Farmer Goode banged the canning jar on the table and called the meeting to order. Every animal on the farm had crammed into the barn, except the horses, Jesse and Queenie, who poked their heads inside through the open window. Lawrence the Owl and a gang of teenaged pigeons who called themselves "The Hawks" sat on the rafters, and several generations of rodents crowded together near the entrance to their holes. Everybody was nervous. Normally Farmer Goode held the annual stock meeting in the winter, after the harvest, to tell everyone how well the farm was doing. For as long ago as anyone could remember, there had never been a barn meeting in the spring.
"I have some news for you," Farmer Goode began. He paused, and a tear formed in his eye. "I'm going to be moving off the place. I'm off to Greener Pastures." "Neigh," protested Jesse, whose cry was heard above a great wave of protests.
Farmer Goode raised his hand for silence. He had no choice, he explained, he was just too old to work the farm himself and there were no Goode men left. "So I've got no choice. I'm moving into the Greener Pastures Retirement Home."
"But...but what will happen to us?" Clara the Chicken clucked nervously. "Some of us...some of the other girls are too old to find another job." As she said this she looked directly at Henrietta, who cackled, "Right, like you're some spring chicken," and turned away in disgust.
Scarecrow stood rigidly in a corner. A seed of sweat appeared on his forehead. He'd always believed his job was secure. He'd made no plans for his future. He had neither a nest nor an egg.
"Now, now, that's why I've called this meeting," Farmer Goode continued. "You all know how much this place means to me. . ." The animals knew the history of the farm. The Goode family had made its home here for many generations, and in fact some of the animals could trace their own families back almost as far. Farmer Goode himself had been born on this land more than eighty years earlier. The Goode family struggled through three droughts and the Great Depression-although Farmer Goode never understood what was so great about it-and there was the cyclone of '52.
Through it all the Goode Farm had survived. The animals had always agreed, this was "a Goode place to be." Several times in the past few years developers had looked enviously at the land, commenting that it would be the perfect spot for a first-rate shopping mall. They made fine offers, but Farmer Goode always turned them down flat.
But now it was time for Farmer Goode to go live where folks could give him the help he needed. "You animals have been like family to me since Ma Goode passed," he said, "so I can't let you down. But you have to decide what you want to do..."
There were only two options, he explained. He could sell the land to the mall developers and use the money to find a comfortable place for just about everybody. He knew of some excellent petting zoos and small farms where they could live out their lives peacefully. Or he would allow them to run the farm themselves.
"Just hand over the reins, so to speak," he said. "But I have to warn you, that won't be easy. These last few years ...well, there's been some problems I've kept from you. Maybe some of you noticed that when things got broke around here they didn't get fixed quick as they used to, and that sometimes meals were a little skimpy. I got to be honest with you, if you decide to try to run this place yourselves, you're gonna have some tough days ahead. Farming is a tough business. It's up to you, though."
For a few seconds there was complete silence as the impact of this announcement sank in-and then everybody panicked. Leave the farm! Move! Find a new job! Impossible! Can't do it! Some of the animals started running in circles, desperately chasing their tails. The cows just flopped right down in utter shock. The chickens scampered about wildly as if they'd lost their heads, complaining to anyone who would listen.
Finally Big Mo, who had lived on the farm longer than any other animal, took control. "Stop!" he shouted. "Everybody quiet down. You, chickens, shut your beaks." To his great surprise, they all listened to him. And then they looked to him for instructions. The big pig waddled slowly to the front of the barn. In human years Mo was the oldest animal on the farm. Everyone respected him for his age, wisdom, and experience.
It was widely rumored-although no one remembered where the rumor had begun-that when he was younger he had been offered the leading role in Babe but turned it down to stay on the farm. While Mo refused to confirm that story, no one ever heard him deny it either. "All right, animals," he said, turning to face the assembled stock, "we've got a decision to make. Either we spend the rest of our lives making cutesy faces at kids while they pull on our ears or we run this place ourselves. So what's it going to be?"
"Mo," Abe the Goat pointed out, "whattya talking? We don't know nuthin' about running this place."
"Excuse me for butting in, Abe," Beau the Bull said in his deep, sonorous voice. Beau, actually Beauregarde Mounthatten IV, the great-grandson of a world champion and a bull who might have competed himself but for a gnarled forelock, never said very much, but when he did speak he made good sense. "Fact is, these last few years Farmer Goode couldn't have run this place without our help. We're already doing all the work around here-and doing a pretty good job of it too. If we all pull together, we can do it."
One of the duck quintuplets quacked softly, "I don't want to leave here. This is the only pond I know." Mary the Sheep snapped angrily, looking right at Abe, "Listen you old goat, maybe you like hearing kids tell you how cute you are, but if I hear 'Mawy had a wittle wamb' one more time, I swear I'm gonna go fricassee."
Turning to Mo, she said, "Where do I sign?" The barn erupted with enthusiasm. Never before had all the animals agreed so completely on anything.
Even the house dogs and the barn cats raised their tails and slapped each other high-ones. When it quieted down Mo said they needed to vote to make it official.
"We'll take a straw poll." "Oooh," moaned Scarecrow when he heard that. But then he dutifully began handing out his hand and much of his arm, reminding everyone to please return their straw after voting. He knew from experience it would still take him most of the night to get his fingers back in place.
Abe was the only animal to take a straw against the plan. "Listen," he pleaded, "what do we know from running a business? You want to know about chewing cud? That we know. But believe me, you're all gonna lose your hide."
The animals ignored him: They were going to run the farm! Farmer Goode agreed that he would make all the legal arrangements to transfer ownership, telling them, "I guess you could call this the first real stock ownership plan in history."
The meeting ended with Mo asking everyone to give Farmer Goode a big ground of applause for everything he'd done, and every animal thumped hard on the dirt floor.
Mo graciously accepted the position of President and Chief Executive Animal. He moved with his wife, Princess, and their three little piglets into the Goode home, hung up his beloved chalk-on-velvet painting of Noah's Ark, then set to work learning how to run the farm. "The door to my office is always open," he announced. That was definitely true: As animals had difficulty turning a doorknob, Jesse kindly kicked off the door.
It was quite an experiment. Animals had never successfully run a farm before, and just about everyone in the county watched with great interest. But no one watched with more interest than Mr. Edward Biggs, chairman of Biggs Business, the biggest shopping center construction firm in the region.
Biggs was a large man, slightly rounded with age. His face was thick and reddish. Large jowls hung down from his cheeks like pouches, and his gray sideburns were clipped well below his angular ears.
Biggs was the kind of visionary who could look once at a piece of beautiful farmland and know immediately what type of factory would be best suited for that location. It was a talent that had made him a wealthy man. Long ago he had fixed his beady eyes on the Goode Farm. Several times he had made quite reasonable offers to Farmer Goode for his land and had never quite understood the old man's reluctance to sell.
The very day that Farmer Goode packed his bags and moved to Greener Pastures, Biggs set up a meeting with Mo at the farm. Lily the Lamb, the new receptionist, greeted him cordially. "You want a cup of fresh milk while you wait?" she asked. "I can get it direct from the container."
"Oh no, my little lamb," Biggs said sweetly, sweeping off his hat and bowing deeply. "But I must ask you, who does your wool? It's really quite striking." "Really," Lily said, casually licking a curl into place, "oh, it's sort of...natural."
Before Biggs could respond Mo appeared in the doorway and led him into the parlor. Waiting there were Jesse, the big stallion representing the farm's workers, and Lawrence the Owl, representing management. Mo had appointed them to these very important positions because they had been on the farm almost as long as he had, which meant that they had more experience than anybody else.
"It's called seniority," Mo had explained carefully to Jesse, "I read all about it. It's a really important thing to have. But you can't learn it or buy it or even take training courses to get it. Nobody can teach it. You can't earn it, and no matter how good you are at your job, they can't give it to you. When you have it you get the most important jobs. It's simple. See, Jesse, you've been here the longest, except for me, so you must be the most qualified, otherwise you wouldn't have been here so long."
Lawrence too had been impressed to learn he had seniority. In fact, Mo made it sound so good when he explained it that Lawrence secretly wished he could have had it a long time ago. Or at least some of it.
Jesse and Lawrence were seated by the fireplace when Mo and Biggs entered, although Jesse was squirming, trying without success to get comfortable on the large couch.
"How do you do, gentleme ...animals," Biggs began. "Ed Biggs. . ." Instinctively, he reached out with his hand toward Lawrence for a handshake, but caught himself and saved embarrassment by faking a cough, and raising his hand to cover his mouth. Instead, he nodded politely. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I think you'll find what I have to say of particular interest."
"Can I get you a can of water?" Mo asked, "or a piece of garbage?"
"No, no," said Biggs, "nothing at all, thank you. Frankly, Mr....Mr....Mr...." Biggs's voice wound down like a battery running out of power.
"Look, Biggs," Mo said, "maybe you didn't notice, but the truth is that I'm a pig."
Biggs unsuccessfully tried to feign surprise. Stalling for time, he adjusted his own glasses. "Well, I wouldn't say that you..."
"Oh, please. Didn't you notice this snout? You think maybe that's an ordinary nose? Let's be honest, Biggs, have you ever done business with a real pig before?" "Well," Biggs said, "metaphorically speaking, certainly, but in actuality, I suppose..."
"And them," Mo continued, pointing a hoof toward Jesse and Lawrence. "Didn't it seem a little strange to you that there's a horse sitting there on the sofa?" "Well, obviously I recognized the fact that he is a horse," Biggs responded, "but I want you to know that that doesn't make any difference to me. I don't discriminate against any...species. Business is business, I always say. And we're all equal in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service.
"Look, I'm not here to waste time swatting flies. As you may know, you're sitting on a valuable piece of property. I'm authorized by Biggs Construction to make a very sizable offer for it."
Mo had found an old pair of Ma Goode's spectacles in a desk drawer and fumbled to put them on. Much too small, they balanced precariously on the end of his large snout. While he couldn't see through them, he felt they added an authoritative touch. "I'm sorry, Mr. Biggs, but this land is not for sale."
"Now now, don't be so hasty. Suppose I said I could pay you enough money so that you could be rolling in...in...mud. Just imagine," he said with a broad sweep of his arm, "mud as far as you can see. All the beautiful brown mud you ever dreamed of. Enough mud for your whole family, all your little piggies."
Mo shook his head. "Look, Mr. Biggs, it doesn't matter how much you offer. We've all agreed; we're not selling this place." "Neigh," Jesse said firmly.
Biggs clasped his hands in front of him and chuckled. "Well, I have to admit that you drive a very hard bargain. All right, you win. I'm going to be frank with you. This is my very best offer." With that, he began writing a figure on a piece of paper.
"Noooooo," Lawrence the Owl said. "Nooooooo." Biggs paused. "You don't even know what the number is."
"It doesn't matter," Mo told him. "This land is not for sale."
Biggs put down the pen, looked directly at Mo, and said, "Now don't you think you're being a little bit... pigheaded about this?"
Lawrence laughed. For those who, like Biggs, have never heard an owl laugh, it sounds like walnuts being pureed in a blender. Biggs was stunned at the sound and stared at Lawrence. "Of course he's pigheaded," Lawrence explained logically, "he's a pig." Jesse laughed too, a big hearty horse-laugh.
Biggs's face turned bright red. He definitely was not used to being laughed at by an owl and a horse. "Hey," he snapped angrily at Jesse.
"Where?" Jesse asked, looking around the room. "Now just listen to me," Biggs said to Mo. "I don't know what you expect to do with this land, but I'm warning you..."
"It's a farm," Mo said softly, "and we're going to farm it."
"Who?" Biggs asked suspiciously, wondering if one of those megafarmglomerates had beaten him to the deal.
"Whoo," responded Lawrence, instinctively. "Us," Mo told him, his short, curly tail starting to wiggle involuntarily with excitement. Mo was known to have a particularly stoic tail that rarely revealed his emotions, but the prospect of all the animals and rodents and birds working paw-in-wing to make the farm successful filled him with joy. "All of us," he said proudly. "The biggest and the smallest, the ground-huggers and the sky-sailors. All of us."
Biggs leaned forward until his face was only inches from the end of Mo's snout and snarled, "And what makes you think you know how to run a farm?" "Well," Mo gulped, "we were doing it when Farmer Goode was here."
Jesse added, "We were already doing..." "Hogwash!" Biggs snapped. Mo was stunned at the insult.
Biggs blundered on. "You think it's that easy, do you? Let me tell you something. Running a farm is like running a business, and what do you know about running a business? Nothing! You know NOTHING about that!"
Lawrence's wings fluttered from the force of Biggs's anger. But Mo didn't even flinch. "Maybe not yet," he was forced to agree. "But it can't be that hard. We just have to sell our products for more money than it costs to run the farm. That's business."
Biggs slowly shook his head. "It's impossible," he said, "completely impossible. Do you even know what P&L means? Spreadsheets? R&D? Depreciation? Marketing? You know how to meet OSHA regulations?
Have you got the proper access to all your buildings required by the Americans with Disabilities Act? Core competencies?"
The words shot out of his mouth as if from a machine gun. The power of his words literally raised him out of his chair until he was standing over Mo shouting at him. "Gross revenues? Liability insurance? Do you have a pay scale? Pension funds? Stock options?
Promotions? Risk management? Withholding? Have you ever tried to hire a bull? Or fire a chicken?" His words thundered through the room, out the windows and beyond, to the barns, the stables, and into the fields where all the animals heard them. "Mark my words, you'll fail. Fail! And when you do, I will be standing there to pick up the pieces. Someday, very soon, a shopping mall will rise right where I'm standing. And I promise you, the first shop to be opened will be. . ." His eyes narrowed and he spat out his threat: "...a butcher shop!"
Even Mo shivered at the thought. "Good day, you ...animals! We'll meet again, I promise you-preferably at dinner," Biggs said and laughed viciously. He stormed out of the farmhouse. As he disappeared down the lane he was heard repeating over and over, "At dinner!" and laughing maniacally. No one in the parlor made a sound until the last strains of Biggs's threats floated away on the breeze. Then Jesse brayed softly, "You know, Mo, there are a lot of good things to be said about a nice comfortable pasture."
Copyright © 2004 by The Gallup Organization
Buy this book from Amazon.com