Rural System's

about the Rural System concept from Just Dreaming, chapter 3, by Bob Giles

I hate to "give away the story." It's fun working through a large complex novel, but they are rarely best-sellers, and people do not read as much as they once did. Let me give away the story behind this book. What is Rural System, …really?

It's an advanced for-profit corporation with a foundation with many computer-aided enterprises seeking ways to improve resource use and thus conditions in rural areas of the US and Earth. Enhancing the environment and providing employment are expenses of the diverse, value-adding, synergistic work of the incentive-driven team that has found ways to overcome the limitations of small-scale farm operations. Thus, it benefits rural areas of a region. Franchised regionally, it exploits high technology, research results, and new uses of private lands and waters building resources, and thus people and communities dependent upon them.

Too formal? So here are the tales, small and large, that might help it make sense before I discuss its rationale, processes, and the working parts. I've tried to describe Rural System differently on uncounted occasions. I failed each time. Some people have said, "Just tell me a story about it." I shall try again. This time let me start with little "stories"

  1. I told a logger about it. He saw right through it. "Oh, all you're doing is trying to give the forest landowner annual income."
  2. I told a home-schooling mom about it briefly at a Christmas party. "Oh, that's just Ayn Rand," (The Fountainhead, 1943 and Atlas Shrugged, 1957) she said, and went for refreshments.
  3. I told a Roanoke entrepreneur about Rural System. "My god! It's high tech and low tech, big business and small business, for-profit and not-for-profit, short term and with a silly 150-year horizon. It's ecological and economic, no parts will make profit but together they all can, land and water, forestry but also crops, wild animals but also livestock, poems as well as pasture, and it's 'way out there on the future of the Internet talking about rural history. Its profitable and charitable, it's citizen-owned, doing governmental things in a capitalistic way. You don't want to make great personal financial gains, but you have to prove your point that making profits is the major way to achieve a sustained high quality rural environment. It hurts! I can't get my brain around it!" I apologized and suggested taking a little time, letting it add up, letting it come together like pieces of a jigsaw picture puzzle. When well-designed and crafted pieces come together, they, together, can be a singular thing of beauty.
  4. I worked to design the perfect farm/forest complex. After much computer modeling (e.g., Kroll 1982), we discovered that such farm units were uneconomical and that only when some great "economies of scale" were reached could things be profitable. Economies were available in single systems (like one for cattle or for single crops) well distributed over the area but with centralized management, care, marketing, and product storage. The solution: don't raise cows, operate an economical cattle subsystem.
  5. Another advisor said: "Write it more briefly; get it into a page. Reduce the 200 pages; group the 70 enterprises into three or four.. and give me more information about each one and add material on competition and detailed budgets." I became anomic. Later I succeeded in getting it to one page.
  6. "You're really just addressing a problem of scale, aren't you?" one person summarized. A problem of small-scale in some areas, perhaps, for example, the answer to why forestry was failing. It was because ownerships were too small. Operations were unprofitable, equipment too expensive, local knowledge requirements (conveniences) too great, and timber harvests could not be rotated over the years to sustain either a reasonable cash flow or an operation. It was always a personal boom-or-bust situation. An alternative is needed.
  7. Everyone wants details on the area of their special knowledge or expertise. Seems reasonable. By analogy, discussing the details of a fine carburetor will not describe the power and functions of a new vehicle. A vehicle can be sketched or shown. Rural System is a vast corporation. There are no known identical "things." ... pointing: like that! Great investment is needed for the model, the prototype. That prototype, with the major parts being symbolized at the corners of a tetrahedron, would include:
    1. A centralized management and efficiency-gaining service group for all enterprises
    2. Over 70 proposed rural-resource related enterprises and about 30 products (in 6 grossly named divisions.
    3. Rural System Tracts - private lands under contract for management, joint profit making, and many uses of the enterprises
    4. A crew serving Tracts and enterprises
  8. Jake visited the farm pond of the landowner, a new contractee. The pond had been located using satellites and GIS. It fit into a design for 50 dispersed existing private ponds working together as a total system, each favoring certain fish species, fish sizes, contests, and angling techniques ... some for children only. He used new Rural System techniques to measure the size of the pond and recorded its depths from a small boat. In the office he downloaded data that instantaneously produced a map and a three-dimensional picture of the pond for the owner but also produced data for his analysis. Then he sent his handful of earth to the lab ... gradually building a record for the distribution of soil data for the region. Then he emailed suggestions to other System staff, one to work with the owner on the grazed forest tract at the edge of the watershed, another to get help on the muskrats in the dam (an investment by Rural System in the private land), another to record the likely new plants in a cove at the upper edge of the pond, another to get a photo of a moss-covered rocky bank that would be on the front of note cards being sold. Jake was one fishery group staff member... but he was working with everyone for sustaining and perhaps increasing total system profits. These were essential for the company, but more importantly the rural region.
  9. Once upon a time Rural System's Owls Group advertised an adventure. A great meal at a fine local restaurant was followed by a comfortable bus trip to a nearby area, and the people filed out into the night and were led along a soft path to an area where staff played a record and "called up" a large owl, then later the small screech owl. Standing there, the group was told about the owls, their ecology, their needs and threats. Night-vision devices were displayed and discussed. The group went farther down the path and there experienced a remarkable campfire, music, stories, and then a pleasant bus-ride return to town. The evening was profitable for Rural System, helped with employment, stimulated a research project, initiated a library study on a species of shrew upon which the owl preys, allowed four people to start a bird-species-observation life list and two others to add the owls to their life list, gave a graduate student lecturer experience, stabilized bus, restaurant, and catering services, introduced people to an owl web cam and web site, used land of a Rural System Tract, and encouraged two local artists... and no one shot or ate an owl! The rural resource was used and the unique, mysterious, tingling evening event lived in the memory of 30 participants forever. ... and 30 such events were conducted each year.
  10. One skeptical listener, just hearing about hunting, hiking, and camping dimensions of Rural System, said, "With so much public land, what makes you think this will work?" Public lands are over crowded. The quality of experiences there declines. Staff has shifting, unsure objectives. We work for and assure diverse, high quality, safe experiences. We favor members who have at least minimum education about expectations when visiting our lands and waters under contract. We'll compete and will work on private lands, part of the vast US that is hardly addressed by current agencies, understaffed for the special areas they now hold, and on which they do little management. Of course we will contract with them for special services, but our work is making private land, the working platform, more productive and converting that productivity into profits for the landowner. We have to sustain that profit by careful controls, increasingly precise information, creative strategies, and by using computer optimization. Will it work? It has to, or all of the articles about modern conservation, sustainability, ecotourism, and ecosystem management will have wasted a lot of paper.
  11. Sediment covers my field and yard. My crops are dying and my turf-grass ruined. How my neighbor has used land has offended me. I need help. I need consolation. I need to know that I live in a local society that finds such a condition undesirable and will assist in "making it right," honoring fairness. Besides being angry (my life-quality reduced), I have been handed a "bill." That person has given me a debt I did not incur willingly-one upon which I did not decide. The extent to which a person decides on costs is a measure of the control that he or she has over a system.

    When I get unexpected bills I desire to regain control. Increasingly, I sense the bills are piling up, some directly, many more so in tax packets. The costs are showing up for quality water, clean air, animal protection, un-trashed roadways, and more. Many of these reasonable life issues show up in the current literature as "environmental" and "land-use" problems. Life costs are now excessive.

    Increasingly, as more and more people experience these problems, pay the costs, they seek control and bang heads into the walls of private property rights. "A person ought to be able to do anything he or she wants to on their own property!" is commonly heard, even found in the press. What is a more clear-cut expression of freedom? As changes occur, it becomes clearer that everyone, free or not, cannot do anything they want to do, even on their property. The reasons are fairly conspicuous, but at least there are parallels: you cannot drive on either side of a road, make excessive noise, and spread contagious diseases. It is a small extension to say you may not poison my well, pump out all of my water, and befoul my air. I lock my pantry. Your dog may not run on or use my area, threaten my children. In some places you may not make my street scenes ugly with your signs or junk-filled, over-grown yards. The progression is conspicuous as we see people, land, and landowners all existing within a context. You are free to do anything… within constraints, the context .

    There are a variety of reasons why that action space differs. Of course, there are personal reasons (physical limitations, genetically, environmentally, socio-economically, and chance imposed). The other reasons are related to political system (some are "extremely repressive," re-interpret that as "a highly constrained"), available total resources, space, and progressively perceived resources per capita. As people perceive their resources or action space shrinking, they begin to impose new constraints - laws, regulations, policies, and guides. In the process, the landowner becomes threatened. The freedoms that are typically believed to be part of the pride and privilege of land ownership begin to be shrunk by neighbors and "the public." You must have fences for your cattle, you cannot use all of the water in your stream, etc. etc. Now you discover you cannot build a building so tall that it will shade adjacent property; or penetrate some vast bowl-shaped space over a nearby airport. You can do anything but… You soon realize that what you own is probably not what you bought and that it is decreasing, at least conceptually because the action space is shrinking with each new law, new threat, or with each change in the way that nearby or adjacent land is used.

    A pig farm, once a proud county economic resource, can become an odiferous county liability when a residential area is built down-valley and receives the evening valley winds. The same may be true of chemical plants (new or old) and paper mills. In one area such a mill eliminates any realistic potential for nearby areas that have superior characteristics from ever being used as complex recreational and youth-camp enterprises. An airport destroys some residential land value, exaggerates other value nearby for supply, service, and warehouse purposes.

    Some events, like a new highway that destroys a service station business in a rural area can be viewed as "a bad break," the events we may all experience, or even the wrath of an angry capricious god. Other events, equally devastating, may be the passage of a law. A zoning ordinance can cause land values to change. Agricultural land at $2,000 an acre that cannot be used for industry ($10,000 per acre) because of an ordinance can make the average owner angry. The courts have been addressed by such people in deciding on the legal provision that prevents too much of the action space to be taken over by a law. This has been termed the "taking issue."

    The concepts underlying all of the above are not at all clear; they are many, complex, and highly interrelated. Another part, related, is that we are social… no matter how much we may deny it or abhor some of our compatriots (social - 1)! People are all linked together but it is rare that we think of how closely. We need each other like the fire crew, the first aid crew, and the people that taught us... the newspaper folks, the grocers, sign painters, the school janitors, the snowplow crews, the doctors and the hospital support staff. Hard to admit, we need Mom and Dad, and we even need a mate, at least a friend or two. We need them all as part of a reasonable self-sustaining life together. We need to talk together, to listen. Things easily fall apart when one or more people move out. They fall when the land (or whatever critical resource base there is) no longer provides necessary support. We pay a price for this relationship. It is good that we know what it is. It includes defense, security, and health. It requires allocating some superior farmland to roads; a special area to allow hydropower generation; a corridor to be allocated to utilities. Some of these are seen as individual losses for the collective good. This may be formulated simply as a net equation, and good social decision-making would suggest that apparent temporary personal loss (foregone expected benefits) would result, over time, in a collective expected net gain to the person and his or her family; at least a zero net expected loss. Each person cannot deal with all of the above. Few have the time or ability, yet they are part of the modern scene and will not decrease. We need superior systems to "run the farm," but we also need superior systems to help us retain our life space, the quality of life.

  12. Years ago, private soil analysis firms sued state agricultural soil analysis laboratories claiming unfair business competition. Essential soil analyses were once unavailable and became an appropriate government service. Then it became widespread as a private service and the startup function was no longer needed. The same is probably true of other natural resource managerial functions. The presence of "free" service is excessive competition for anyone seeking to become a private entrepreneur. There remain private opportunities now performed by agencies and universities. One reason that there are few private activities within these fields is that citizens cannot compete economically with the size, scope, and financial backing of government-supported offices. This situation is changing, can be made to change more rapidly, and new private entrepreneurial opportunities can be seen in the near future. Emphasis has been on consultants and their limitations. Increasingly more urban landowners now fit the mold of being college educated, having urban or residential housing, and having small and changing ownerships. They are well informed about the environment, eager to participate, but lack experience, access to equipment, or services. They have few of the necessary "contacts" for repairs, small jobs, standard maintenance, and emergency events. They have few funds for jobs that prevent high later costs. There is little time for work on the land. They often want someone to "handle it" for them. There is high demand for a good service, for custom work.

    Within some field of natural resource management there are few consultants. In some areas, there are too few public agents even to begin to "cover" the problems in a state. There are many reasons for this, but the insights gained in exploring the reasons behind the current conditions and the negative lasting impacts that under-funded and unusual-priority work have on the land itself suggest strategies of the proposed conglomerate ...

  13. Perhaps a graph…
    Likely managed system profits over the planning period. Forming the desired condition for 150 years is difficult. A is the decided objective. B is the upper bound for the objective. C shows poor management or weather, competition effects, or other problems. D is the lower bound for the objective. It may not be the same distance away as B. Diversity and other action can allow the system to recover from environmental, market, or other slippage (shown at E). Keeping F, the measure of profitability, within the bounds over time is the task. Maximizing it briefly will not sustain it, resources, or the people dependent upon them.

    One of the most fundamental ideas of the Rural System business is that of sustained profit making. It is not likely that it can be made constant, stable. The planning horizon is 150 years (the reasonable profitable life of the recently-planted forest tree) and it is sliding forward one year every year. Computer modeling and advanced accounting systems provide centralized, cost-effective services to the proposed members of the conglomerate. The long planning horizon tends to be unique (how can you tell when you are likely to maximize expected net-present worth from 70 enterprises together over a 150-year period?) and requires special discounting procedures for expected values. Special resource-related software as well as prognostic units are essential for managing the complex system and achieving a well-constrained micro-investment strategy. (Later these software units can be marketed.)

  14. "Let's just talk about forest profits," said one eager participant. I told him that landowners don't pay taxes on pines, pigs, or pastures. They pay on everything, annually, all together. Profits are not average over time but totaled over land. Profitable forestry only makes sense within the profitable farm. Superior livestock raising mean nothing if the farm is in bankruptcy. "Sustained forestry" is silly unless it is profit from wood that is being sustained, not necessarily tree growth or lumber from the mill. It is equally silly to ignore the other financial gains possible from land in the name of sustained "anything" if it destroys the resource base, employment opportunities, the tax base, and the scale of operations essential for community services. We know land is beautiful, historical, even mystical and all of that, but we think of it as a creative rural platform, an artist's pallet, on which we can do anything just as long as it is legal, region-enhancing, and profitable within bounds over a period of at least 150 years, sliding forward a year, each year. We tend to favor the natural conditions and energy budgets to reduce costs and avoid risks but we are not constrained by them. We have to restore, enhance, and manage the total land resource (including above and below the surface) very, very carefully, and that is only possible with computer help, if we are ever to achieve the type of profitability just described that sustains such diverse desirable structures and activities.
  15. It's a business ecosystem. It has many of the characteristics of a wild animal population. Students of wild animals and ecosystems soon learn that when prey (like rabbits) are abundant, then predators tend to increase. There is cyclic, "following" behavior, one species is up and the other is down. There is a kind of constancy, a steady state with delays that can be seen when examined broadly. That constancy comes from many animal species, many different densities, and different responses with different periods.

    The population/ecosystem example can be followed in businesses. Indeed it has. A major recommendation of economists is to "diversity your stock portfolio." The reasons for doing so are like those in nature that can be seen to stabilize animal populations. If an animal feeds off only one type of food and that food disappears, the animal usually goes extinct. Similarly, single-interest or single-product businesses often crash. A key part of Rural System is its diversify. That includes diversifying in time, space, and richness of offerings, and potential resource users or markets.

    There are over 70 enterprises suggested, many located on or operating from a reasonably large ownership. All are not likely to be equally successful at any time or for any one ownership. By counting the net gains from the scheduled total group of activities, then profits can probably be sustained.

    Rural System provides for a large single ownership or several ownerships to work together in a type of "cooperative" following, as some have suggested, some principles of sharecropping. Few ownerships are large enough to sustain profits. By forming small coalitions close together, extra gains (above those expected from a single ownership) can be made by all. There are administrative problems that will arise, but a question of whether the benefits outweigh the costs needs to be asked and answered almost every year.

    The major advantage of the operating Rural System is that great "economies of scale" can be gained, those for advertising, insurance, legal service, buying, office support, computers, transportation, and capital investment. Security work will likely favor work among many small ownerships. Group purchasing cooperatives or networks have already proven their effectiveness for buying for "non-core" ancillary business services and supplies. The gains are in best-deal pricing and service and single-enterprise dividends based on amounts purchased.

  16. A - Q Works or System Central B - Shared Work Crews; C - Enterprises; D - Land, (called Rural System Tracts, all products and services; E - Concepts and Computer Functions ... with benefits and profits flowing from D and other components.
    Some people like to see sketches of organizations. Here is one way that Rural System organization can be seen ...

  17. Rural System, or something like it, is needed to assure that private productive lands (a Virginia region...but eventually Earth-around...consistent with the World Bank's environmental strategy, Appendix xxx) are restored, protected, and managed for our children and us. It is for investing in us for our own well-being. It is for learning how to manage where we live and work, where we find peace, and where we feel good about producing food and fiber and other benefits needed by all citizens trying to gain happy, successful, fulfilling lives.
  18. Rolf drove down the Parkway to the Rural System Tract. He wasn't sure what he would find there but he had heard that he might get some ideas for what do about his land. He was afraid of downsizing, he had children to raise and educate. Questions about what to do with his old dad's 112 acres of pasture and woodland were gnawing away at his soul. Besides, taxes were due on it soon.

    He walked through the historical section and saw Rural System sign pointers. The custom-made signs changed from rustic to formal as he walked down the trail. Symbols were beside the trail on steel engraved markers (he found out later that these were to show where members of the Rollers, a trail building group from the juvenile courts had worked with pride). He walked through an arboretum and under a wooden laminated arch into an area where it was claimed that more modern forestry could be learned in a shorter time than any place in the world. There were county-fair like exhibits, all self-teaching that included old forestry tools of the trade, nursery practice, the living tree, wood products, a cord of wood, lumber, bales of energy wood, oil equivalents of firewood stacks, mine props, pulp sticks, pulp chips, paper products. In one area there was a pacing lane, another demonstrated the basal area prism, another the Biltmore stick along with modern electronic calipers. Another area provided a quiz "game" in tree height estimation, then an answer from an instrument. At each site there were sale brochures for the items displayed. Rural System received a large commission from all sales of its operation and development. Two large rough-wood-covered trailers stood in an L across a field near the river. The field was "torn up" but the signs clearly indicated that this was an area where massive work horses and modern machines pulled logs for demonstrations on certain announced days. They were not there today.

    There were stops along the trail and at each a few more words were given about Rural System. He still wasn't sure what he was seeing. One stop suggested visiting the first-ever Official Avi course, an area where a new sport of bird watching was being developed. He got a brochure because he thought that his area might be right for developing such a golf-like course. Another stop overlooking an area sure to be rich in spring blooming flowers invited him to join the Park Poets who published their work in an e-chapbook. He took along a card for his daughter and wife ... no poetry for him! One kiosk showed custom-routed signs and there a person took orders for them. Nearby, a person took orders for unusual wooden fences. These were made from woods from lands of the Rural System. The next kiosk provided the answer to: "What is Rural System?" "Sir, it is a modern enterprise that tries to improve natural resources and land use and to help land owners make money all at the same time. It "rents " land from owners and puts their land under superior management. The Rural System Tract benefits, the managers benefit, the owner benefits, and the region benefits.

    "We are committed to sustained management of farms and we believe that we have an alternative to tax-based management. We do it the old fashioned way; we work for it. We work together for money for each landowner but also for an improved region ... maybe even the world. "We have a concept -- sustained profits can only come from well-managed, sustained lands and waters. We use the best of research findings and put them together -- a little financial ecosystem -- that provides employment, sustains the Tract, improves the land, uses results of tax-supported research, and links people to the land and to Rural System as a vital part of their family future.

    "I know that you, if like others, have more questions, but please go to the next box. You'll learn more. Of course you can come back later if you want to. All of this is described in our website,," and she handed him a card with the website name and email source.

    In the next "box," a local woman advised joining The Fishery, a collection of pond owners in the region (about 50 of them had signed on). Staff of this enterprise group managed ponds, held angling tournaments, rented angling opportunities, sold equipment and boats, sold fresh-water native fish aquaria (one bubbled in the background) and delivered a 3-dimensional picture of each pond with an ecological and chemical analysis.

    "Ponds are a part of the system?" he asked.

    "Rural System is a complex enterprise like a big corporation with many divisions. It is grounded, like a good stock buyer, in a diverse portfolio. In the forests and fields, everything is linked, and so we gain from these linkages. We do more than study and talk about ecology; we use it and work with its principles. We have 15 active enterprises now and designs for another 55. You have seen some today. The average owner of the small land unit does not have the time, knowledge, equipment, and marketing resources to make profits from his or her lands, even pay the taxes, and still retain the land (as most want to do) for beauty, recreation, and their friends and families. Working together within Rural System is the way to do this."

    The next stop showed work of the Sculptors, a group of whittlers and wood carvers who held an annual conference in Roanoke, conducted workshops at the Tract, had a website, sold superior tools and magazines, arranged international tours and a carving school, and sold work by award-winning sculptors. Woods (basswood and walnut) exclusively from lands of participants were solar cured and sold. (Part of the message of Rural System was to add value to products and services.) Forests of cooperating owners were computer planned. They had FSC certification. Select woods were irregularly removed, a productive future forest developed, products were processed locally, and then stored or sold for maximum profits, most through the e-catalog of the enterprise. Other stops in the county-fair booths in one long building were those of the enterprise units of the Fence Group, Gardens Group, and the Nature Folks. The latter was the largest for it displayed opportunities within specialized-interest groups such as Owls Group, Coyote (the group involved with foxes and other wild canids), and the "Seep-People" (for those who love field trips and learning about creepy places). They all held conferences and training within Roanoke. There were sales of the "super staff," a delicious hiker's cookie, an Alaskan sourdough "start," beautiful T shirts, colorful flags, and paintings and photos of local artists. At the end, was information about wildlife enterprises (Deer Group, Wild Turkey Group, and Raccoon Group. Each provided management and financial opportunities for participating landowners. A poster announced Rangin' 'Round the Region, a new regional approach to outdoor recreation, primarily on Rural System. The emphasis in most groups -- how to gain annual income while waiting for select forests to grow to a size for maximum financial return if removed and re-forested.

    Rolf got out of the way of a group, evidently foreigners, lead by a skinny guy who kept using words like "incubator," "launching site," "ground zero," and "control center" as he tried with limited success to explain the Rural System concept to the visitors. Rolf wished he had had a person along with him, like these guys did, to explain and help him decide for his land and his family situation.

    Seen on the map, across the river was the Pasture and Rangeland Group display area of Rural System. He overheard someone commenting on cars near a building there suggesting that a class was in progress. There was being managed for display and education a beautiful purebred herd of Toggenberg dairy goats. Children loved to visit the young animals, but the herd was only one of many distributed about the region that developed superior pastures and range management using computer optimization, sold services, and developed cheese, meat, hide and other product units.

    A grove of trees over there near the pasture was established as a memorial area. There, brass plates on a rock face honored the dead. Many came to the area to scatter the ashes of the deceased and to remember them there. (Similar groves were developed on other Tracts.)

    Inside the dark-colored L-shaped structure were walls covered with geographic information system photos and maps showing western Virginia. The ceiling was star covered in one area to emphasize the night work encouraged on the Tracts (aids, rented night-vision glasses, night hikes, owl calling, night-time-ecology, etc.). Computer maps of land ownerships could be purchased. The Realtor Group offered a service to realtors, providing more information on any tract of land in the region than ever before for buyer or seller. Services were offered to land managers in the region. 3-D maps were also available for purchase as people walked through and sought out where they or their friends lived and began to comprehend the complexity of the data systems available from the Conservation Management Institute (Virginia Tech) for superior land management and impact analyses.

    In the next area computer systems produced dynamic "plans" from The Trevey, a developing planning system. There were seen (and sold) forest inventory systems, GPS units, and forestry and wildlife related computer products. Maps, computer games as well as all of the field instruments and land inventory items just seen were put to use in this lab in the woods. The visitor was literally viewing human use of the area from the 5000-year post-glacial period of land use to the 50-year future of land management (that also included stand and tract preservation.)

    Rolf saw that his land could become one of the Rural System Tracts, a marked, dedicated area like a little state forest or national forest under one management, marketing, accounting, insurance, survey, and security system. He thought to himself as he drove home, every land unit in the Region needs such help and work. He would retain ownership and set limits and objectives, but he would have to turn his land over to superior, sophisticated modern management. He had no time; it seemed the only way to make any money, even stay even. Lands that he saw off to the sides of the highway, like mine, he thought, are all are too small. The individual landowner cannot gain cost effectiveness. Even the single natural resource consultant has difficulty stabilizing cash flow. Small improvements are never enough; cooperative work is needed. It is needed for the landowners, the land, the future owners, for businesses in the County, and for the region. "Rural System is not a bad idea!" A Pennsylvania-license, then a Georgia-license car turned into the Tract

    " I wonder what they will think of the Rural System concept "Whether from the farm or the region, only by sustaining the land, can you sustain profits from it'?" Rural System holds few limits. There is no agency saying restrict thought and action; no between-agency competition for greater budgets; no overseer of definitions and proper work. The only limits seen (beyond those of sunlight and ecosystem production) are those of the legal system, ethical behavior, and our imagination... over the long run.

  19. Land is complicated and complex. It takes years to see it all, understand it, to know where you are in relation to the rest of it. "A little lost" is not an uncommon feeling in the large forest or rangeland on a cloudy day. It costs too much, relative to the perceived payoffs for the landowner, to have a team of experts visit a small rural tract and write a prescription for it. Rural System had developed an analytical team. After the first visit by a single person to firm a contract, gain boundary information, and place two monitoring device, the owner was visited by a group of four staff. They were computer- aided in their route selection. They visited two or three nearby ownerships on a day. Two days before the visit they had run computer analyses, made maps, and office staff had assembled quite large "books" for each owner. Inserted within each was a CD for the area. On the day of the second visit, the farmer had more information about his or her area than anyone in history had had about such areas. It was tentative and could be (and was expected to be) revised as a result of the visit. There was area history including a few old photos within the CD but also select maps with displays of over 150 pieces of information about each alpha unit, the 10-yard by 10-yard map square. There were soil maps printed as "proper use" maps, fire potentials, and prime grape growing areas (indicated in a questionnaire as one desired crop). The four-person team, each equipped with GPS location devises followed pre-planned routes, gathering information with several instruments on elevation, fire scars, tree volumes, growth rings in the outside 3 inches of trees, tree crown cover, stem density, pasture percent ground coverage, fence quality. Each in different areas took soil samples in pre-specified sites, not at random but proportional to geological strata areas and several other factors. Images were taken from GPS-specific sites, thus becoming the permanent point for future pictures and recorded visual change. Data were voice recorded; the pace was very rapid. One staff member moved to a far corner on a vehicle from the trailer. There was phone communication between the observers, primarily for safety and the blockages of tree blow-downs and previously unknown swamp areas. Sampling was distance related, not that of plots. Several working together recorded understory density. The analysis was intense, automated, and dependent on models but confirmed by observation. The owner returned by mail several sampling devices that had been left in the soil (decomposition rates and radon) and others suspended (air particulates).

    Observations and confirmations ranged from historical to the simulated near-future, from the soil to tree leaf nutrients, from observed animal sign and sightings, to site-specific indicator plants, from solar radiation to geomagnetism, and the special and singular - the waterfall, the cliff, the ancient forest grove, cave entrance, the key source of stream silt, the beautiful vast-fields vantage point. Perhaps this intense, comprehensive work was "diagnosis" before "prescription" in the sense of Aldo Leopold's land health analogy. The data were transferred from Wyoming, formatting improved in India, optimization run in Virginia, a community progress score updated in a local computer, and within one week the owner had a Trevey-based dynamic plan available within the computer for study and for down-loading parts for study and sharing penciled notes with employees.

  20. We know how to double the financial income to the average small farm. Even after long study, every computer optimization shows a 2 to 5% increase over our best estimates for farm production bumping us to the positive side of the economic margin. Rural System is like a lawn-care company, but it manages the ownership, combines with it other related enterprises, and combines with those extra advantages for local people and the community.
  21. I know from visits to China, Nigeria, Senegal, and India that people in each place must do improved natural resource management…with help. There are systems that can be moved there…to willing and educated people…there. The plight of rural people within the US, as great as I have seen it, pales before what I have been allowed to see elsewhere. In April, 2006 from an India email, (several days distant from another email by a person bragging of computer progress in India), there it was within an article by P. Sainath, a recognized contributor to changing the nature of the development debate on food, hunger and rural development in the Indian media. (Courtesy: The Hindu)

    "Farm suicides in Vidarbha crossed 400 this week… In the 13 days during which the suicide index hit 400, 40 farmers took their own lives. …the suicides are now more than three a day - and mounting. These deaths are not the result of natural disaster, but of policies …driven by several factors that include debt linked to a credit crunch, soaring input costs, crashing prices, and a complete loss of hope. …

    "Where are those being thrown off the land to go? To the cities and towns with their shutdown mills. With closed factories and very little employment. The great Indian miracle is based on near jobless growth. We are witnessing the biggest human displacement in our history and not even acknowledging it. The desperation for any work at all is clear in the rush for it at just the start of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme. …The Rs.60 wage is below the minimum of several States. Know, too, that many in the lines of applicants (for relief) are landed farmers, some of them with six acres or more. In the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, a farmer who owned eight acres of paddy fields was a person of some status 10 years ago. Today, he or she, with a family of five, would be below the poverty line. (If that is the case with landowners, imagine the state of landless labourers.)"

    There is no time or point in debating what people are in greatest peril, which is in most trouble. Rural System can deliver a concept and system that can aid the small land owner in forming collaboratives, using techniques displayed from a CD on a computer screen, diversifying crops, products and services, developing storage and export potentials, advancing ranging, reducing pest losses, using solar power diversely and effectively, publishing poems, songs and stories, and improving cultural practices. Rural System will make much money working on very productive lands … but it will make more money over the next 150 years by caring for people, helping them, building synergistic relations, adding value to their products, improving individual health (thus losses and costs), and helping them re-locate and hold their rightful place in changing land ownership and the international market economy. There will be local franchises, but the exciting ones will be managed by people in other countries … with strong market and development linkages within the US.

  22. The old guy had been a consultant. He had written about "The Associates," a diverse group of consultants in the 1970's, worked with graduate students on planned parts and testing the concept in the 80's. He was genuinely fearful of the lack of sustained funding for future graduate students and the university Department and so he began active study and work toward starting Rural System. There are few instructive books on "closing the business deal," few on starting a business. Such books assume that funds are readily gotten and the "start" is made and then describe the important early stages. "Start" is omitted from animal population models because the existence of sufficient male and females is usually assumed. "Start" is the puzzlement of theology, of primary succession, of marriage, of the historic settlement, of plant and animal invasion.
    He did not know how to start. He concluded that starting was all about perceived risk, both the amount of it and the taking of it. That was too simplistic because starting this system, maybe anything, was also about available capital, competing uses of capital, life objectives, and perceived outcomes. He knew that some day, someone would see the system and its potentials and would know enough about starting to do so. They would take the risk and would do so, not just because of the expected payoffs, but because they also saw the need and knew how to start.

Enough stories and analogies! All analogies breakdown. Next let me provide the basis of my thoughts and the platform on which the Rural System concepts are formed. There may be flaws. Perhaps having these description can help us find such flaws and correct them. I have three chapters, one giving more details, one on knowing or how we know anything, and then one on design. If these topics are of little interest to you, I suggest moving to Chapter 6 where I begin discussing more of the details and operation of the system about which I dream.

Perhaps you will share ideas with me about some of the topic(s) above .


Rural System
Robert H. Giles, Jr.
July 3, 2005