An organic tree nursery: an agrarian life

Most of you know that I work as a business broker. This is in many ways an enjoyable profession because I come across so many interesting business opportunities. Well, I’m going to tell you about one of them now.

I think every homesteader dreams of one day being able to work his land full-time. I know that I do. But making a living on small acreage is very difficult these days. Corporate agriculture, huge economies of scale, cheap imports and government policies have helped make small-scale farming a thing of the past. Nevertheless, there are a few niches here and there that are making it on small acreage. Diversified organic farming, for example, can be quite profitable on just a few acres when the product is sold directly to the consumer via farmers’ markets or other venues.

There’s another kind of agrarian business that thrives on small acreage. Surprisingly, I hadn’t given it any consideration until I came across this organic tree nursery in the Klamath River valley. A nursery! In fact there’s one right across the road from me, selling fruit and nut trees along with peaches, cherries, and farm fresh eggs year-round: it’s been there for generations. The organic tree nursery I am working with sells bare-root fruit and nut trees all over the country. The present location is so remote that there are very few local customers. 90% of sales are internet based, generated by a prominent top-notch website. The nursery’s customers are primarily rural homesteads, small farms, community gardens, and urban backyard gardeners. The product is shipped when dormant. College interns supply much of the labor, thereby minimizing labor costs while educating young people at the same time. Only two or three fertile acres are needed along with some additional infrastructure (an irrigation system, office space, etc.) . Until now this has been a part-time, hobby-like business for the owner, but it has grown to the point where it requires more attention than he can give it. The business is seasonal, leaving much of the off-season available for leisure or the development of complimentary products. Unlike most small farms today, this nursery is operating at a profit – albeit a small one at this point. With some additional marketing, a full-time owner can expect to grow this business to its full potential.

The nice thing about this business is that it is internet-based. That is to say, it is relocatable to anywhere in the country with a suitable climate and growing season.

A word about the seller. The owner of this business is a remarkable man. He’s an expert in his field, a born teacher, and extremely generous with his time and knowledge. He will provide expert training to the new owner of this business. He’s also willing to consult with the new owner on a contractual, as-needed basis. He is not willing to sell this business to just anybody. He’s looking for someone who shares his philosophy of sustainable agriculture (preferably someone who’s heard of Wendell Berry). The more qualified the candidate, the more willing he will be to work with him on price and terms. The seller’s primary interest is for his business to continue doing good in the world.

The nursery is priced at $95,000. All offers will be seriously considered. Send me an e-mail if you are interested. You’ll need to sign a confidentiality agreement before I can disclose any proprietary information, including the name of the business and the website. Here are some photos of the operation:

Christmas shopping

Today I did some last minute Christmas shopping. A lot of people are down on Christmas “commercialism”, and for the most part I agree with the criticism. It takes a lot of effort not to let the commercialization of Christmas affect one’s own preparations, or even take over the entire holiday. Nevertheless, I think there is something good in what has become the uniquely American ritual of Christmas shopping. The conversations I overheard, for instance, had to do with people talking about what other people might enjoy or appreciate. Like good manners, the pressure to shop for others can force you to consider the “other” when you might not otherwise care. This has to be a good thing. That’s what social pressure is supposed to do, draw us a little bit out of ourselves. I also appreciate the public displays of Christmas festiveness, even in a commercial context. I disagree with those who say that commerce is by definition a-cultural or even anti-cultural. There is no reason in the world why a business must subordinate everything it does to the “bottom line”, and when it comes to small businesses, most don’t.


Speaking of which, each and every clerk I spoke with today wished me a Merry Christmas. Even the Barnes and Noble clerks. And they didn’t wait for the customer to give them any clues, selectively saying “Merry Christmas” only to those who mentioned the word first. No – they wished all a Merry Christmas, unashamedly and unselfconsciously. This, in Chico, a notoriously progressive university town, sometimes called “Berkeley North”! Is this merely a profit-minded response to the public backlash against the “Happy Holiday” grinches? Perhaps. That’s most likely the case with Barnes and Noble, which doesn’t seem to have any moral scruples about anything. (I won’t let my kids go ten feet into that store …) In any case, I think the spell of political correctness is being broken when it comes to Christmas. It will be nice when we can once again wish strangers a Merry Christmas without any political backdrop whatsover.


One of the books I purchased was a gift for a relative who is expecting a child. I wanted to find one of those books for new parents that teaches about infant development, medical and health issues, breastfeeding, and other things. However, almost every book I picked up was promoting something evil or ridiculous. Most had chapters promoting the glories of artificial birth control. Almost all had an overt emphasis on “gender-neutral parenting”. One of these books – one of the better ones – acknowledged that young boys should be “encouraged” to wear pants instead of dresses. However, if a boy wants to wear dresses “all the time”, you should contact your pediatrician! Hey, how about not letting your boy wear dresses in the first place? Since when is this optional?


My passion for books is waning. Perusing the religion, philosophy, history, biography and current affairs sections just doesn’t stimulate anymore. I don’t want to read Hegel or Kierkegaard or Bertrand Russell or Christopher Hitchens. I don’t want to entertain any more of the world’s tragic misguided ideas. I don’t want to read any more apologetics. I don’t want to read another book about the decline of western civilization. I don’t want to read another book about bout how great America is because “it allowed someone like me to rise to the top”, or conversely, how bad America is because “fill-in-the-blank doesn’t have a chance to rise to the top”. (To everyone – left, right, and center – it seems that America is all about “making it” and rising to the top.) I sense that, for me, the hour is late. I should be reading “Preparation for Death” by St. Alphonsus Liguori, which has been sitting untouched on my bookshelf for much too long. I have barely scratched the surface of St. Thomas Aquinas. I never finished St. Augustine’s “City of God”. I seldom do any disciplined spiritual reading at all these days.


Gather the family ’round your computer, dear readers! And crank up those speakers! In this Stony Creek Digest EXCLUSIVE you will be treated to a perfectly enunciated audio version of the historic motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, created and spoken by my talented friend from Sacramento, a gentleman whose great humility prevents me from disclosing his true identity, and who for attribution purposes wishes only to be known as “Buckminster Westminster”. Just pull up a chair, click here, sit back and enjoy.

A blessed day

The morning of December 8 was cold, crisp, and clear in northern California – an immaculate sky for the Immaculate One, and for a child soon to be made immaculate by the waters of holy baptism. The feast commemorates the conception of Our Lady in the womb of St. Anne, a fitting day for the baptism of her namesake, Anne Josephine.

The sacrament was administered by Fr. Robert Novokowsky, F.S.S.P., in the medieval Lady Chapel at St. Stephen the First Martyr Catholic Church.

Anne with her wonderful Godparents.

My incomparable wife and our three daughters.

Fr. Novokowsky and his flock of Culbreaths.

Anne with her sweet Godmother, the kind of Catholic she would do well to imitate, and who would be deeply embarrassed if I told you any more about her. (God bless you, Mrs. D.!)

Anne just before her baptism, with my dear great-aunt Hilda.

Doing the math

A few weeks back we decided to slaughter two cows from our Dexter herd. Chardonnay, our oldest mama, had suffered a breeding injury before we bought her, and this injury was making it increasingly difficult for her to get around. She was beginning to lose weight and probably wasn’t getting to the watering trough often enough. It was time to make some hamburger. In addition, we had a steer who was about 18 months old and looking mighty tasty. We had them both slaughtered and processed at the same time for convenience’ sake.

Tom Ball Custom Meat in Orland was my first call, since I like to keep my business local. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with his whole operation. (There’s only one thing that smells nicer than a pipe tobacco shop, and that is a small town butcher shop.) Mr. Ball handled my order personally. Judging by the greeting cards and other items laying about, the owner is clearly a man of deep Christian faith. When I picked up the meat I was more than $100 short of cash. He allowed me to take the beef home anyway and return the next day to pay the balance.

Tom Ball charges $60 per animal for ranch butchering, and $0.69 per pound – hanging weight – for processing. Each cow weighed about 330 lbs each after gutting. That amounts to less than $600 for 660 lbs of beef. Oh, but the cows did cost us something. Chardonnay cost $500.00. Junior, on the other hand, came with his mother, Camelia: we paid $500 for the pair plus about $300 in veterinary and travel expenses. Splitting the difference, Junior cost us $400. So that brings our total outlay up to $1,500 for both animals, or about $2.27 per pound.

$2.27 per pound. Obviously there are overhead expenses – irrigation, fencing, stock trailer, etc. – but I would guess this doesn’t amount to more than $50 per head, and even less if the goats are included. So if we really wanted to be conservative, we could call it $1,600 for both animals, or $2.42 per pound. Keep in mind that these expenses will decline with every new calf in the coming years.

Store-bought, mass-produced, hormone-injected, grain-finished retail beef averaged $3.48 per pound for the first quarter of 2007, depending on the cut. At $2.42 per pound we come out way ahead. But it gets even better when you consider grassfed beef prices. A local ranch not too far from here sells their own grassfed beef at $6.50 per pound! And I have to tell you, our grassfed beef is the tastiest beef I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. Those who have sampled our beef among friends and family all seem to agree.

Photography notes: These photos were taken yesterday by my daughter, Amy, here at St. Isidore Ranch in Orland. The first photo is of Blackberry Blossom and her calf, a steer about ten months old. The second photo is profile of Camelia, who is about five years old and now pregnant. The third photo is a close-up of Blackberry Blossom. She has only one good eye and is very skittish around people. 

A Message of Hope for the World

The Holy Father’s encyclical Spe Salvi:

We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.

In this context, I would like to quote a passage from a letter written by the Vietnamese martyr Paul Le-Bao-Tinh († 1857) which illustrates this transformation of suffering through the power of hope springing from faith:

“I, Paul, in chains for the name of Christ, wish to relate to you the trials besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with love for God and join with me in his praises, for his mercy is for ever (Ps 136 [135]).

“The prison here is a true image of everlasting Hell: to cruel tortures of every kind—shackles, iron chains, manacles—are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief.

“But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, for his mercy is for ever. In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone —Christ is with me […]. How am I to bear with the spectacle, as each day I see emperors, mandarins, and their retinue blaspheming your holy name, O Lord, who are enthroned above the Cherubim and Seraphim? (cf. Ps 80:1 [79:2]). Behold, the pagans have trodden your Cross underfoot! Where is your glory? As I see all this, I would, in the ardent love I have for you, prefer to be torn limb from limb and to die as a witness to your love.

“O Lord, show your power, save me, sustain me, that in my infirmity your power may be shown and may be glorified before the nations … Beloved brothers, as you hear all these things may you give endless thanks in joy to God, from whom every good proceeds; bless the Lord with me, for his mercy is for ever … I write these things to you in order that your faith and mine may be united. In the midst of this storm I cast my anchor towards the throne of God, the anchor that is the lively hope in my heart.”

This is a letter from “Hell”. It lays bare all the horror of a concentration camp, where to the torments inflicted by tyrants upon their victims is added the outbreak of evil in the victims themselves, such that they in turn become further instruments of their persecutors’ cruelty.

This is indeed a letter from Hell, but it also reveals the truth of the Psalm text: “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I sink to the nether world, you are present there … If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light’ —for you darkness itself is not dark, and night shines as the day; darkness and light are the same” (Ps 139 [138]:8-12; cf. also Ps 23 [22]:4).

Christ descended into “Hell” and is therefore close to those cast into it, transforming their darkness into light. Suffering and torment is still terrible and well- nigh unbearable.

Yet the star of hope has risen—the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God. Instead of evil being unleashed within man, the light shines victorious: suffering—without ceasing to be suffering—becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise.