the day my ag teacher had me bring my lambs to class so he could demonstrate the proper butchering technique by slitting the throat of Andy. I remember wondering at the time if the twenty cents profit I made per hour was worth the heartache when he handed me the knife to do the same to Amos.
My first account book contained 14 months so that I could get my “physical” year on a calendar year basis. And there is one entry in my account book I’m ashamed of and makes me subject to blackmail. January 10, 1967, was a very dark day in my life as it seems I may have purchased 100 head of day old chicks on that day. My brain must have blotted out the traumatic experience of raising poultry.
There was also a section for my bad business agreements, of which I made several. The Labor Income Summary from my first account book and my last shows I went from a net worth of $000.00 as a freshman to $5,479.03 as a senior, with depreciable property of $1,363, including my white show pants which had a year left on the depreciation schedule when I graduated from high school.
I keep those four Farm Account Books because they not only tell the story of my FFA career but they foretold the story of the rest of my life as a serial entrepreneur and a chronic deal-maker. ▫