Lessons from the Blue Highways – Episode 2 – Stewardship

Adam Steele was looking forward to spending some time on Rt. 92, a blue-highway from his own past. Rather than spend an entire month driving, he would spend part of his time with a cousin’s family who invited him to spend time with them.

This was a much-anticipated trip, but it was also one that Adam was somewhat reluctant to take. Route 92 went through part of America that was known for its low economic status. Income levels were far below national averages. In fact, many people in the counties covered by Rt. 92 were not employed and not looking for jobs.

Adam arrived at his cousin’s home just in time for dinner. And what a dinner it was. It had been some time since he enjoyed such a meal, and it made him wonder why he no longer ate comfort food. When dinner was over, the few food scraps were gathered in a bucket. Then he and his cousin walked toward the barn. Along the way, his cousin dumped the cornhusks and potato peels in a compost pile while the food scraps were fed to their pigs.

On the way back, Adam and his cousin stopped by the garden to pick some vegetables for the next day. What intrigued Adam was the rusty buckets and cans by each plant. “That’s our irrigation system,” his cousin explained. “We poke holes in the bottom of the buckets. Then when it rains, the water accumulates in the bucket and slowly eases into the soil.”

When Adam woke the next day, he put on work clothes. He had promised his cousin that he would help with whatever needed to be done. What he was surprised to learn was that they would be helping a neighbor make hay. As his cousin explained, “We don’t work for another, we work for each other.” As Adam began to find out, the economy of the area was such an anomaly in the national economic picture.

What Adam didn’t understand was how the people in the area made money for buying the things they couldn’t grow, make, or share. He found out on the third day when his cousin’s wife announced: “You’re coming with us today. Be prepared for a thrill.”

As their “farm use” truck arrived at a flat field, Adam was amazed at the sea of trucks surrounding a pile of what looked like trash. The trash turned out to be a pile of discarded furniture, old appliances, broken ceramics, clothing, and other fabrics that no one wanted. “We have a deal with several trash haulers who send us stuff. It’s a good deal for them because it’s a lot cheaper than paying tipping fees. Each family has its own specialty of taking these items and repurposing them into something useful. All our children are also involved. One of our young people created a marvelous website where we feature our repurposed items. You wouldn’t believe the traffic we get simply through referrals.”

Adam didn’t ask how much income they generated, but one look at the prices convinced him it must be substantial. As the week ended, he began to reflect on what he had experienced. He summed it up in one word: Stewardship.

On his way home, he began to reflect on how he would interject stewardship into his company. They began as good stewards, but that ethos had disappeared as they had grown. He began to think of what it would take. His thoughts evolved into an active plan:

  • Attack waste in everything we do.
  • Minimize the footprint we leave on the environment.
  • Spend wisely as if it came out of your own pocket.
  • Adopt a cradle-to-grave mentality for everything we make.
  • Focus on sharing in all aspects of our work, our resources, and our know-how.

Adam then created a one-week stewardship experience for each of his senior managers to go to his cousin’s community to understand stewardship at the grassroots level.

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“We must strive to become good ancestors.” – Ralph Nader (consumer activist)


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