When they descended the stairs in the morning, Dad and Mom were shocked to spot us seated at the same table Dad had left us at the night before. We hadn’t slept, and other than an hour-long walk, arrived back at the same table and had come to a number of decisions.
Mom poured coffee for the two of them and seated herself with a look of inquisitiveness written across her entire countenance. She looked at Dad, back at us, and finally confessed, “I have no idea what’s going on here. You two look like you could use some sleep.”
We were surprised to learn that Dad hadn’t spoken to Mom of our talk only a few hours previous.
“She was asleep by the time I went upstairs,” was all he said by way of explanation.
Finn grabbed my hand and started to speak. I placed my finger over his lips and motioned that this was up to me.
“Mom … Dad, we’ve decided that it’s time we seriously thought of getting engaged. College ends for me shortly and we both feel we’d like to take on management of the restaurant when you two are ready to retire.”
“Wha … what?” Mom murmured. “How did this come about? What prompted this decision? I had no idea … though I had my hopes.”
“Thank him,” Finn said with a smile, motioning to the man across the table.
“What?” she repeated. “What have you got to do with this? And how come you didn’t tell me?”
Dad looked at us with fake consternation on his face, as if to remind us that it’s tough to tell a person who’s sound asleep.”
Just then the phone rang and Dad sauntered over to grab it.
“Yes … Oh, hello, Aakriti. Nice to hear from you. What? Within the hour? Sure, Finn and Annie can handle the restaurant. Sure, upstairs on the balcony is fine. See you shortly. Oh, and have you eaten? Okay, I’ll put the coffee on. See you soon.”
He hung up the phone with an unsure hand as we watched him expectantly. He returned to his seat, then quickly got up and started preparing a cannister of coffee.
“Ever, what’s going on?” asked Mom, mildly alarmed.
“That was Aakriti. She’ll be here shortly with a team of people – six altogether, she said – and wants to spend the day with us to consider a proposal she has. She sounded pretty keen.”
Finn and I leapt up the stairs to get showered and prepare for the first round of customers, while Mom and Dad commiserated on what the visit could be about. Truthfully, no one had any idea, but we suspected it had something to do with Sky Reach perhaps collaborating with the Third Place. We were about to find out.
When they arrived with little fanfare, Aakriti made the introductions and Mom led everyone upstairs to the large balcony overseeing the side garden and brook – the same spot Alessandra had loved so much.
“Everton,” Aakriti began, “I’ve done little but think about the comments you made just prior to my departure a few days ago and I came to realize that you were right – Sky Reach, as it has been configured, is positioned to find further success, but with little effect on communities such as yours. In my heart, I couldn’t be convinced otherwise. We might provide better food, and at cheaper rates, but with cities down and out on their luck, especially with unemployment, perhaps there’s a way in which we can do things better, while still enjoying our financial success.”
“I’m intrigued,” was all Dad would say, leaving Aakriti and her team to flesh out a concept they had been working on.
“We’re willing to deploy resources in numerous communities across the United States and here in Canada that would invest in job creation, food incubation, aero or vertical farming, food transportation and storage capacities, and, of course, retail. But we need to start someplace and to partner with a community institution that can summon the various parts of this city together to stake out the new territory, to get buy-in, and to design a new future for our communities built on food models that are sustainable, affordable, and, above all, job creating. We will, of course, conscript the local farmers and growers in this region to become part of the process.
“We will incorporate LED lights to create a specific light recipe for each plant, giving the greens exactly the spectrum, intensity and frequency that they require for photosynthesis in the most energy-efficient way possible. This engineered lighting allows us to control size, shape, texture, colour, flavor, and nutrition with razor-sharp precision and increased productivity.”
A moment’s silence ensued as Dad and Mom considered the consequences.
One of Aakriti’s researchers from Mexico added, “Mr. and Mrs. Overton, our plant scientists monitor more than 130,000 data points every harvest. They are constantly reviewing, testing and improving our growing system using predictive analytics to create a superior and consistent result. With remote monitoring and controls in place, we have minimized the typical risks associated with traditional agriculture.”
“I … I’m sorry, but I don’t quite follow,” Mom responded, with a look of mild confusion on her face.
Aakriti smiled in turn. “It’s difficult at first, I know, but what Antonio and his team are experimenting with are central data bases that can control product as it grows around the world. All that can be monitored through our research labs in San Diego.”
“You mean that you can control the growing environment here from thousands of kilometers away?” Mom inquired further.
Dad didn’t seem fully convinced. “But for each community to have buy-in, would they not need to have a sense of local control over the product being produced right here?”
“I know … I know,” Aakriti said in acknowledgement. “But we have to prove that the growth process works and is properly monitored, at least until such a time as local technicians and growers catch up to the technology. Proper oversight can be turned over to local managers once we prove that we can make this product work in both our countries, and then eventually around the world.”
“The implications for places like Africa are astounding,” Antonio broke in. “But first we must prove that it can work here in order to attract further investment.”
I crept upstairs to listen in on the topic as best I could and managed to discern that my parents were slightly overwhelmed – something Aakriti also picked up on.
“Look Everton and Sally, this is something we can work up towards. But it’s all scalable; that’s the key thing. Everything with our farms in customizable. The systems are comprised of modules that serve as building blocks – like Lego – that can be stacked vertically or lengthwise. All of that permits us to grow in varied locations and achieve the best yields per square foot, no matter the configuration. And it can be done right within cities in ways that can regenerate local economies, simply because food is destined to become the key resource of the future.”
Finn and I brought up plenty of coffee and pastries, sitting down to listen in for a bit. There were questions followed by informed answers that went on for an hour more. Yet at one point, Aakriti looked at Dad, sensing a hesitancy.
“Everton, if you think that isn’t a good idea, I understand. It’s a big leap and there are no guarantees. But what we do have are plenty of resources to make the best go of it. I’m sensing you have some doubts about this. Is that correct?”
“Just one, but it’s a vital one,” he answered.
Everyone sat upright in their chairs, knowing that this was the crucial moment where things would proceed into the future or Aakriti and her team would head back to the airport with no misgivings that they had tried.
“I think what all of you have proposed, the work you have done, and your willingness to come here to explain it all means more to all of us that we can likely express. In fact, the more I think about it I’m sure it will achieve the success you’re looking for. And what it will do for communities like ours – well, you could be introducing us into days of civic renaissance.”
“So, what is the problem, then?” Antonio asked, a bit too urgently.
Dad looked at him and smiled. “Antonio, I’ve been around a long time – longer than you. Modern capitalism thinks in short spurts, mostly financial quarter to financial quarter, and seems ever restless, moving frequently to capitalize on investments. But that won’t work here. What we have lost here we have lost over decades. We remember a time when companies remained within their host communities, come rain or shine. What you have all proposed so brilliantly might only bring fleeting hope to our community and then disillusionment because of the lack of long-term commitment.?”
“We have no intention of going anywhere, Everton,” Aakriti responded warmly. This is a discussion we’ve had over the last few days and we’re committed to it – and to this community.”
“But that’s just it, Aakriti – that decision may not be yours. These days it’s up to shareholders – the majority of which I doubt have ever been to this place. They’ll provide the financing for this endeavour but will quickly enough move on to chase the next great idea for wealth generation, leaving us where we were.”
He was so intense in his words that he missed the smile spreading slowly across Aakriti’s face. When he did notice, Dad stopped abruptly and looked at her with an inquisitive stare.
“Everton, we’re a private company – always have been. My father helped put it together with investor friends from India, Pakistan and some American contacts. We flirted with the idea of a public share offering but turned it down for the exact reasons you express – to maintain control of our future. We were growing so fast anyway that there seemed little need of extra investment resources. It is a decision we haven’t regretted and I can assure you that if my board signs on to this arrangement when the time comes, it is our full intention to remain in the communities in which we are invested and perhaps building some local cooperatives around the initiatives. You need not fear that we will pull up roots and leave – unless the idea doesn’t work, of course, and then nothing can help us.”
In a poignant moment, Dad rose walked over to Aakriti and shook her hand. “You won’t fail, my friend. It just too smart a concept, too rooted in community life, and backed by some very committed people to fail. I … we, will work with you to make it happen and our city will be forever grateful.” He said this while looking back at us and then proceeded around the table to shake everyone’s hand.
Aakriti moved to Mom and gave her a hug. “There’s just one more condition,” she said, turning to look at Dad. “We’ll eventually need all of you to help guide us through the Canadian market, but for right now it will go best if you were to join our official board, Everton – starting immediately. As you say, it’s time to defy the present system of doing business and create new models for rebuilding our treasured communities. We have the resources and you have established the pattern and earned the trust, so let’s just make it work.”
Dad looked at Mom, then at us (Daisy had crept up to listen in, leaving the management of downstairs to staff), seeking approval. We all smiled and the deal was done.
What was about to happen would be a revolution.
Next chapter – Putting It All Together