I'll be honest, when I received an email last fall from National FFA at the tail end of my prep period saying a free copy was being sent to every chapter regarding the fight against hunger, without paying much attention to who the book was written by, as the electronic note added to the 14,997 other ones stockpiled in my inbox (don't tell my technology director), I didn't give it much thought.
And when my copy of '40 Chances' arrived, it looked reminiscent of a trendy Malcolm Gladwell cover, with a nice-short-catchy-title-on-a-stark-white background, and an author's name under the author's name - a sure sign they needed a person recognizable on book to sell it, and a name under that to actually write it, right?
But it had actually only sat a couple days when I saw a mention here on CoP about the meaning behind the title - a farmer only has forty chances in their lifetime to get it 'right;' only forty tries of planting, growing, managing and harvesting crops to achieve their best result. And I was intrigued.
So in December, I read it. Quickly. And you should to.
A closer inspection revealed this is truly Howard G. Buffett's book - and the name under his name in his son Howard W. Buffett, not an assisting nameless author. And quite frankly, these gentlemen know what they are talking about. Beyond the simple and brilliant premise of 'forty chances' and how it applies to the great work he and his family are engaged in with their lives, the even more engaging and complex concept of sustainable agriculture is examined at length, and how we can indeed feed the world.
It is clear that Mr. Buffett is an agriculturalist and has the heart and influence of an agricultural educator on a grand scale - passionate about his industry and intent to help others realize the purposes and practices in which we can truly and sustainably feed the world. The more I read the more I appreciated the great work his foundation and others are doing in realistically accepting the hunger challenge on a global scale - while recognizing our own challenges at home - with practical and tested methods.
There are a hundred lesson plans in this book, wrapped up in the Buffetts' forty stories. From the global challenges to differing cultures, around inquiry-based approaches to solutions and problem solving or the concepts of organic and genetically modified crops, or the leadership lessons found in his journeys, the applications to our agricultural science classrooms and FFA chapters from this collection of valuable experiences seemed to be written for our profession. While I'm sure every person would gain great insight from reading this, as an ag teacher I was continually blown away by how many times I realized how perfectly it fit with what we try to do every day.
How are you using your chances? As educators, we have forty at best and most likely less to make the most of it. I'm already into number seven - the perspective I've gained about what I'm doing this year, this month, or even this week really emphasizes the importance of the today. And just like that one pass on the tractor through the field in that one day affects the whole year's crop - and that farmer' chance - the lesson we taught this morning was our one chance to create knowledge, understanding, and application in our students' minds this year; we may not teach that lesson or unit again until 12 months from now. And for those students in our class today - maybe they will experience it never again. Now how well are you using your chances? No pressure.
I hope Mr. Buffett uses every chance to get another person to take a ride in his combine, understand the importance and complexity of today's agriculture, and become another advocate to help in the virtuous and vital mission of feeding the world. I am hopeful of our chances, and I didn't even need to make a pass around the field to be on board. But that is one combine ride I most certainly wouldn't pass up.
May your rows be straight and the rains timely, sir. And let us all continue to help every person understand the importance and purpose of agriculture.
READER RESPONSE: How are you using your chances to best influence the public and your students?