What’s Really Important?
Sometimes I remember what’s really important when I am doing something that doesn’t seem very important at all. And I remembered it while manning the grill with Dave Zinczenko at Apple Fest 2011.
I didn’t ask him to help me cook organic hot dogs (generously donated by Applegate Farms) for my Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen stand, he volunteered. He joined an august group of dedicated helpers who I am extremely grateful to—Ethne Clarke, Kate Oswalt, Tony Hail (son-in-law), Dana Blinder, Heidi Rodale, Melissa Chuhran, and others—some of whom I had never met before. Since it was Apple Fest’s third year, we weren’t sure what to expect. All we knew was that whatever we did that day was to benefit the Rodale Institute, and that was the primary reward.
The festival began at 10:00, and by 10:01 there were cars lined up down the gorgeous country lane as far as the eye could see. And that line of cars didn’t stop all day (the final count was about 4,000 attendees). I thought it reminded me of what Woodstock (no, I wasn’t there) must have been like. Others said it reminded them of Field of Dreams. We started grilling. We had four giant grills going at once. And we didn’t stop until 5:30.
While we grilled we talked to people. I pointed out to Dave people I’ve known for a lifetime and new people I’d just met. There were employees and their families. There were former employees and their families. Everyone had a story and a reason for coming, even if it was just to enjoy getting outside on a beautiful day.
As we hustled over the grill I thought back to the night before, when we had honored the 30th anniversary of the Farming Systems Trial and the organic pioneers who started it. Dr. Dick Harwood, the scientist who built the research study, told the story of how it all began and how critical the support of Rodale Inc. was to making it happen. But I also remembered from that time how many corporate executives within the company were opposed to the fact that my father was spending so much money on the institute and some crazy study. But through my father’s courageous generosity, he helped create the fertile ground where all sorts of new things grew. Businesses like Stonyfield Farm and Whole Foods grew out of that research. Organic farmers saved their family farms based on the research. Universities around the world expanded their research based on ours. And the company (which is a separate entity from the Rodale Institute) gained valuable insights that helped us become the information leader in healthy living on a healthy planet. And together we learned that organic farming can feed the world.
Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farm, spoke passionately about the role the institute has played in his business and the importance we all play in shaping and encouraging public action—which is the original beating heart of Rodale Inc.
One of the honorees, Maurice Small of Ohio, also reminded me what is important. His mission involves helping people in inner-city, underserved, and down-on-their-luck communities learn how to grow their own food. He asked me to sign my book. Of course I thought he meant Organic Manifesto, but he ran back from his car carrying my original gardening book (he also had a copy of J. I. Rodale’s Healthful Living Encyclopedia). These books helped him learn to garden organically and share his knowledge with others because the messages were simple. J. I. Rodale founded the company with the idea that we can take complicated information (whether it’s medical journals or scientific research) and make it easily understandable for people. Maurice Small got a standing ovation for his acceptance speech, which encouraged all of us to serve others and keep the message simple.
What does all of this have to do with grilling hot dogs? Well, it’s simple. Rodale Inc., at it’s organic apple core, exists to serve other people, to help them learn and understand how to live healthier lives and take care of this precious earth that sustains us. That’s all. It’s that simple.
And doing that work is a pleasure and labor of love that has supported families, communities, and other businesses for decades. And when we do our work with that spirit and energy of service, the business flows in—the cars line up for miles, because people can tell it’s real. In fact, bringing this back to Apple Fest, the whole reason we can have a Pick Your Own Apple Festival is because people said growing organic apples “couldn’t be done.” Well, we did it. And now almost everyone in America can buy beautiful organic apples at their local grocery store.
So yes, times are tough right now for everyone—economically, politically, and emotionally. But we’ll get through it. Sometimes we can’t see where things will take us, and how it will all work out. But as long as we stay on the right course I am confident we will get “there.” And we will get through it because people and the planet need us more than ever and want us to exist and to serve. And there are still enough of us who love working hard, as a fabulous team, for the sheer joy of it, with love as the most valuable reward.
That’s what’s really important. And it’s simple.
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