Young entrepreneurs

Farm Forum

My wife and I were recently motoring through a small town when we saw some little kids at a sidewalk stand that featured a hand-lettered sign that read “lemonade.”

“Look!” cooed my wife. “Aren’t they cute?”

“I’m glad to see that the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well,” I replied. “But what’s up with that lady sitting on the nearby lawn chair?”

“That’s probably the kids’ mom, keeping an eye on them.”

“Couldn’t she also be a metaphor for Big Government? An all-seeing, all-knowing entity that’s constantly hovering in the background? What message does that send to those budding young businesspersons?”

“Don’t be silly, it’s just their mom! Let’s stop and buy some lemonade.”

“But I’m not thirsty. And if I’m not thirsty, wouldn’t my purchase be an unearned subsidy? Wouldn’t such a handout slow the munchkins’ progress on their path to billionairehood?”

My wife had no answer. As is often the case when faced with my irrefutable logic, she simply shook her head and rolled her eyes. There are times when my logic is so irrefutable, I fear that she may strain an eye muscle or dislocate her neck.

It warms my heart to know that there are still youngsters who are willing to spend their summertime vacations leaping feet-first into the deep end of capitalism, plunging into the soothing waters of synergistic market integration. It reminds me of how I launched my first business the summer when I was six.

Like any good businessman, I first had to determine that there was an unfulfilled need for a good or service. A service that was sorely needed at our farm was pocket gopher control.

Pocket gophers are bulldozer-like subterranean rats. It’s easy to tell where a pocket gopher has set up housekeeping due to the large mound of excavated soil that forms its front porch. They’re industrious little varmints and are never satisfied with having only one porch.

Dad’s alfalfa field was heavily infested with pocket gophers, their vast cities of dirt mounds stretching to the far horizon. You couldn’t set foot without tripping over a pocket gopher condominium. The field was so rough, driving across it with farm equipment was like riding in a paint shaker.

Dad complained to me about the situation, mentioning that he would pay twenty-five cents for every gopher eliminated from his alfalfa field. My entrepreneurial ears perked up, but alas! I had no gopher traps and no means to obtain any. Plus I had zero knowledge regarding the art of gopher trapping. Dad solved this dilemma by offering to buy traps and give me a crash course on gopher lore.

Pocket gophers aren’t exactly the Einsteins of the animal world, so trapping them isn’t exactly rocket science. Which was fortunate because, like most six year old boys, I had scant patience for details.

My sister Di, who is two years older than me, got wind of my budding venture and offered to be bookkeeper in exchange for half the profits. I jumped at the deal, mainly because it meant that I wouldn’t have to track such things as FICA withholdings or depreciation schedules or IRA contributions.

Each sunup, Di and I would trek out to the alfalfa field to check the traps. Sometimes a trap would be empty yet sprung, proving that while many pocket gophers aren’t exactly Einsteins, some were smarter than me.

We managed to catch a fair number of the flea-bitten burrowers. Thrift was always encouraged at our farm, so the deceased rodents were taken home and tossed to our herd of barn cats. One particular tomcat claimed the lion’s share of the windfall and became quite rotund. We began to call him Fat Cat, not realizing that we were coining a catchphrase that would reverberate throughout our culture to this very day.

Di kept a ledger that detailed how many gophers we had caught and, most importantly, whether or not we had been paid. I would have skipped this crucial fiduciary duty due to the fact that first grade arithmetic hadn’t covered the topic of spreadsheets.

Thanks to Di’s accounting acumen, we might each net as much as twelve and a half cents per day. But there were also days when profit margins were quite slim.

Our enterprise became a success without any help from anyone. Other than the free traps. And the free food and lodging. And the non-compete clause that kept rival trappers away from our alfalfa field.

As we passed the kids’ lemonade stand, I mused, “I wish those youngsters luck. But I bet their business would really take off if they added ‘and gopher trapping’ to their sign.”

If you’d like to contact Jerry to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can e-mail him at: