Talking Business

Alfred drains the last drops of his beer and calls Rebecca over to the table in the back corner of L & L pub. “Well, Edward, I am doing just fine at the Burbanks’ farms. Everything is growing. My problem now is that I need a refill.”

The only remaining customers are at the bar. L & L has quietened down since I arrived. A few hangers-on talk about the rains and the cold effecting crops at the bar. The fire in the middle of the wall next to our table burns softly. Rebecca glides over to our table. “Yes, gentlemen, looks like you need another round.”

My eyes stay on Alfred. He keeps saying that everything is fine. Maybe in some ways things are fine. His answers sound forced though. They sound like the automatic answers that he would give anyone.

Alfred smiles at Rebecca. “Right on. We would like another round. Would you, please, put this one on my tab? My friend here has been traveling around. He’s thirsty and out of money, I’m sure.” Alfred winks at me. Rebecca goes off to get our drinks.

Alfred focuses back on me. “So, about these farmers – you say that there is not a single woman in the group?”

I nod. “That’s right. The group is all men. They rotate job assignments. Everyone works all tasks at different times of the year.” I slouch in my chair a bit. Alfred still looks uncomfortable talking about his work. Maybe he will warm up in a bit.

Alfred shakes his head. “I don’t understand. I get the sense that there are a lot of people there. How do they grow if they do not have generations?”

I look at the table and blink for a moment. “People just show up. Others learn of the community, somehow. They don’t really promote themselves. Some heard a rumor about the community and came to investigate. Others had a friend that joined and came to visit the friend. Another group sounded like travellers who stumbled upon the community. All of these just never left.”

Rebecca returns. “Here are your drinks. Enjoy, guys.”

We thank Rebecca. Alfred raises an eyebrow in my direction. “They must be trading the produce of the farms then. I mean that’s how Joseph and Catherine Burbanks attract people to their farms. Folks must hear of the farms you visited that way.”

I shake my head. “No, I’m telling you. The farm is entirely self-sufficient. They grow what they need. Then, they prepare what they grow. No outside dealings that I can see. But you say Joseph and Catherine’s farms are getting bigger?”

Alfred shrugs. “Hang on. I am still trying to understand how this works. This farm you visited expands their operations and stays in existence just by people showing up? How does that work?”

I laugh. Alfred may not even be hearing my questions at the moment. “All I saw was a group of men. They told me their stories of wandering up and staying. None of them mentioned hearing about the community at a market. The leader said they grow what they eat. That is the extent of their work. They are simply sustaining themselves.”

Alfred narrows his eyes. “Okay, the group collects men. These men communicate with their families. Word about the community then spreads that way. They get people interested by people reporting what happened to brothers and friends.”

I nod. “That does seem like a good appraisal. I noticed each man had a general stack of letters in his room. I suppose that enough happy letters back home might draw others who are discontented with their lives.”

Alfred shrugs. “Maybe. It seems like an odd way to run a business. I don’t think Joseph and Catherine would have grown as quickly without the trade deals. That seems to be where a lot of our outsiders come from. They see our produce at market, and they come to see who grows such stuff.” Alfred rolls his lips together and glances from side to side.

Maybe Alfred is worried about other people hearing what he might say about the Burbanks’ farms. I don’t imagine the couple guys at the bar even care. Ralph and Rebecca certainly aren’t going to repeat anything. Still, I could understand him being slow to speak about the farms. He might have some negative things to say. The situation at the farms could pressure him to keep his mouth shut. I wonder what would explain such conditions. Still, I am glad the farms sound like they are doing well.

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