At Union’s Applewood Farm, a lesson in listening

reposting from the Penobscot Bay Pilot:

Bill Packard
Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I’ve got a friend and business associate named Joel whom many people would dismiss as just a simple farmer. I buy manure and hay from him for my business and we get eggs for the house. Joel and his wife, Sally, work hard on their farm, but they really enjoy what they do. It’s great to go there in the spring and watch the calves trot along behind their moms and see the other spring beginnings that happen on a farm.

There’s way more to Joel and Sally than many realize. They understand how local decisions can impact their lives and they speak out when they don’t agree. That’s pretty basic American stuff, but few people can say that they have done it. There is something about Joel and Sally that I find very interesting and also lost on a lot of people these days. They listen.

More and more as politics get heated and people get really involved, they forget to listen. I look at some folks and listen to them and realize that there is no sense getting into any kind of debate with them, because their mind is made up. Kind of like the saying: “Don’t try to confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up!” Joel and Sally aren’t like that. They listen. Now let me get one thing straight right here. I’m not saying they don’t have opinions or take a position. They certainly have strong views about things, but listening to others is very important to them to understand other positions and respecting those positions if they deserve it.

Joel tells a story about a woman who came by the farm questioning all they did. She wanted to know about the feed and conditions and how they dealt with the animals when it was time for slaughter and she thought she knew all the “right” ways to farm. After answering her questions and listening to her concerns, Joel shared reality with her. If she wanted to put pressure on his already marginal farming operation, which he and his wife did out of love for it, not monetary wealth, he would turn the valuable property into expensive house lots and he and his bride would move to a comfortable climate with the profits and this lady would win the battle over proper farming operations. The lady in question listened to what Joel said and became interested in buying some manure from this well-run farm for her gardens and when it all ended, both had learned something from the other.

This is what seems to be missing in many of today’s discussions. One side is talking but the other side is not listening. It’s fine to disagree. There is nothing wrong with that. Disagreeing while being disagreeable is a real problem and I think a lot of that comes from not listening. There are many people who will tell you that I’m opinionated and set in my ways, etc. Guilty as charged. The older I get, the more I realize that many things don’t change and it’s easy to predict the outcome in a lot of situations. But I do listen. I do want to hear the other side of the argument. I believe that I should take in all that’s said politely and may or may not share my point of view on the issue. If its politics, more and more I just let it go because so many people have become so closed minded about things that they just shut down and don’t want to listen. I think that’s sad and I think it’s sending the country in a direction that is not healthy.

Once you decide that your mind is made up, you close your mind to new ideas and opportunities. You put people into categories because of their past beliefs and decide whether you will agree or not, even before you hear what they have to say.

Things don’t work that way at Joel and Sally’s farm. If you go over there on Payson Road in Union to buy some eggs or beef or hay, or manure, open your mind and listen to the conversation. You could learn a lot. Or, if you prefer, just leave the money in the box at the bottom of the refriderator in the garage, take your eggs and leave. Better still if you have that kind of attitude, buy your eggs someplace else.


Bill Packard lives in Union and is the founder of  He is a speaker, author, small business coach and consultant. 

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