Zulkoski: You can’t have rainbows without rain

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Zulkoski: You can’t have rainbows without rain

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 11:35am -- tim

[Modern] Dirt Farmer Wisdom This column is inspired by a book entitled Dirt Farmer Wisdom, by JoJo Jensen. I will often quote and reference this and other source material.

by Robert Zulkoski, Social Entrepreneur Although our lives might appear more complicated and convoluted than the lifestyles of fifty years ago, dirt farmer wisdom takes us back to our roots and brings us down to earth, gently guiding us toward a simpler, more satisfying life…the Vermont of our past which we stubbornly cling to as a comfort, which we can maintain even while we successfully adapt to the new digital age.

Dirt farmer wisdom is as useful and true today as it was in yester year.  And it will be tomorrow.  Lifestyles change, but genuine homespun common sense works every time.  In a world full of alienation, noise, and disruption, this wisdom conveys a healthy dose of reflective connection and comfort.

On my mother’s side, I come from a multi-generation farming family (Connecticut and Italy) and will attempt to explain today’s economic challenges, changes and opportunities in the form of old fashion dirt farmer wisdom having bridged that divide myself.  Farming reflects the cycle of life, and for this monthly column will be the metaphor for how newness springs forward, and ideas ripen into harvestable opportunity which can be enjoyed with a healthy dose of togetherness and kindness.

Few crops make it to the marketplace without unexpected hitches or a few broken stalks, and, you can't let a flat tire on your tractor or rough roads stop you when you have to get your harvest to the market.  Nor can we let the realization or fear of the myriad of changes happening around us deter us from happy, productive and improving lives.

By just about every measure, technology continues to shape the world around us in evermore interesting and sometimes unsettling ways.  The transformation of business and everyday life due to technology advancements remains a driving force across the economy, setting the stage for years of innovation, growth, and of course, a few surprises, fears and disenfranchisement.

If a cow laughed, would milk come out of her nose?

That question really had nothing to do with anything.  I just wanted to lighten things up a bit.

Technology has changed our lives and constantly reshapes the way we live it. Some of us love this change and some of us are frustrated with it. This is evident in the manner that most of us are guilty of being addicted to the internet and social media.

Nevertheless, we have seen some benefits of technology. Technology has created a whole new world and brought endless opportunities. Chores become easier and the workplace has become more efficient. We can get connected with people from different parts of the world. Of course, there are pros and cons that are associated with the way technology changed our lives.  But, there is no doubt that life has become easier with the use of technology. Technology is relevant in every area of our lives such as entertainment, medicine and even in our household.

This month’s column is not about technology, it’s about change, and why change should not be feared or held back, but rather embraced and molded. Growing the same crop in the same place for many years in a row disproportionately depletes the soil of certain nutrients.  The smart farmer rotates crops, growing a series of dissimilar or different types of crops in the same area both to keep the soil fresh and to reflect needs and wants of the ever-changing marketplace. Vision is what convinces the smart Vermont farmer to grow hops or hemp when everyone else in the valley is planting corn.  Inspirational innovation is the local maple syrup producer who created a collection of infused, smoked and barrel-aged maple syrups to transcend the commodity to an epicure’s premium product.

Welcoming hearts nudge open the gates to the garden of understanding.    My wife has always planted a specific variety of dahlias in her garden.  The blooms are abundant, the color spectacular.  She knows she can look forward to beautiful flowers all summer long.  But when she receives a catalog of plants, shrubs, and bulbs in the mail, and it shows the latest innovation in dahlias, she takes a look.  The new bulbs take a bit more care with watering and fertilizer.  But the flowers would be an amazing addition to her already kaleidoscopic garden.  Just because these new dahlias are a bit different, she doesn’t dismiss the idea of adding them to her garden offhand.  She opens her heart to the possibility of something new and colorful, then opens here mind to the information coming her way.

The current opportunity gap facing Vermonters is daunting, propelled by demographic, political, and economic trends over the past 40 years that are testing rural states like Vermont.  According to the Vermont Community Foundation (VCF): 46,000 WORKING FAMILIES IN VERMONT (NEARLY 1 IN 4) ARE NOT EARNING ENOUGH TO MAKE ENDS MEET; and, A VERMONT CHILD BORN IN THE BOTTOM 20% ECONOMIC BRACKET HAS NO BETTER THAN 1 IN 10 CHANCE OF ADVANCING TO THE TOP 20% IN THEIR LIFETIME.  For many Vermonters, getting ahead in life isn’t simply a matter of hard work – it’s about reimaging ourselves, what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Can you imagine a world with no such hypothetical situations?

Ok, that one was funny.


Robert Zulkoski is one of the founders of Vermont Works Management Company (www.vermontworks.co), who’s objective is to deliver capital, mentorship, and connectivity to Vermont’s innovation. Vermont Works’ goal is to ensure that Vermont is a full participant in the emerging, technology-enabled “new economy”. Vermont Works sees the dynamic changes sweeping the country and the globe as an achievable opportunity for Vermont to create large numbers of livable wage and sustainable jobs that help retain and attract talent and innovation, while staying true to the “Vermont Brand” and what it represents to the citizens of Vermont.  Mr. Zulkoski is also a founding shareholder and Director of Impact Investment of The Conduit (www.theconduit.com), which connects thinkers, leaders, and innovators in social change, business, and the arts to create impact for the greater good.