A Secret Among Friends

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Story © 2008 by QiN-Friend
Photographs © 2003
by G. L. Reinhart and Conard Petersen
Quakers, sometimes known as ‘Friends’, have a 350-year history in the ‘growing sciences’ of botany and horticulture. They are also well known for ethical and successful business practices. The intersection between the business and horticultural sides of Friends’ lives is an important part of the ‘secret’ to these misunderstood people.
Just who are Quakers? Many know about the Quakers by hearing about Friends schools, famous businesses and progressive social causes. But little is known about individuals in this quiet Faith.
The founders of American Botany, John Bartram and his son, William, both Quakers, traveled over almost the entire country east of the Mississippi before 1800. They collected and cataloged tens of thousands of native species and collaborated with Linneaus, the famous Swedish Botanist.
Many have also heard of well-known businesses without knowing they were founded by Quakers. These include Macy’s, Price Waterhouse, J. Walter Thompson, Bethlehem Steel, Strawbridge and Clothier, Cadbury Chocolate, Lloyds and Barclays banks, and Wedgwood china.
The Religious Society of Friends has no affiliation with the original Quaker Oats Company or the current Quaker Food and Beverage Corporation, a subsidiary of Pepsico, Inc. The trade name ‘Quaker Oats’, was adopted by an incorporation of non-Quaker oat millers in 1901 to insinuate pure quality in the product, in the way that true Quaker businesses were historically famous.

© 2003 Glenn L. Reinhart
The Hicks Nurseries, Inc. held its 150th Anniversary Reunion
in July 2003 by inviting anyone whose current family works or worked, or whose ancestral family worked for the Hicks.

Alfred Hicks, a member of Westbury Meeting in Long Island, NY, was the patriarch of the Hicks Nurseries, Inc until he passed away in 2004. ‘Fred’ was interested in social causes in addition to his business interests. He said,
“The influence of the Quakers has always far exceeded their numbers. The work of the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee), is[was] one of the few organizations that really works[worked] to help achieve peace in the world, rather than just putting on a bandage.”
Why do so few in number have a subtle, but disproportionate influence on the world? Characteristics of Quaker horticultural businesses mirror the Quaker religious business model, and include an emphasis on decentralized small businesses, a disinterest in short-lived trends, and a reticence for individual or group self-promotion.

The Quaker Business Ethic
To begin to understand horticultural Friends in business, one must know that these humble people first set out to do ‘good’ and many times have done ‘well’ as a result. Quakers do, what is ‘right’, first and foremost, even if there are potential negative consequences to the Friend.
The phrase ‘Its just business’ doesn’t exist in Friends’ minds. Ask any Quaker businessperson what they value the most, and most times you’ll hear about the ‘Golden Rule’. “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” (Confucius) or "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:31). as the foundation on which they build their businesses. This concept of trust, or ‘answering that of God’ or ‘the good’, in each person carries on the tradition that Quakers have emphasized for generations. In this respect Alfred Hicks said:
“Once in awhile you get taken, but you have to have the idea that most of the people you are dealing with are good. If you treat people the way you would want to be treated, and give them the benefit of any doubt, they will reward you many times over.”
A Quaker spiritual belief is that all people are equal in the eyes of God. This is a very important belief that defines how Quakers treat others.

The Secret of Quaker Business Success
Quaker businessmen in England, like the Chocolate maker Rowntree (now part of Nestlé), were the first to ameliorate the harsh working conditions of their workers on a large scale during the Industrial Revolution.
Quakers became well-known as honest and innovative business people. In England and in the U.S., Quakers embraced a single price for an item (instead of haggling) and were able to operate banks on their impeccable integrity. Since everyone is equal in the eyes of God, everyone pays the same price.
Oh yes, the secret of Quaker business success is: its not a secret. A Quaker business plan can be outlined in three common-sense elements: Personal Service, Innovation and Integrity.

Customer Service
Louis ‘Bud’ Rockwell manages Rockwell Orchards in eastern Ohio with his brother Bob. The Rockwell's philosophy reflects most other Quaker business’ philosophy, answering ‘the good’ or ‘that of God’ in others. Bud says:
“We treat customers as fairly as we’d like to be treated ourselves, and this policy is reliable and returns us customers. We try to make right on any complaint. We never question anyone or try to decide if someone has a legitimate gripe or not.”
Alfred Hicks transformed Hicks Nurseries from a contract tree and plant service to a retail outlet in the early 1970’s as Long Island developed into a suburban community. Hicks Nurseries now has 125 employees and more customers than ever.
Hicks includes ‘personal service’ as one of the reasons for the company’s success. This reflects one of the most basic of Quaker testimonies, which reminds Friends to answer ‘that of God’ in every person. ‘That of God’, also known as the ‘Seed’, can be cultivated with the right conditions (worship and education), and grow in the ‘Light’ (as in the Gospel of John), and blossom. This ‘Friendly’ analogy with the growth of plants is a contradiction to the Calvinist belief that people are inherently bad, and must constantly suppress their sinful desires. Believing in the good in others and doing good for others is as natural for Quakers as a knowing how a flower grows from a seed.
© 2003 Glenn L. Reinhart
When asked ‘if customers know about him as a Quaker’, Tom Wolfe, President of Smile Herb, an herb distributor and retail store proprietor near Washington, DC says,
“Some customers know I’m a Friend, especially the African-American customers who relate to the Quaker participation in the Underground Railroad. Others simply relate to the well-known historical Quaker peacefulness and non-violence. “

The Friends have long been known as technical innovators of useful products. They have been tireless experimenters to achieve this success. This spirit extends to fruit producing horticulture, where Friends seek out new ways to improve on current methods. Conard Petersen, an Evangelical Friend and a pear grower in Washington State says,
“Ever since Jesse Hiatt, a horticulturist and Quaker from Illinois pruned back the Yellow Bell Flower and created the ‘Delicious’ Apple, the Friends have had an important role in the evolution of orchards”.
The horticulturist Bartrams of the 18th Century sent many of their plant cuttings, and documentation to their Quaker correspondents in London for cataloging and pharmaceutical use. This cooperation between Friends in the colonies and Friends in England was known as the ‘Transatlantic Circle of Natural Science’.
The plant hybridization that went on in the 18th century continued in the 19th century with none other than the Hicks family of Long Island.
From the Hicks Nurseries website, one reads the story of the Hicks family dynasty:
“The Hicks family started farming on Long Island as early as the late 1600s, but it was in 1853 that the business currently called Hicks Nurseries, Inc., had its beginnings. …Henry (Hicks) was a premier botanist, the first college trained horticulturist in the family business.After receiving his degree from the New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell, Henry Hicks, returned to Westbury where he specialized in studying the suitability of new plants from Europe and Asia for the Long Island environment. He kept up a wide correspondence with the leading horticulturists of the day.”
Another Quaker horticulturist and orchard grower was asked about his experimental orientation to increase his harvest. Louis ‘Bud’ Rockwell, of Barnesville, OH, a Pomologist, trained at Wilmington College (a Quaker College) and Cornell University (a college founded by a Quaker), says,
“The natural sciences are self evident, …The natural growing process is amazing in itself. It’s always trial and error for us to develop a tree to carry its fruit properly, and for the fruit to size and color properly. Horticulturists at the university level are continually studying maximizing the area of leaf surface available to the sun in order to shape the tree for maximum harvest of fruit.”
David Rickerman of Landesberg, PA is a Certified Arborist and a Quaker who, like Bud Rockwell of Eastern Ohio, studied horticulture at Wilmington College, in Southwestern Ohio. Regarding Quaker ingenuity, Mr. Rickerman says,
“I’m on the cutting edge of how tree work is done. I do things that nationally recognized speakers don’t know about and I hope to share most of my technology with the general public, since it won’t necessarily hurt me in my local business. I see it as beneficial to all to contribute my technology.
My tree technology, including how to scale tall trees faster and safer, allows me to serve clients better at less at expense. I can then take care of my workers better. My strongest feeling in customer service is ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. The better I put my offering together, the fairer I can be.”

Integrity and Employee Relations
Quaker values extend to employees of Quaker businesses. Alfred Hicks was typical of many Quakers who don’t speak glibly of their inward beliefs or take Quaker proprietary credit for his success in business.
A Hicks Nurseries employee keeps a display of tulips fresh
at the 2003 Garden Show.© 2003 Glenn L. Reinhart

Hicks says, “Good management is good management. And the good personnel policies I use are coincidentally tied to Quaker beliefs.”
Bud Rockwell, of Barnesville, Ohio comments,
“We operate as a partnership as a management style and use consensus in decision-making, even including the employees in this process. Our process is not hard and fast. If someone (who works for us) has better ideas, we like to hear about them.”
“We operate as a partnership as a management style and use consensus in decision-making, even including the employees in this process. Our process is not hard and fast. If someone (who works for us) has better ideas, we like to hear about them.”
In another context of employee relations, Conard Petersen, a Quaker pear grower of Entiat, WA says,
“I have a group of 10 [people] working for me. They live on my 70 acre farm. They’ve been with me for 15 years; they’re very loyal and hard working. They want to please me, the patron in their eyes, in almost a religious way. Sometimes it’s bothersome; I’m not sure if they understand what Quakers are about. (the egalitarian aspect)”
“I show no discrimination toward them. I treat them like I want to be treated, and they share their problems with me and I listen and help them.
© 2003 Conard Petersen

I treat everyone the same, and I don't put the best workers in the best jobs. I try to understand their culture. They risk their lives to come here because we have a middle class. They are human beings, and they are God's children and we should deal with them with that in mind."
Back on the East Coast, Quaker Tom Wolfe, of Smile Herb in College Park, MD described his staff,
“As far as employees, we have more than Quakers who work here. We have a Catholic and a born again Christian, a practitioner of Earth religion, and one Quaker who handles our shipping and receiving. “

Religion from Experience
The direct communication between God and each person, ‘the Light which touches us all’ is known as an experience to Friends. Rather than something written down, or total reliance on ideas that came forth a long time ago, as the definitive answer, Friends also rely on the ‘Light of Christ’ sometimes simply called ‘the Light’ which reveals religious truth and allows the Seed of God to grow in each of us. What one experiences now combined with what came before, is the ultimate Truth.
This direct spiritual experience translates into the embrace of direct experimentation and observation in worldly science and the growth of a seed into a flower. What one observes in the here and now is also the most important aspect of the scientific method. The founder and gatherer of Quakerism: George Fox, went as a young man, to pray on a tall hilltop in Lancashire. When he came down, he wrote in his journal, that he knew God ‘experimentally’. One also perfects an invention or worldly knowledge by experimentation. This continuing experimentation is key to the Quaker belief in the perfectibility of our world.
What comes from this openness to perfection in our world in the here and now, is the Quaker focus on integrity and the tireless devotion and striving toward inward and outward peace. The gentle influence of ‘The Friends’ is working quietly as it has for 350 years. Better look now, that influence could be growing in your own back yard.
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