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"
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.
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 ...
|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.)
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.
|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.|
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, www.RuralSystem.com.," 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.
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.
"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.
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 .
Robert H. Giles, Jr.
July 3, 2005