The Accidental Entrepreneur

by Mary on June 15, 2015 · 5 comments

A New Start in the Second Half of Life

First published in LPN-Q: the Quarterly Journal of The Life Planning Network

In 2009, my husband and I moved from our previous home in Northern California to a new community about an hour away. We had chosen it as our home base for the rest of our lives. We rented until after about a year we finally found a property that served our purposes.

Our joint vision of a future home would give my husband the space to farm grapes for wine and provide me land to garden both vegetables and flowers, my lifelong hobby. In fact, the property we found had all of the elements on our dream-home list and more!

What we hadn’t counted on was a seven-acre parcel that looked like “tobacco road.”

While the property was rundown, it had a home that we could remodel to our liking—and a fruit orchard that included 90 poorly maintained peach trees. At our prior home I had maintained one heirloom peach tree and sold the premium fruit to a nearby grocer. After considering the alternative of pulling out these ailing peach trees and replacing them with grape vineyard or leaving the fields fallow we decided to give it a try and see whether we could bring these trees back into healthy production. We named it Rusty Gate Farm.

So now, in addition to my day job as a life coach and my extensive volunteer work, I found myself becoming a peach farmer!

Marys_ peachesOver the past five years we’ve gone from having a very small crop to eat, to can and to share, we now have an abundance of beautiful peaches from June through early September. They are available for sale to local restaurants, an educational ecology center and to local friends and neighbors who all have a passion for real fruit that taste luscious and sweet straight from the orchard.

On the finance side, we started in the red, investing in bringing back the orchard with pruning and thinning and tilling and spraying. And last year we finally covered our expenses and are even paying ourselves a small amount for our labor. Quite a feat for a small farming operation!

“There have been many benefits that came along with the hard work, emotional stresses and financial investment.” Among the best, we found many new friends amongst the locavore restauranteurs, the chefs, other farmers and neighbors. And we’ve had the emotional pleasure of seeing the expression of spontaneous satisfaction when someone tastes one of these wonderful pieces of fruit and savors the juices and the sweetness that Mother Nature provides in a fully ripened peach. We’ve even had a restaurant owner share a sensuous dream she had one night where she was indulgently eating our peaches!

box-peachesThis has been a very full five years, and each season we reconsider what we will do with the orchard. Will we continue to replant to maintain the volume of produce as our trees age? Will we expand our varieties and plant new trees that could have a 15-20-year life span? Will we be able to do the physical labor involved as we age and will we be able to find help to take over the tasks we can no longer do ourselves? Will it make economic sense to keep going?

And as we face each of these questions, we ask ourselves how will we deal with the loss if we no longer can share the experience of awe that arises when we deliver each new harvest to our circle of clients and friends.

As I look back on my experience as an entrepreneur I find clear parallels to the life planning process as well as the creative process of the artist. Borrowing from the artistic process and skills described in the book Becoming a Life Change Artist by LPN member, Fred Mandell, Ph.D and Kathleen Jordan, Ph.D., here are thoughts about becoming an entrepreneur:

“Entrepreneurialism is a creative and messy process.” It requires that one find a calling for an entrepreneurial endeavor or business to which one commit for the purpose of exploring a new occupation and for many, a new source of income.

When we begin to explore we discover new pieces of the puzzle that can be integrated into our understanding and used to fine-tune our vision and plan. Eventually we take actions to create a product or service, making changing to our priorities and tasks that lead to refinements in our design or even to new directions and sometimes in our outcomes.

In addition to needing numerous business skills to navigate this process, there is an additional set of personal skills that can make or break us as entrepreneurial artists. I found several of the personal creative skills of an artist useful as I went through my entrepreneurial experience.

First, I had to Embrace the Uncertainty that was presented by purchasing the property with a bonus 90 peach trees. They were part of a package that I felt was absolutely right for both my husband and me. I also was taking on something that I had never done before, especially on that scale but felt that between my husband and me we had a foundation of farming experience that would help us to pull it off.

As we considered what to do with this opportunity we had to Take a Risk. We had to do so without knowing for sure what the outcome would be and what total costs and benefits might result, personal and financial. As we went through each step, help came from unexpected directions.

I found it easy to find people who wanted to Collaborate with me, to provide me with helpful information about markets for selling my locally grown fruit, about growing peaches in this climate and dealing with the numerous diseases, pests, and seasonal variations, and finally about running a farm business. None of us have all of the skill sets and knowledge it takes to run any business. It was important, I found, to focus on my strengths and what roles I could best undertake. From this place of self-knowledge I could involve others to build a successful endeavor. The side benefit was that I added to the wealth of friendships and my increased feeling of belonging in this new place that I called home.

peach-blossomsThe final skill required was Discipline. To take on this new business, I had to find ways to keep myself in action day in and day out. I needed to integrate peach farming with my “day job.” I needed to keep track of the ever-growing checklist of small tasks, some of which required precise timing to match Mother Nature’s changeable schedule.

Forget that one spraying and peach leaf curl would damage the foliage cover needed to keep the peaches from sunburn. Put the netting on too late and the birds would get the fruit before it could be harvested. Put off making the call to the potential new client and end up with fruit that would ripen before it could be sold to a top wholesale client. Wherever this peach farming takes me in the future I know that it has been worth the effort.

Mary Radu, MS, MSW, CPCC, Founder of the NorCal chapter of LPN, is a life coach in addition to being a peach farmer.

Notes:

Mary-in-orchardMary Radu, MS, MSW, CPCC, is a certified coach whose expertise is guiding mature men and women in finding confident ways to take charge of their work, lifestyle and retirement. She is the founder of the NorCal chapter of the Life Planning Network, past Vice President of the national Life Planning Network and an editor and contributor to LIFE SMART AFTER 50! The Experts Guide to Life Planning for Uncertain Times. A member of the North Bay LPN Connect Speakers Bureau, she speaks on legacy and the benefits of life planning.  Part of her personal legacy work has been in co-developing the ALPA Advocacy Leadership for Positive Aging project for LPN. She lives on Rusty Gate Farm in rural Sonoma County, CA where she and her husband, Rich grow wine grapes and artisan peaches.

IS THERE A NEW BEGINNING FOR YOU?  I’d love to talk to you about how you can use these concepts for creating new work beginnings in the second half of your life. You can reach me at Mary@PathmakerCoaching.com.

 

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Gilda June 18, 2015 at 8:19 pm

Hi Mary,
It’s delightful to hear from you! I benefited so much from your transition class given at Coming of Age in SF a number of years ago. Sadly, COA has folded but I’m glad to see you are continuing with your gift of counseling others. On top of that, what an incredible life journey you have had! Please stay in touch!
Gilda

Mary June 26, 2015 at 3:38 pm

Hi Gilda,
It’s great to hear from you! I’m very glad that you’re still finding benefit from the transition skills and exploration you made during the Coming of Age sessions with me. I’m finding that my story is resonating with others and that it is inspiring others to step out and create new passionate life stories in their own lives! Be well…live well! Mary

Terrific article, Mary! June 28, 2015 at 8:34 am

I’ve been looking forward to peach season here on the east coast and will go out later to a local farm to buy some for myself! Elizabeth

Mary June 30, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Hi Elizabeth,
SO glad that this story struck a cord for you. I’ve found that beyond the entrepreneurial nature of this story that so many people have a peach story of their own…from childhood to the present. Nature gives us wonderful presents if we are willing to pay attention to the simple things in life!

Elizabeth June 30, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Loved your article “The Accidental Entrepreneur” on many levels. It was both fun and informative to read. The partnership with your husband in taking this on was inspiring and has me looking at what new, surprising and fun adventure my husband and I can take on to create and learn together. Tying everything into business skills, life skills really – brilliant!
Elizabeth Bell, Ph.D.
Elder Wisdom Initiative

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