Volume 6, Number 17 August 14, 2003
On the Road Again
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad
First of all let me apologize for the absence of new articles in the Farmer Newsletter. It is very difficult to grow crops, harvest them and then drive them across country.
From the end of June through July I have personally taken produce to Cincinnati (Oh), Atlanta (GA), Columbus (GA), Macon (GA), Montgomery (Al), Charlotte (NC), Greensboro (NC), Winston-Salem (NC), Richmond (VA), Washington (DC), Baltimore (MD), Newark (NJ), Cleveland (Oh) and New York City. My wife and I have entertained visitors who came to the farm and picked up their produce from Columbia (SC), Jacksonville (Fl), Tallahassee (Fl), Newark (NJ), Atlanta (GA) and Detroit (MI). Newark and Detroit came on tour buses. Detroit brought the Muhammad University of Islam students and supporters, while Newark brought the Junior Fruit of Islam and guests.
We have transported watermelons, squash, okra and sweet corn. Over this month and a half time period we logged over 15,000 miles on our new Isuzu refrigerated truck. Some of these trips took over 20 hours one-way.
Why did we do it? We had no choice. Our first tractor trailer sized shipment was to be to Newark near the end of June. We thought we had an independent trucker lined up to move our melons to Newark. However, when I returned from delivering produce to Cincinnati, I learned on the Tuesday before the weekend of the planned delivery, that the first trucker could not do it. Therefore, I consulted another trucker on that same day. Initially he said that he would be glad to do it, but then called me back the next day saying that he did not have adequate licensing to go into New Jersey. Washington, DC was the closest that he could get to Newark.
Okay, I consulted another trucker on Wednesday who said that he could make the trip but could not do it for $1 per mile that we had quoted Newark. Okay, then I agreed to pay $1.30 per mile. This moved the transportation cost from $1050 to $1450. To cover the extra transportation costs I called Mosques on the route up to Newark from the farm to see if collectively they could purchase another 300 melons so that I could cover the extra transportation costs without increasing the wholesale price of the melons or reducing our returns here at the farm.
Okay, I got a bite from Washington, DC and Greensboro, NC who said that it was short notice but they could do it. Now this was Thursday and we had already picked about 800 melons. I had hoped to pick the other 200 melons on Friday and have my workers come in early Saturday morning to load the truck so that it could get to Newark by the designated time on Sunday afternoon. But now we had to pick 500 hundred instead of 200.
We had over 300 picked and under the shed before a massive rainstorm hit and there was no way to keep picking. I let the workers go home. However, the storm soon subsided and I figured out another way to get into the wet field and get the remaining melons out. (All Praises are due to Allah) However, I had to pick the last melons by myself.
When I finally got back to the house, it was past dark, but I had not heard from the trucker as to what time he would be at the farm on Saturday morning. I finally reached him and then he tells me at 11:30 P.M. on Friday night that he did not have a trailer that he could pull to Newark. The melon purchaser in Newark had already sent a deposit for the shipment, so I wanted to "make my word bond".
I decided that I would get back in touch with the trucker who could only go to Washington, DC. I figured that what I would do was to get him to drop some melons off in Greensboro and the rest in DC. I would follow him up with our truck which could only haul about 500 melons and use it to shuttle melons from DC to Newark.
So I called this brother up and advised him of my plans and to see if he could now take the melons to DC. He said that he could not do it because he had a problem with his trailer. I kept my cool and asked him if he knew of anyone else that I could call to get my melons shipped. He gave me the number to another trucker. I called this brother and he first said that he could do it and he would call me back.
I tried to get some sleep but woke up about 2:30 Saturday morning realizing that I had not heard anything from the trucker. I called him back and he then tells me that he could not do it. What? I thought. However, I kept my cool and lay on my couch and thought. What I decided to do was drive to Newark myself and take 500 melons then go back later with the next 500. The trip to Newark was 20 hours including a 3 hour rest that I took on the way up.
I turned around from that trip and was back in the fields picking by Tuesday morning, then drove to Greensboro Wednesday night to deliver the 300 melons that they had ordered. The following Saturday I drove back up to New Jersey with another 500 melons. From then on I decided not to depend on independent truckers.
In my soliciting their services I had made a tactical error in telling them that we would be shipping melons in bulk instead of in bins. Bulk shipment of melons requires that you hand load and unload each melon. With bins you load up each bin then forklift it into the trailer. When you get to the drop point, another forklift is used to get the melons out and put them in the warehouse. Using this process saves a lot of time for the trucker, because he does not have to wait on a team to arrive. Even with a team of men there, it would take at least 2 hours to load, then 2 hours to unload a full shipment of melons. Using the bins and forklift, it could take as little as 30 minutes. Time is money and the trucker wants to move on to his next load as soon as possible. Plus with bulk handling he has to worry about the straw that you have to put in to cushion the melons, which you do not need for the bins.
Well you might say, why donít we use these bins? Well we do. However, when we get to our destination at a Mosque or Study Group or a small co-op, they do not have a forklift to get the bins out of the truck. Therefore they must dig up a crew to unload the trucks by hand.
What I am trying to present to you, is that we do not have the infrastructure in place in our cities to handle a tractor trailer load of anything. We do not have refrigerated warehouses, we do not have any type of warehouses, we do not have forklifts, we do not even have a dock that the trailer can be backed up to that would make it possible for a hydraulic hand jack to lift and roll the bins out to our platforms. In other words we are so far behind that we can not even be helped. Therefore I decided to put the strain on myself of moving the produce until we are ready to participate in modern agribusiness.