By LauraLee Rose, Missouri Enterprise Communications Project Manager & Six Sigma Black Belt
I’m a carnivore, or whatever the opposite of a vegetarian is. I don’t eat vegetables, with one or two exceptions: green beans out of my garden and sweet corn out of my daddy’s field. I have been overwhelmed with both in the last 24 hours.
First, the green beans. It’s the only thing we plant in our garden, and it has to be Contender variety. In the past several years, we have had to sacrifice as many as half our beans to the deer—we live in the boonies, and see deer in the back yard often. This year, we put a three-strand electric fence around the garden, and I’m happy to report that the deer haven’t touched a bean plant. My father uses the same method to keep the raccoons out of the corn patch, quite successfully. But more about that later.
I get up early to pick beans, not because I’m particularly energetic, but because the garden is in the shade in the early morning hours. And it’s hot in July in mid-Missouri. My Spotify is playing everything from “Don’t Mess with my Toot Toot” (I can’t make this up) to the theme from Deliverance. Being the manufacturing nerd that I am, I have what could be considered abnormal thoughts as I pick beans.
(Caption: Green beans from LauraLee's farm)
First, I wonder how the machine works that picks green beans commercially. I grew up on a farm, and I was fascinated when riding in the combine watching the corn or beans roll in the front, and appear behind the driver’s seat as grain, as the leaves, stalks, and cobs were thrown out the back of the massive machine. As I comb through each bean plant, I wonder what mechanism could strip the beans. I assume that, unlike me, the bean harvester cannot discern between those beans that aren’t ready to pick yet, and those that are. I also assume that the bean plants have been bred to all be ready to harvest at the same time.
Then, I begin to ponder how the beans are snapped—the ends broken off and broken into pieces with a satisfying “snap” sound. I’m sure they’re cut, but how? French style green beans present an even bigger challenge. I’ve been in enough food processing plants that I understand the canning process, which isn’t that dissimilar to what I do with my pressure cooker, albeit on a smaller scale.
So then, my mind drifts to statistics (I’m weird, I know) and I began thinking about Vilfredo Pareto, for whom the Pareto principle is named. If you don’t know about this guy with the great rhyming name, he was an Italian economist who was the original one-percenter. He noticed that the 80/20, or Pareto Principle, held true for wealth, in that 20% of the people controlled 80% of the wealth. He also noticed this same rule in nature, as 20% of the pea plants in his garden produced 80% of the peas he harvested. Guess what? The same is true in my bean garden! Crazy, right? It’s like Pareto was watching my garden! I got 80% of the beans in my bucket from about 20% of the plants that were just going crazy. There were some bean plants on one end of the garden that weren’t doing squat!
Now, the sidebar about the corn. We spent the better part of yesterday morning harvest sweet corn from the 12 rows my father plants beside his farm house. He faithfully waters it, plants a variety that won’t be susceptible to the herbicides that are sprayed on the soybeans in the same field, and has a two-strand electric fence around it to keep the raccoons out. It was beautiful and so delicious.
I brought a full 50-pound feed sack home to take to my daughter Kaylee Paredes today. She was going to share it with her friends and other family in Kansas City, and was looking forward to putting some in her freezer. I even had saved some for my co-worker Amy Susan. The sack was left in our garage overnight, and this morning we woke up to true carnage. A raccoon had come through the doggie door of the garage (we no longer have a dog or a cat), and ravaged the entire sack of corn, leaving a trail through the garage and back outside. For months this corn was protected by electric fence. In just one night, all that diligence was erased by one stupid raccoon who was reaping the benefits of the 20%.
Because I work with manufacturing companies for Missouri Enterprise, and try to help them find their problems, and eliminate them (like hungry raccoons), and teach Six Sigma where we practice using Pareto charts to determine which 20% of the problems are causing 80% of the pain, I may think a little differently when I’m gardening. If you know how green beans are harvested and cut, let me know. If you have some hungry raccoons in your life, drop me a line as well.