Down on the Farm Ch. 07byRabbitrunner91©
The following night, we started milking a bit early and Edith agreed to remain till all was finished. Then she would come to the meeting a few minutes after it was scheduled to start. Trish and I went early and talked to Mr. Johnson. A room had been arranged an we only awaited for folks to arrive. Because of the media attention from the previous days, it soon was evident that the scheduled room would not be large enough. He requested a number of his workers to setup chairs just inside the loading dock. The area was much larger and would accommodate a bigger crowd. By the time everyone had arrived, all chairs were taken and it was standing room only.
Mr. Johnson started the meeting and explained that only those who were directly affected by the proposal would be allowed to speak. Opportunity would be given for comments and questions. He introduced me and I began.
"Folks, I want to lay some groundwork here. These are the facts as they stand. 1. The milk company will be closing at the end of the year. 2. About 750 people would be loosing their jobs at the same time. 3. The milk producers association would be going out of business. 4. All of the milk producers were planning to sell or quit. 5. Information I'd received, maybe 15 families would move away from the community. 6. The local economy would be adversely affected. These are the facts and this meeting is to discuss a proposal to save the businesses just mentioned and keep the jobs and community intact.
"I believe everyone involved has received a copy of the proposal. Is there anyone who is involved and did not receive one?"
Everyone was quiet. "Very well, let us proceed with an explanation."
For the next 30 minutes I spoke in detail, the requirements, and concessions. In the middle, Edith entered and sat next to Trish. I concluded with this comment.
"That presents the proposal. I want it understood, for this to work, everyone has to agree, in total. Otherwise it'll be withdrawn. No coercion is being used. The plan speaks for itself and the alternative speaks for itself. Questions?"
The discussion was lively, but nothing new was presented. Mostly, I noticed, individuals or groups were trying to find a way to be excluded from the sacrifices required. I expected this and held firm. The Union representatives had held back until this moment, when they vigorously tried to get me to remove them from the change in the contract.
"Sir," I stated. "The proposition stands as stated. You are free to take this to your members and let them vote on it. You can make your recommendation to your members as you see fit. However, tell them this. Either they accept it as was presented, along with everyone else, or they lose their jobs by the end of the year."
Speaking to everyone. "Understand, I will not modify the plan in any fashion. Only the items open to negotiation can be modified. Nothing else."
"Aren't you being selfish?" someone from the audience asked.
"If you mean by helping 750 people keep their jobs, I'll let you answer that."
"Aren't you going to get the greatest benefit from the plan?"
"Perhaps, but I also have the greatest potential for failure. If someone here wants to take that risk, please speak up now."
"Why should we trust you?" a voice was heard.
"You don't. You're free to reject it."
The Milk Producers Association representative stood. "How are the members supposed to allocate the number of cows to be increased? By the figures given, you're asking an additional 96 cows be added to our herds."
"That is entirely up to your members. I am a member, but will refrain from influencing anything pertaining to this decision. All I request is a contract be drawn which will guarantee that number be added to your memberships herds, apart from mine. If any member decides to go out of business, others must pick up the slack. Look, everyone, this is a gamble. To make this work we all have to put forth the effort."
"What are the legal requirements if we agree?" a woman asked.
"Contracts can be drawn up and signed at any time. A section will be included which will state if any other contract is not signed by the participant, all other contracts will be void. To make any contract valid, all must be dutifully signed."
I paused a moment before stating the next item. "I am imposing an arbitrary deadline for agreement or rejection. It's necessary for me to know the decision before April 30th. By that date, I want to know which direction to proceed. Do I obtain a loan, or not. If we're to move forward, construction needs to begin and we need to increase our herd. Equipment needs to be ordered. Etc, etc. That gives about 2 months to decide and plan. The decision is yours. Thank you."
When all discussion was over, Mr. Johnson closed the meeting and thanked everyone for coming.
Trish, Edith and I stayed behind to talk with various individuals. Mr. Johnson questioned, "Well, how do you think it went?"
"Good. If nothing else, they learned I'm not going to budge. The Union may drag their feet. Time will tell."
It was late when we got home and the emotions of the meeting had not worn off. The three of us stayed up and talked.
For two months we settled into a general routine. I had to apply my energies to keep my grades up. All this activity and my time with Trish was taking its toll. My concentration had dropped. Another project was to create a business plan. Edith and I put our heads together and came up with one. We had it checked out by our lawyer and he gave a 'thumbs up'.
Mr. Johnson was the first to sign his contract; it was a 'business saver' decision. The Milk Producers Association had also agreed to sign and was working out the details with their membership. A couple farmers were quitting and negotiations were in progress to transfer their operations to others. The contract was still pending but had been verbally agreed upon. Only the details remained.
I heard through the grapevine the Union would hold a vote in mid April. On the record, they were not in favor of any benefit cuts. But the membership knew, all jobs were on the line.
The truckers were not part of the Union and had left it up to each driver to sign or not sign. Currently all had submitted completed contracts except one and he was on medical leave.
Mr. Johnson had sub-contracted some of his work to other companies, who were neither Union nor part of the milk company. He couldn't operate without them so they were given the option to create an addendum to their contracts, agreeing to my plan, or sever their relationship with him. Legally this was tricky. Three of these were under discussion.
Up to mid April, no one had asked where I planned to obtain a loan. Except for this current issue, no local lending institution knew who I was and my 'youth' would be against me. However I had an 'ace' I was about to play. Events were looking favorable to the plan being accepted. "Mark, who's going to give you this loan?" Trish asked as the family sat at the supper table.
"My dad." I said without looking up.
Immediately the talk around the table stopped.
"Your father has this much money?" Edith queried.
"No. He's on the board of directors with the local bank back home." Anticipating their questions, I continued. "They do a lot of loans locally, helping folks start new businesses. I've been in communication with dad about this plan and he's prepared to go to bat for us. That is, if we can meet certain requirements. You know, collateral, business plan, and things like that. The application form has been filled out, all except the amount and we have the business plan ready to go. What remains is an itemized list of anticipated costs and the support of the local community."
"You certainly have a good grasp on the business end of things. Did you learn all this from you're father?" Edith asked.
"Dad would often talk about some of the applications they received, requesting loans. Over the years, I picked up on the main ideas they look favorably on. Agriculture with a solid plan is one of them."
"You could be doing this all by yourself."
"Not really. Not a chance, Edith. If you weren't part of this, I'd drop it and walk away. The information you have about dairy animals, dairy business, and dairy markets is indispensable. Your role is a key component to the plan."
"How come you had to work to go to college?"
I smiled at her brilliant perception. "Dad has told us four boys, if we wanted a college education, he'd pay for the first year, and half of the second. The rest would be up to us. This meant scholarships, loans and hard work. Dad always said anything worth having, must be worked for."
Edith, looking ahead, asked, "Want me to work up a list of costs?"
"That would be helpful." I answered though I knew she'd have problems with the numbers. They just wouldn't add up.
On April 30th our lawyer notified us he had all the signed contracts. Final documents were being drawn up but we were 'good-to-go'. One of the negotiable items in the plan was the time I needed to begin the improvements and how long till they needed to be finished. We were being asked to have the loan procured within 90 days and work begun. Then we had one year to have everything completed and production at the promised levels. This was less time than I desired, but within the agreed dates.
That evening Edith, Trish and I sat down to discuss our plans to build and buy. Sam and Becky joined us.
"Here are the figures. They are rough estimates and the numbers don't match what you said the loan would need to be. Take a look and see if there's any errors." Edith related.
Glancing at her papers I went through the numbers. She had listed building materials, construction costs, milking equipment, inspections, electrical upgrade, concrete, fencing, computers and miscellaneous. Her figures were lower than an amount I'd been talking about. "Looks about right."
"Why the difference?" Trish asked.
Penciling in, I added another bulk tank, three more compressors, double the fencing, more concrete, and a new silo. The amounts for these were added to the total and brought to the bottom. "Is that closer?"
"Why the additional equipment?" Edith asked.
"Split the herd into two. This will allow to keep diseases, infections, and other problems separated. If one load of milk were contaminated for any reason, the other would be unaffected. Kinda like insurance."
"Good thinking. What about help. The five of us can't do it all?"
Trish took the figures from my hand and re-added them. "Still $45,000 difference."
"Yeah, I know." This conversation would get interesting within the next few minutes.
"What's that for?"
I grinned but didn't say anything.
"Mark," she asked again. "What's that for?"
"A new house for my new wife." I deadpanned as another set of figures were slid across the table.
Edith took the papers and examined them. Trish, on the other hand, squealed, "Really."
When I shook my head 'yes' she came around the table and sat in my lap. Things got kinda mushy after that.
While I am busy with Trish, Edith asks, "I only see the cost of building materials. Where's the labor costs?"
Between kisses, "I've contacted the Industrial Arts department at school. Each year they build a house as a project and I approached them to build one for us, assuming we got the loan. I was told that they use a particular floor plan and after looking it over I felt we could adapt it for our needs." Turning Trish's face towards mine. "I want you to look at it and tell me what you think because it will be our house."
"We're really going to have a house of our own?" Trish asked me again.
"Yes, dear. We are."
"Sheesh," says Becky. "Just look at her. You'd think she's won the lottery."
"She has." Edith corrects. "She has."
Over the next several days, different events transpired. I called my dad and we talked about the outcome of the 'plan' and my decision to move forward with the loan application. The paperwork was faxed to his office and he submitted it for approval. From his experience, he said it would very likely be approved, so we waited. As the bank was not familiar with our part of the country, they'd be sending a representative to talk with me and the other players in our plan. He'd let us know when.
Edith and I had to get firm with Trish. She had become 'starry eyed' in her excitement over our wedding. She was actively planning events for the coming day and she was ignoring school. She was no longer interested in classes; and her assignments and tests were returned with failing marks. Edith tried first to encourage her to apply herself to school. Trish tried, she really did, but homework was often left undone. Finally I set her down and told her the importance of school and if she didn't pass all of her classes, I would cancel the wedding. That got her attention.
Edith and I visited the lawyer quite often. One of the first items to clear up was the transfer of the title for the farm into my name. The groundwork had been laid for this transfer in the previous weeks, but it was necessary to complete before the final contract could be signed in my 'plan'. A partnership agreement was drawn up and Edith and I became joint owners of the dairy. The real outcome depended on the success of my plan. I wanted to repay Edith for the farm at some point in the future. She was taking a tremendous hit financially and putting a lot of trust in me. It was possible for me to take complete advantage of her, and I believe she knew that. This only emphasized her confidence in me and in the 'plan'. I didn't want to destroy her trust, ever.
Dad called a week later and let me know we'd have a visitor from the bank the next day. My classes at school were being skipped and Trish took me to the 'wood shed' about this. She was right, but I honestly did not know how to carry on the business of the farm, do school, meet with representatives of players from the plan, get the loan approved, and plan for our wedding. I was tired. I was exhausted and had been having trouble sleeping lately. Something had to give. Edith saw this and stepped in.
"Huh? What's the matter?"
"The girls and I'll take over the chores for now. You have too many irons in the fire. I'll do the morning milking and the girls will do the evening chores. That'll free you up for other things."
"Thanks. I am not able to give proper attention to everything."
"Something else, I think you and Trish should postpone your wedding for a month."
I only looked at her.
"Talk to Trish, Mark. Please?"
Trish walked around the corner at just that moment. "Talk to me about what?"
She was looking at me but keeping her mom in view. Edith attempted an exit but I grabbed her hand. "You're not going anywhere now. It was your suggestion so you should explain it."
Trish looked from me to her mom, then back at me. "What's going on here? What are you two thinking? It affects me, doesn't it?"
"Trish," Edith paused. "Mark is overloaded right now; way overloaded. I've agreed to take on all the chores and you and your sisters will be helping me, and there will be no arguing about this."
"That's not all." Trish divined from our looks.
"I think the two of you should postpone the wedding till mid July. Because..."
"Mother, NO. I want to marry Mark." Turning to me, "Mark, tell her, please."
Now I was in the middle. Edith remained silent and forced me to speak up. "I am exhausted and having trouble getting enough rest. My classes are suffering, as you already know. There's a lot of legal paperwork, I have to go to meetings, and the bank representatives will be arriving tomorrow. Mom asked me to request from you that we postpone our marriage for a few weeks. Honestly I don't want to. But all of these things will be coming to a 'head' right at that time. Something has to give, and I fear it'll be me."
Slowly and with great hesitation, Trish spoke. "Then you're telling me the wedding will be put off."
"No I'm not. The situation has been presented. The decision is yours."
She became quiet and I sensed the weight of the world on her shoulders. The look in her eyes turned to one of uncertainty. Gently I took Trish in my arms and enfolded her. Gosh I loved her and at the same time I hated placing her into these circumstances. "Mark, I want to marry you so much."
Kissing her on the cheek, "I want to marry you too." Turning towards Edith, "Would you leave us alone, please."
She walked from the room and Trish whispered in my ear. "What do I do?"
Trying a different tact, "Do you remember last July 4th, the frustration and disappointment on the faces of the 'married' team?"
A smile crept on her face and the dimples showed. "Yeah, I do."
"Would you like to see it happen again?"
Realization struck home. Then her smile widened from ear to ear. "Yeah, I would." Taking my face in her hands, she pulled it towards her. "When Mark? When?"
"How about the week afterwards? How does that sound?"
She kissed me. "Okay, I guess so." And we embraced.
I slept well that night.
The next day I met the bank representative and skipped classes. She was nice, Linda was her name, and I spend the entire day with her. We started out by going over the aspects of the 'plan' where I explained the promises I had extracted from the others involved. "I want to see your current operation." Was her request.
Showing the barn, milk house, milking parlor and the herd was easy. Edith greeted her warmly and then returned to the chores. Linda was extremely knowledgeable and asked intelligent questions. I spoke freely and was soon sharing my plans and dreams. "Mark, you are young, and still going to college. You fell into a situation and Edith and the family have taken you in like a son. Folks could think you are using this for your own benefit."
"I certainly hope you don't mean that?"
"You tell me." Looking me square in the eyes.
"Linda, it's my name and my name alone on the loan. It's my neck that's on the line. Edith and I have an unwritten agreement that if this plan works out, and we believe it will, she'll be paid back. With the farm in her name, you know as well as I, that my loan application would not be approved. She clearly understands and we have a lot of trust between us. The dairy business will be a joint partnership. Worst case scenario, she would walk away with no obligations. As for me, you'd be coming with guns blazing."
She smiled at the analogy; neither of us spoke for several minutes as she thumbed through the papers from the folder. The business plan was buried in the stack and she removed it, paging though the different sections. "Tell me how you will put this plan into operation."
I spoke nonstop for nearly 20 minutes, pointing to graphs and charts from the proposal. She listened attentively, taking notes on her legal pad. When I finished, she requested to talk to the other participants. The rest of the day was filled with interviews with Mr. Johnson, the Milk Producers Association, the Union leaders, and others. From my perspective, the discussions went well.
We ended back at the house at supper time. "Thank you for taking time out from your busy schedule."
"You're welcome to stay and eat with us." I offered.
"I hadn't planned on it. I'll get a motel room and head back in the morning."
"Linda, the table is already set. Adding another place would be no problem. Besides you'll have a chance to meet the rest of the family."
"Really, I couldn't impose upon you."
Edith came from the house. "You want to stay and eat supper with us? You're more than welcome to join us."
We persisted and Linda agreed. Sam and Becky were finishing up the table and Trish had taken the food from the oven. The warmth of the house and wonderful smells of cooked food greeted us as we entered the house. I introduced everyone before we sat down. Talk was genial as we filled our plates. All of us were curious, but it was Edith who asked the question that was on our minds.