Fresh & Local
What Should I Do with My Life?
Column #4, Published Oct 14, 2011

My wife Terry and I have been growing produce, flowers and berries part-time for about 20 years. The last 16 years I worked in the information technology division of a very large bank. Last winter, we decided this was the time for us to farm full-time. Shortly after we made the decision, a neighbor asked me, “Can you make a living doing that?”

That is actually an interesting question. The short answer is that we would not be doing this if we didn’t think we could make a living at it. In our case, we had a wholesaler who helped us make the jump to full-time. I’ll talk more about our situation and the role of wholesalers later. That is a story for another day.

Today’s story is about the people who have gotten into the locally grown food business. Our decision to go full-time started with Terry seeing a book in the Culpeper library titled, “What Should I Do with My Life” by Po Bronson. She checked it out, and it turned out to be a fascinating book.

Po Bronson was not any kind of expert on the subject. He was just a writer who was interested in how people made this decision. So he interviewed over 900 people who wrestled with the question. They were not famous people or extraordinary people. They were picked pretty much at random and from all kinds of backgrounds. They were not all success stories. In fact, some of the people he writes about in the book made horrible decisions.

But after interviewing all these people, he noticed that the people who ultimately found what they were looking for all had some common traits. Po Bronson comes to some surprising conclusions. I ended up buying my own copy of the book and it is now well worn with highlighting, notes and cross-references. The book is so unique that at least once or twice a day I find myself using a sentence that begins with, “Bronson says . . . .”

For example, Bronson says it is a really bad idea to tell yourself that you are going to work at a job to make money first and then someday do what you really love. He calls it the “lockbox fantasy.”

Why not get rich, then do your dream? When I started this book, I assumed I’d find numerous examples of that path. Surely . . . I’d find some who used their money to bankroll a successful run at the dream they always harbored. But I didn’t find any.

Bronson says that making money at a job you don’t enjoy changes you to the point that you won’t ever give up your “golden handcuffs” voluntarily.

Bronson also says that it makes a very big difference if a person’s motivation comes from the mind or from the heart. He calls intellectually motivated people “the Brilliant Masses” who do not live up to their potential. It is the people motivated by the heart who find their passion, significance and potential.

Last week’s column pointed out how many consumers are adopting a more continental-European importance to good food. The purpose of this column is to suggest that the local food growers, retailers and wholesalers are even more passionate about good food. You have to make a living, but these people are uniformly motivated from the heart by the love of good food.

There are a lot of interesting stories, and I will share some of them in upcoming columns.

Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at