Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Lull and Money

We are now in the trough of activity here at the ranch. The firewood business won't begin until the middle of spring and we just finished the Christmas tree season. Wet weather, cold temperatures and lack of work, can make for a long winter. While the winter lull can weigh heavily on finances and spirits, this time of the year has great potential for innovation and creativity. Hunkering down indoors with a pen and paper and the internet, thoughts of new and exciting ventures spring forth. But what can we do now to ease those financial woes and lack of employ? Sure it is important to think ahead to next years Christmas tree season but that does not create fruit bearing work today.

During a session of inovative thinking money came to mind and not just making money but money itself. I was thinking about how it was broken down into small units. The concept is very basic and I wondered why I hadn't really thought of it before. The thought I had went like this: There are one hundred pennies in a dollar. One hundred dollars later and I have Ben Franklin in my hand. From there, the money grows. Like I said it is basic and just about everyone knows about it. After some thought about this matter I realized the reason why I hadn't thought of money in this way. Before returning home to the Hopkins Ranch I had been in the Air Force and money was never an issue. Every two weeks a nice fat check would go into my account automatically. Now that money is scarce and is earned the hard way, a penny has meaning. One hundred of them will make a dollar and from there the amount grows.

So what can we do when there is little work to be done to make money? One idea that we dabbled with was a co-op style snack shack called Hop's General Store. We were able to save several hundred dollars over a few months. Every week we would make a trip to Sams Club and buy junk food in bulk. The cost was roughly $90 each trip. We would then resell the items back to ourselves (those apart of the co-0p) for retail price. The pot at the end of the week would be about $120 or so. The cycle would then continue. The $30+/- of profit each week was stashed away (most of the time, it was coinage). This system seems a little redundant but it saved us money. For instance, we were going to spend that money on junk food anyhow. Either we spent that $120 at the local gorcery store or we spent $120 at Hop's General Store. The difference being that the actual cost for us was only $90 since we bought in bulk from Sams Club. The only reason we stopped was because the honor system never works even with the most honorable (at least when the honorable are poor and they have a bunch of junk food at their disposal).

As for me I will return to school and receive GI Bill benefits and federal grant money. Odd jobs and some firewood will keep me busy the rest of the time. Going back to school can be somewhat profitable. This is especially true for anyone that had been in the military after 9/11. I'm going to get back to "work."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Tree Season 2009

For over ten years now, we have been managing a large piece of property known as the Hart Property (named after former mayor of Fresno T.G. Hart) in the rugged Sierra Nevada's. The property is located above 8000' elevation near the border of Yosemite National Park. This property has been in our family for over one hundred years but it wasn't until recent times that we came to have a majority stake. The Silvertip Tree Farm was created once we began harvesting and selling Silvertip Christmas trees from our lot. Now that this season is drawing to a close, there is a time for reflection.

We started cutting the trees after the first of November. Our crew consisted of only family this year. Sometimes we hire a few extra men to do some packing and lifting. The weather was surprisingly stable with a few possible storms that never formed. With the weather cooperating, we were able to get all the trees down to our lot with ease. The trees were very fresh this year, having gotten plenty of rain and a little snow before we started cutting. I can't remember a year when they held there needles so well. We stocked our lot full and placed the trees in water to keep them fresh.

Thanksgiving day came and that meant one day before opening our lot to customers. This was the first year we made our trees available online. So not only were we scrambling to get our lot ready but we were also getting our online store up and running. The first online order we received was from Oregon. It was awesome to see one of our trees sell and be shipped to another state. Sales in the lot were modest throughout the season. We didn't get the anticipated rush that we were hoping for but nonetheless we did sell some trees. We are already looking forward to next years season and hope that it will be a good one.

This year was a good year for us. We took a few chances and made a little money. However, the numbers just don't add up when dealing with such a large piece of land. Property taxes will consume most of what we made this year. I am confident though looking ahead. The economy will improve and so will our sales. The Hart Property has been in the family for over a hundred years, there is no plan to see that change anytime soon.