Ways of getting food to customers

As we’ve thought about long-range possibilities for providing for our family’s needs, we’ve become ever more convinced that it will be prudent for us to center our efforts around food: growing it, eating it, bartering it, moving it, selling it. Partly this is because we are ever more committed to walking an agrarian path, and while not everyone in an agrarian society need provide for themselves by farmng, most probably will and the rest will be wise to grow a good deal of their own food. So centering our energies on food will help us and the generations that follow to stay on that path. There is also the fact that in these uncertain times one of the more certain things is that people will continue to need to eat; to the extent that we are able to get good food to them at a fair price, we will prosper.

From an agrarian point of view, though, the current economic mechanisms are badly broken and there is no good way for a farmer to get food to customers. Here is a summary of the less than good ways we’ve considered and decided against. Keep in mind that my assessment of these approaches is fairly superficial, since we’ve had no practical experience with them ourselves. And clearly many folks have had success pursuing each one of them. Still, in order to choose a path for ourselves we’ve had to evaluate these possibilities as best we can, based on reading and talking to folks and just plain ruminating.

  • Selling to a wholesaler. By this I mean where the farmer grows a crop and sells it to a buyer who will then sell it to someone else. If this makes sense at all these days, it really only makes sense for people who will grow huge quantities of one or a few crops using fertilizer and pesticides, since that is what your competition (i.e. your neighbors) are all doing. This is so different from our ideal of subsistence farming that to do this would require a whole separate operation whose purpose was only to make money, an approach we are trying to get away from.

    Which is not to say that we would not consider selling our surplus to a wholesaler, or even growing extra of some crop in order to do so. But for the most part prices in this market are so low that the small surplus quantities that a highly diversified farm would produce are hardly worth a wholesaler’s time.

  • Selling to a retailer. This is what our friend and mentor Jerome Lange does, selling primarily to Good Foods Market in Lexington but also to folks who resell at local farmers’ markets. And Jerome has been kind enough to let us try our hand at growing some of the easier crops he has a market for; this year through him we’ll be selling garlic, acorn squash, cherry tomatoes, and maybe mesclun lettuce and cilantro if we can get those under control.

    Selling to a grocery store, though, presents its own challenges. For one, to meet their customers’ expectations of having pretty much everything available at pretty much any time, they have to fill in the seasonal gaps that are inevitable for local growers by ordering from a national produce distributor. And given that, they must resist the constant temptation to simplify their managerial lives by just ordering everything from that distributor. Meanwhile, the weirdness of the current economic arrangement means that the distributor will often be able to offer certain produce from far away at a much lower price than the local farmer can afford to sell at.

    More important, maybe, is that grocery stores in general foster an attitude in customers that works against the interests of the farmer, namely it is good and proper to expect to eat what you want when you want it, rather than to eat seasonally. This has encouraged many small-scale farmers to push the envelope by finding ways to extend the season for a crop both earlier and later. I have nothing against that per se, except for some vague qualms about where we cross the line into unnaturalness. But I do have a strong sentiment against making money by encouraging and then catering to cravings that are out of sync with nature.

    Finally, there is the matter of markup. You will get more of the final retail price than you would from selling to a wholesaler, but the grocer will still add 70% or more to the price you charge them. There’s no question that, given how they do business, such a markup is needed; in most grocery stores the produce section hopes only to break even, and if the store could get rid of it without losing customers they would do so in a heartbeat. Still, once you think through what that 70% is going towards—bright lights, wide aisles, fancy displays, availability at 8:30pm—you can’t help but ask yourself if there isn’t a way to eliminate the frills, splitting the savings between you and the customer.

    Again, we’ll be doing this when it makes sense (supplying stuff through Jerome, possibly looking for local outlets that might resell some stuff for us) but it isn’t where we want to place our focus.

  • Direct sales: farmers’ markets. Although superficially these are ideal—sell what you have when you have it, keep all the profits—in practice they don’t work the way I want them to, for reasons I don’t totally understand. Our reasons for staying away from this are mostly based on powerful anecdotal evidence: Jerome worked one in Somerset for seven years, and although he counts it as good experience he says he’d never do it again; our friend Steve has worked hard for years to establish himself at the Lexington farmers’ market, doing mostly what we would do ourselves, yet is still only scraping by; many of the farmers we heard give presentations at the SSAWG conference this year were folks who used to sell at farmers’ markets but no longer do.

    There are some obvious drawbacks to working a farmers’ market—long hours spent not working the farm, customers who expect real bargains, competitors whow are willing to dump their goods just to be done with them. Often to increase variety of produce available the market operators will allow in vendors who merely resell produce, which they sell at painfully low prices.

    Maybe the most surprising drawback was something I heard at SSAWG: most of the customers at a farmers’ market are not there to buy but simply to wander around. Put another way, they are not there to do their grocery shopping but for the experience—a day out, a nice colorful walk, or whatever. Most of the buys are impulse buys. The successful vendors tend to be the ones selling something exotic, like flowers or garlic braids or gift packages of herbs, rather than those selling staples.

  • Direct sales: roadside stand. This is another superficially ideal arrangement—sell what you have when you have it, keep all the profits, complete control over what is sold and how, no nearby competition—that suffers from a few important drawbacks. Most important is that it would have to be somewhere besides on our property, since we have the otherwise desirable circumstance of nearly zero traffic passing by; that would mean finding a suitable facility in some other more heavily trafficked spot, renting it, stocking it, and staffing it.

  • Direct sales: on-farm sales. Even better than other direct sales options as far as exercising control and keeping all the money. However, at SSAWG we heard a few folks talk about why this didn’t work well for them: having to interrupt work to be available for customers (which means being engaged in interruptible work); having customers show up outside the hours you try to establish; having people find you at all if you are in a remote location. The interruption factor is a killer, I think. We had friends who almost went crazy selling milk directly, with people showing up in dribs and drabs and at odd times and wanting to visit when they came. The solution (a good one, if you can trust your customers) was to put the milk in a refrigerator in an outbuilding where people could come at any time without disturbing the hous
    ehold. The folks we got milk from here in Kentucky use the same arrangement.

  • Direct sales: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This is a novel arrangement that was developed in Japan and has been gaining ground over the years here in the US, where a farmer will gather together a number of subscribers who agree in advance to pay a fixed amount for a percentage of the produce the farmer grows that year. The lofty ideal is that customers are funding the farmer, sharing in both the bounty and in any disappointments (e.g. a particular crop fails). Details of the financing vary; sometimes the year’s payment is expected in advance, sometimes the customer agrees to fixed monthly payments for the year. Many folks at SSAWG who had tried and given up on other approaches have gravitated to this one.

    There are drawbacks, of course. The main one is getting subscribers and keeping them. The one study cited at SSAWG said that year-to-year about half the subscribers drop out, and nobody quibbled with the number. People quit for obvious reasons: fickleness, boredom, expectations not met. Farmers report that their biggest problem in keeping customers happy was in providing the variety that people wanted; despite the ideal, folks are turned off when a crop actually fails and the farmers will often scramble to cover it with produce obtained elsewhere. A subtler problem is providing the customer with too much of a given item; after a few instances of having to clean rotting, uneaten produce out of the refrigerator it is likely someone would begin to feel they are wasting at least some of their money.

    The main problem to me with this model is one I only ever heard mentioned obliquely, which makes me think it is an elephant in the room: the customer pays a lump sum for what is available and has no real say in the mixture of stuff they receive. As close as I heard to an acknowledgement of this was one CSA farmer who said their customers liked it when they provided a “swap table”, where anyone could leave things they didn’t want for folks to take who wanted them. Personally, I would prefer to decide for myself what part of the season’s bounty I will partake of, and the CSA arrangement would be quite likely to make me feel guilty about not eating some of those “good for you” things in my basket that I just plain didn’t like.

    Most important to us, though, is that a CSA farmer must grow a wide variety of crops throughout the year, requiring a larger and more diverse operation than we are interested in running at any point in the forseeable future.

Those are the main avenues through the food supply chain we considered as we thought about how to proceed. In the next installment I’ll explain how we’ve taken our favorite bits and pieces of these approaches and cobbled together our own idea.

Providing for our needs

There was a period many years ago when we were financially able to give up my steady job and try some other things. We moved to the country, I did some long-distance contract programming for my previous employer, and I spent some time trying to establish a desktop publishing business. A friend of mine was under the impression that I had somehow become independently wealthy and had just plain retired, which made me laugh. I had a lot of breathing room, and my use of it might have made me look like one of the idle rich, but it was still necessary for me to decide what I was going to do next. That particular “next” entailed moving into town and taking another corporate job.

When the internet bubble popped in 2001, we were once again provided with a good deal of financial breathing room. Good thing, because by this point we were on a rapidly accelerating journey towards a very different kind of life, and quite a bit of research and rethinking was necessary in order to chart a new path for ourselves and (hopefully) future generations. Over the past six years we’ve experimented with various methods of providing for ourselves, and it has been a real blessing that for most of that time it was never urgent to succeed at any of them.

Our savings aren’t unlimited, though, and knowing that has been enough to keep us diligent about getting clear on where we think we are going and how we will eventually be providing for the family’s needs. One major assumption we’ve held for awhile now is that we would do that with numerous and diverse small enterprises. I mentioned this idea awhile back on the weblog and heard from a commenter who, while intrigued by the idea, was very skeptical that such a thing was possible. Well, we’re nowhere near providing for our every need in that way, but we have started a number of projects which are each capable of not only providing some of our own needs directly, but can also produce a small surplus which we can probably sell or barter. These include beef, chicken, eggs, garden produce, and soap. We plan on improving the acre of wild blackberry bushes at the top of the hill and figuring out how to pick and sell them in quantity. There is an old apple orchard on the property, with upwards of fifty trees, which we will try to revive; they will join the eighteen trees we planted last fall along the driveway. And we continue to hope for access to a commercial kitchen, which would allow us to sell higher value prepared foods: preserves, salsas, etc. (The bookstore continues to provide a small portion of our income, well worth the work we put into it but hardly likely to grow into something that will provide the bulk of our support without taking steps we aren’t interested in taking.)

One critical piece of the puzzle which has been missing so far is direct customer sales. Given the nature of life these days, there is a maddening separation between folks who have food to sell and folks who would like to buy it. We have some good food we’d be happy to sell or trade, but in the immediate area there is no market for it, since most of our neighbors either have plenty of good food of their own or, like many folks these days, aren’t interested in good food. Meanwhile there are plenty of people (at least for our purposes) in urban centers like Lexington who would love to have our food at a price we’d be thrilled to take—if only we could find them and arrange to get them the food.

This is something that Jerome Lange has been doing for the past twenty years, mainly by working with the Good Foods Coop in Lexington. He has also dealt more directly with customers at various times, through farmers’ markets and buying clubs and home deliveries, but over time has found that these are unstable and generally more trouble than they are worth (at least as long as he has a good steady buyer like Good Foods).

Still, there are some important advantages to dealing directly with customers rather than wholesaling to a grocery store. One obvious one is that you get to keep all the money, significant when the retail markup can run around 70%. Another is that in Kentucky if you are selling stuff you made from stuff you grew directly to customers, you can avoid many of the stringent requirements on food preparation that wholesale goods need to meet (e.g. many things don’t need to be prepared in a certified commercial kitchen). So while we are able to grow some things for sale to grocery stores, and could possibly make some other things to sell if we had access to a commercial kitchen, the opportunities to make a few dollars selling a few things increase tremendously if we are able to sell direct.

This is one reason I was checking out regional farmers’ markets last year. Although they are nominally attractive, there are a number of things about the idea in general and about specific markets near us that led us to decide not to go in that direction. For one thing, I know that Jerome worked various farmers’ markets for several years, no longer does so, and has said on numerous occasions that he wouldn’t go back to it, the main reason being that the ideal of a farmer-centered cooperative is inevitably compromised as they strive to become commercially successful (the explanation is long and I’ll save it for another time, but in short such markets become customer-driven in a bad way). For another, we have a friend who has been working farmers’ markets in the Lexington area for many years with only marginal success, for the same sorts of reasons that would also limit our own potential success there. And maybe most important, most successful farmers’ markets cater to a customer demographic that we earnestly want to avoid, the high-dollar impulse buyer for whom time at the market is as much an experience as an errand.

At the same time I read Samuel Fromartz’s book Organic, Inc., which devotes a chapter to a fellow in southeatern Pennsylvania who has gathered together about a dozen area farmers and created his own farmers’ market. Each Saturday he loads up three large trucks with their produce and drives them down to Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., to the parking lot of a private school where he sets up shop; he is open for business at 9am, and has sold his inventory by noon. What impressed me about his operation is that, because it is small and controlled by a single person rather than a collective, he is able to resist the pressure to cater to customer wants simply to make a buck, e.g. obtaining tomatoes from a random source simply because the customers expect tomatoes and he could make some extra money selling them.

At the same time I was doing occasional deliveries of produce to Lexington for Jerome. He delivers to Good Foods Market on Tuesdays and Fridays, but a delivery takes a good part of the day which he could spend more productively at home on the farm, especially during the peak of the season. I offered to help him out as needed, which worked out to taking the Tuesday deliveries. Because Jerome only has a passenger van, this made for some early mornings as I got up, drove the half-hour to his place, loaded boxes from the cooler into the van, and then tried to get to Lexington while it was still cool, usually arriving around 7am. In the process I learned a few things about handling produce, where to obtain it, and what a grocery store’s expectations were. This convinced me further that even though a grocery store could be a good customer, there were many advantages to be gained from finding a way to supply the customer directly.

In the next installment, I’ll explain how these various strands of thinking began to converge earlier this year.

Where they still make stuff

A fascinating series of photographs showing the state of Chinese manufacturing.

The photographer explains why the Chinese industrial complex is so formidable:

Taiwan said ‘we’re going to become the semi-conductor manufacturer for the world’ and now they ultimately produce 50 percent of the world’s semi-conductors; Japan said we’re going to make cars and electronics and they’ve become dominant in the world in those two fields.

The difference with China is that they have no such strategy, they’re just saying ‘wherever there’s money, we’re going to do it.’ They produce 90 percent of the world’s Christmas ornaments and they’re not Christians, they don’t even know what they’re for or what they represent, but they make them because we buy them. They don’t care what they’re making as long as we buy it.

Watching the crisis develop

I like it when someone uses actual numbers to assess received wisdom. Here is a clear and concise treatment of hybrid cars:

According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, fuel efficient electric-gasoline cars like the Toyota (TM) Prius and Honda (HMC) Civic have saved a grand total of 5.5 million barrels of oil over the past eight years. On the other hand, the U.S. was importing 8.5 million barrels of oil a day in 2003 to power cars and light trucks.

More important, U.S. oil consumption is currently 21 million barrels per day. In other words, eight years of hybrids gave us another six hours of breathing room.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for a solid treatment of how the tight interconnectedness of the global economy makes it susceptible to being thrown out of equilibrium. This article isn’t it, but it is one of the few I’ve run across which illustrates how one factor spinning out of control, namely inflation, can lead to cascading sequences of bad consequences:

The U.S. produces 11 billion bushels of corn a year. In 2005, 1.5 billion bushels were sequestered for ethanol production. This leapt to 2.3 billion bushels in 2006 and an estimated 3.3 billion bushels in 2007. The price of corn has risen. The Mexican diet is heavily tortilla-ized, especially at the lower income stratum. Riots scarred the early months of President Felipe Calderon’s term of office. He slapped price controls on tortillas. Borrowing from the book of Castro, Calderon warned, “We won’t tolerate monopolists and speculators.” His Cuban counterpart made more sense when he declaimed the “sinister idea of converting food into fuel.”

The little man is also exposed in the United States. Farmland and grazing land are being rotated to the highest-priced crop. Cows are no longer fashionable. Thus, domestic milk prices have risen 63% over the past year. According to Andy Lees at UBS in London, world milk prices have risen 60% over the past six months (measured by the price of skim milk powder, commonly used as the benchmark). The U.S. has no surplus milk powder. It had 2.7 billion pounds in storage in 1983; the last 27 million pounds were sold last year. European warehouses are empty. Other food prices are rising by double digits. (Most everyone knows the government trumpets a consumer price index that does not include food and energy. Less well known is the absence of commodities such as milk, eggs, butter, and cheese from the seasonally adjusted CPI number that does — purportedly — include food and energy.)

Overnight

Friday Chris and I left for an overnight trip down to northern Alabama, about five hours away. We were headed to our second Rollins wedding rehearsal dinner, this one to prepare for Timothy and Natalia’s wedding the next day.

One reader observed that the account of our last road trip was more focused on food than travel. Not one to mess with success, I’ll tell you about the food highlight of this trip, our visit to the Loveless Cafe in Nashville, first discovered in this Roadfood review. The Loveless family first began selling fried chicken dinners out the front door of their house, located on the Nashville end of the 450-mile Natchez Trace parkway (the other end being in Natchez, Mississippi). That was so successful that they converted their house to an eatery, and built a motor court, or motel, to surround it. The motel is long since defunct, used until recently for smoking their famous country hams, but the eatery continued to thrive, serving great home cooking that centered around amazing biscuits cooked from a secret recipe. The business changed hands a few years back and the restaurant has become more like a theme restaurant, but in a good way—the charm has been polished, and the food is still high quality if a bit pricey.

We arrived around 11:30am, were seated right away, studied the menu for a couple of minutes and placed our orders: fried chicken dinner for me, fried catfish for Chris. The waiter returned immediately with a plate of four biscuits, accompanied by three small containers of homemade preserves (peach, blackberry, strawberry). The biscuits were stunning, with the taste and texture of classic Southern biscuits, but better somehow—especially the texture, which had a sponginess that kept them from turning gummy in your mouth. I can’t guess how they do it. The preserves were also very good, especially the blackberry, with an earthy, almost musky overtone which had me returning again and again to it to decide whether I liked it (I did).

The dinners appeared at the table in record time; I don’t think we were in the restaurant for more than forty-five minutes, and yet we didn’t rush at all. The fried chicken was very good, nothing unique or special, just classic. Chris’ catfish was as good as frozen catfish gets (we’ve been spoiled over the years by usually having access to fresh catfish). The sides were good, except for my greens, which for unknown reasons were sweet; I generally don’t like sweet when it isn’t dessert. Towards the end the waiter offered a couple more biscuits, which we accepted, and that was dessert. But awhile down the road I slapped my forehead, finally remembering that the Loveless Cafe is also famous for its banana pudding, made with homemade vanilla wafers. Maybe next time.

We drove down to Alabama on US-31, the main thoroughfare before the interstate came along. It took us through quite a few interesting towns, including Spring Hill, where the Saturn plant is. I knew about Spring Hill because in its time the Saturn plant was a big deal for the nation, GM’s attempt to set up an operation outside of Detroit and the clutches of the auto unions. Many states were vying for the plant, and I remember being surprised that they plunked it in the middle of Tennessee, an hour south of the sleepy little city of Nashville. Well, Spring Hill is booming now, but I don’t think it was because of the Saturn plant—outside the core of the town, almost all the growth was less than a couple of years old. Nashville itself is booming, and the suburbs have finally made it as far south as Spring Hill, and suburbanites require a certains standard set of conveniences, all of which can be installed in a matter of months.

We arrived in Tim and Cindy Rollins’s backyard around 3pm, set up our instruments on their back porch, overlooking the cool and shady backyard where the dinner would be held. We visited and lounged and tried to stay out of the way as harder-working folk set up the facilities. Then around 4:30pm folks began to trickle in from the rehearsal, and we played while they visited and ate, then stopped awhile to visit and eat ourselves, then played for awhile as harder-working folk cleaned up after the festivities. The best part was, being at Tim and Cindy’s place, it was easy to spend the last part of the evening visiting with them. We finally left at some late hour and headed partway back to the motel where we were staying.

The next morning we had a choice facing us: breakfast in another one of our Nashville favorites, the Pancake Pantry, or back to the Loveless Cafe for more biscuits and to see what their breakfasts are like. The Loveless Cafe won, and we arrived around 8am, sat at almost the same table, attended by exactly the same waiter, who was surprised to see us again. I had a half-portion of country ham with eggs and hashbrown casserole, while Chris had biscuits and gravy with sausage patties. Again, the biscuits came out instantly, and the meals within three minutes. The ham was perfect, served with red-eye gravy (a mixture of coffee and ham drippings, interesting, nothing to die for), the eggs were well cooked, the hashbrown casserole tasted like you always hoped the hashbrown casserole at Cracker Barrel would taste. Chris was disappointed in his breakfast—not the biscuits, of course, but the cream gravy and sausage were good but nothing special. He wished he had ordered hashbrown casserole with it, so I was glad to give him most of mine.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. I’ve been to Nashville enough to know where the northernmost Starbucks is, so I stopped for a coffee and a bag of beans, and we drove home laughing along with NPR’s Car Talk.

Progress

I have no interest in the book being reviewed here, and I don’t particularly recommend the review itself. But the reviewer makes a claim that I think is true, namely that the industrial revolution was not merely a next step, but in fact a sea change for the direction of human society:

Just about everyone living today is the beneficiary of what can almost certainly be called the single most consequential development in human history — namely, the onset of industrialization. As the economic historian Angus Maddison has shown in a series of studies of economic development over the past two millennia, human economies grew very little, if at all, for most of human history. Between 1000 and 1820 or so, Maddison estimates, annual economic growth was around 0.05 percent a year — which meant that living standards improved incredibly slowly and that people living in 1800 were only mildly better off than people living in 1000. But sometime around 1820, that all began to change. Between 1820 and today, world per capita real income grew 20 times as fast as it did in the previous eight centuries.

In the West, above all, the effects of this transformation have been so massive as to be practically unfathomable. Real income, life expectancy, literacy and education rates, and food consumption have soared, while infant mortality, hours worked, and food prices have plummeted. And although the West has been the biggest beneficiary of these changes, the diffusion of technology, medicine, and agricultural techniques has meant that developing countries have enjoyed dramatic improvements in what the United Nations calls “human development indicators,” even if most of their citizens remain poor. One consequence of this is that people at a given income level today are likely to be healthier and to live longer than people at the same income level did 40 or 50 years ago.

Thinking about this fact always leaves me scratching my head about the overall arc of human history. What does such a shift mean? Some of the possibilities:

  • There is no arc. The shift from pre-industrial to industrial has no meaning outside of the fact that it happened. Something else equally momentous may (or may not) happen at some point down the road, and that will have no particular meaning either.

  • For some reason God chose to bless us in 1820, lifting us out of the miry clay of economic stagnation and setting us on an upwardly spiralling path where the blessings are pouring out at increasing speed.

  • For some reason God chose to exercise judgment on us in 1820, tiring of our increasing propensity to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, giving us over to our own vain imaginings, unclean lusts, vile affections, to a reprobate mind that celebrates curses as blessings.

I lean towards the third possibility, of course. But what does that say about the many, many material “blessings” that industrialization has brought to us? Are they all curses in disguise? Should we have simply turned our backs on them from the beginning? Or are they potential blessings, but ones we’ve turned into curses through our ignorant, ungrateful, and ungodly use of them? Could we have integrated them into a godly life if we’d taken it slower and proceeded more thoughtfully, with a clearer understanding of the effect they might have on the fabric of our lives?

And, more puzzling, why were the brakes of grace taken off in 1820 (or whatever date you want to assign to the Industrial Revolution)? Had we been on a path of increasing ungodliness which finally reached a point where judgment needed to be passed? Neil Postman claims that it was important that, after the invention of the printing press, nothing much in the way of technological advancement happened for a few hundred years, giving us enough breathing room to make a peaceful and thoughtful transition to being a print-based society. Many other technological innovations are placed similarly in history. Why suddenly was there an onslaught of innovation that we were increasingly ill-equipped to absorb?

Truck

Yesterday we bought a truck. It is a 1996 International, eighteen feet long, with a refrigeration unit. I’ll be using it primarily for hauling produce.

A lot of threads in our family life have converged on the purchase of this truck, and a lot of threads will be spun out as a result of buying it.

Usually I try not to talk much about projects until they are much more firmly established than this one, in an attempt to save my friends some useless reading and me some embarrassment. But this one is central enough to what we’re doing around here that I think I owe a detailed explanation to those of you who have been following our adventure and pondering the thinking behind it.

So I will be writing a series of posts about our plans for the near future and how the truck fits into them, even though some of those plans are in the very early stages. And I think the real value of telling this story as it develops is that it will be a very concrete example of how we reconcile the now and the not yet, the nuts and bolts of our family life as it stands today with the agrarian ideal we continually ponder and yearn for and strive toward.

One thing I will admit at the outset: I was born without the gene that gives men an affinity for powerful, forbidding machinery. My favorite car is the Honda Civic subcompact; I’ve owned two. Even our Honda Odyssey is a little larger than I’d like. When a couple of years ago a friend asked me how I liked our recently purchased Suburban, I offended him by saying that I hated driving it (although I’m very grateful for what it does for us). When I used that Suburban to haul a trailer to and from Tennessee to fetch our milk cows, I was very nervous and seriously considered adding a couple of hours to the trip just so I could drive interstate highways the entire time.

So I was not happy as I climbed into the truck to drive it home. Iit didn’t take me long to figure out how to center it in a lane, and that most of the road home was wide enough. About halfway home I stopped being nervous, although I never got totally comfortable. So the good news, I suppose, is that I will be able to use this truck to do the job that needs doing. But I doubt I will ever enjoy driving it.