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CALEB MOVING CART FULL OF BAGGED ORGANIC MAINE CERTIFIED SEED POTATOES ON ‘WOOD PRAIRIE FAMILY FARM.’ Inside our newly finished Wood Prairie Packing Shed, Caleb and crew have finished bagging up work on Organic Carola Seed Potatoes. He positions the Carola cart into its proper position among rows of carts brimming full with Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes.

We’re beginning to run low on some varieties like Organic Carola and Organic Yukon Gold, so it will be wise to order sooner than later. Thankfully, we still have a good supply of Organic Keuka Gold Seed Potatoes. Keuka (“Kew-Kah”) Gold, bred by Cornell University, is a good tasting gold-fleshed variety, productive, reliable and easy-to-grow. Keuka is a good one to try if you haven’t grown it before!

So, late every week – after having finished shipping the current week’s batch of Organic Seed Potatoes – Caleb and his crew shift back into bagging mode. They again fill all the carts with thousands of sacks of Certified Seed Potatoes so they can be ready to shift back over to ‘tubbing up’ and then ‘boxing’ orders scheduled to go out the next week.

This last week we were focused on shipping to Oklahoma, Delaware, Virginia and Washington, DC. – plus another twenty-five States – as Spring and hints-of-Spring creep northward.

We repeat this back-and-forth bagging-and-boxing process every week until May when it becomes our turn to get outside and plant our own crop of Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes in fields finally are free of snow.

Caleb, Megan & Jim


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We have subscribed to and advertised in the celebrated ‘Growing For Market’ publication from the git go, and that reaches back 32 years. GFM is broadly viewed as the pre-eminent Organic Vegetable & Flower growing publication for direct-marketers in the USA.

‘Growing For Market’ was founded in 1992 by Organic Farmer and entrepreneur Lynn Byczynski who farmed near Lawrence, Kansas. Upon her retirement she sold the business to Andrew & Ann Meffard of Skowhegan, Maine. Over its history most of the articles in GFM were authoritatively written by practicing farmers.

Jim’s recent video interview by GFM editor Andrew Meffard has recently posted online. It will come as no surprise that the interview discusses at length growing our Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes. There are also segments on how Wood Prairie got its start. Plus discussion of the more general challenges facing Organic family farmers AND Organic consumers thanks to corporate entry by outsider Big Food companies placing profits ahead of integrity.

Also, a brief history of the federal lawsuit “OSGATA et al v. Monsanto.” Jim was a founder and longtime president of “Organic Seed Growers and Trade Assn.”

Caleb Megan & Jim


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MAINE TALES. “Getaway Maine Travel.” Bridgewater, Maine. Circa 1903. Why in the world would one trave

MAINE TALES. “Getaway Maine Travel.” Bridgewater, Maine. Circa 1903.

Why in the world would one travel away when you live right next door to God’s Country?

Many decades ago I was corrected in my misunderstanding of where I lived by our old potato-farmer-neighbor Doss Morse, who was born in the Township of Bridgewater in 1899. Many families on this side of the ‘line’ – that is, the nearby Canadian border – came to settle in the State of Maine from the Province of New Brunswick. So with familial connections strong, Canada and the Province have always been held in high regard by folks in Aroostook County.

One day Doss was telling me a story and he referred to the ‘over home’ Province as “God’s Country.” I interrupted, “Wait. I thought we lived in ‘God’s Country’?” “Aw no,” he replied. And then he elaborated with a raised eyebrow and a mischievous grin giving away that he knew full well what he was about to say was risky and sacrilegious in our little corner of Maine’s Bible Belt to convey to any other ears than my own. “No, this is the Devil’s Country!” I was living witness that old-timers, as well as three-year-olds could, assuming the right audience, be naughty and in this case, barbed.

Not only was the Province ‘God’s Country,’ but it could also serve as a ready backwoods refuge when needed. A refuge was exactly what Doss required when he was shy of turning nineteen and somehow quickly eloped into the Province with one eighteen-year-old Etta Sharp. It seems family sentiment here in Bridgewater, in this particular case, could have been a bit more sympathetic and positive towards the hallowed concept of matrimony. But after all, could any young man possibly measure up to the mighty expectations of a protective, future-father-in-law like Franklin Sharp?

Frank Sharp at that time owned 600 acres of wooded wildlands in the undeveloped western portion of the Township, opposite the civilized side of Bridgewater settlement near the Canadian border. As farmers had been doing for generations, the Sharps were clearing the trees off of land to grow potatoes. Anyways in the end, it’s a fact that hard-working Maine farmers need each other and being busy there’s no time leftover to hold grudges. So, post-elopement that dab of family friction had healed over long ago. In time, Doss and Etta came to own and work a goodly portion of that Sharp land. Etta would live and love on that farm until she passed in the 1984, after a good marriage of 66 years. Doss lived on another eight years, leaving the farm not long after to live with the family of his nearby carpenter son, Cub Morse.

The truth remains, a very young Doss had one time taken a long trip which made any future forays into the Province muted by comparison. After living through thirty Maine winters, Bridgewater-born Harley Morse (1871-1937), Doss’ father, decided he’d had enough. In 1903, during the middle of one particularly brutal Maine Winter, Harley announced one day that the family would be moving lickety-split to Carnation, Washington, east of Seattle, where his brother owned a slaughterhouse.

Within two weeks of that thunderbolt announcement, the entire Morse family – ten children by that time – loaded kit-and-caboodle onto the ‘Bangor and Aroostook’ train at the station three miles away in Bridgewater village. After heading south, they headed west, a long ways west. This mid-winter cross-country train excursion included some episodes. One time, a boorish train conductor seems to have become affected by the beauty of one of Doss’ older sisters. The words he spoke to the sister were evidently lame brained. When those words reached the ears of Doss’ father, he did what any half-civilized Maine frontiersman would do under the circumstances, and that was to punch the lights out of the offending conductor.

As a participation award for this fracas, Harley was arrested and that development put a decided crimp into the family’s westward journey. Before long, however, justice ran its course and all the Morses were able to complete their train trip to Carnation. There, they deftly applied their Maine work ethic and carried on a productive interlude. However, anytime a Mainer is living away, the baleful memories of bitter Winters and Black Flies fade, and that primal desire to return home sprouts and grows. Eventually, desire shifts gears over into determination. And so, after a five year breather, the Morse family did an about-face and returned back home to our Bridgewater paradise.

The return to the Maine Potato country allowed Doss to kindle his fondness for the fair Etta Sharp, six months his junior. The wild world beyond the State of Maine did as it was wont to do. The winds of war picked up, and in anticipation of big troubles and the Great War ahead, President Wilson coaxed Congress into passing the Income Tax Act in 1913.

A year or two later, Etta’s older brother Eli Sharp, then a strong young man of twenty, came to possess the opinion that to stay on the right side of this new income tax law he had better have a sit-down with them govmint tax fellers and learn for hisself what this Income Tax was all was about. The nearest federal tax official was stationed on the border in the Shiretown of Houlton, about twenty-five miles south. Eli knew it would be a long day to head down to Houlton and get back in time to do evening chores. So early in the morning he hitched up a team of horses to his wagon and left after chores, taking teenager Doss Morse with him to see the sights.

The two made good time and arrived at the office where Mr. Taxman worked. To determine what he owed, in a curt manner Mr. Taxman breezily asked Eli, “How much did you make last year?” Well, that question, coming from a dapper government wage-earner, might at first glance seem like a very simple question. However, to an energetic young farmer with a diversity of enterprises, such as potatoes, pulpwood, oats, hay, horses, hogs, chickens and cows, to name a few, that really is nothing short of a complex question. Like the farmers of his day, Eli worked all the time except on Sundays and every penny he earned went back into his farm. So, it was an entirely reasonable question for Eli to reply, “Just what do you mean, ‘how much did I make’?”

Mr. Taxman considered himself to be a busy and an important man. And he lacked patience. After several unsuccessful go-arounds with an increasingly ruffled Eli, Mr. Taxman judged he was getting nowhere and fast. Finally, the exasperated Mr. Taxman abandoned his initial approach and he made his pivot quickly. “Tell me how many acres of potatoes you grew last year, and how many horses and cows and hogs you own.” Now, these were questions Eli knew how to answer and that he did. Then immediately and on the fly Mr. Taxman in a cocksure tone stated that Eli owed such-and-such an amount in Income Tax.

With finality at hand, Eli pulled from his pocket a small wad of dollar bills and handed over the indicated amount to Mr. Taxman. For his part, Mr. Taxman was relieved that this showdown had come to an end. Eli and Doss exited the building, climbed back up onto the wagon and headed back to the State Road back to Bridgewater. Ever frugal Mainers, they had brought their dinner with them and they commenced to eat as they rode once they got out away from the officialdom of Customs and back into friendly farm country. They arrived home before dark, in time to do chores.

Etta Sharp had not ventured down on that taxman trip with her brother Eli and Doss. In fact, it would be yet another two years, after she had turned sixteen, before she laid eyes on Houlton for the first time in her life.

Eventually, surreptitiously eloping with Doss Morse into God’s Country, what greater travels could a young Bridgewater woman like Etta Sharp possibly conceive?



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ANGUS FEEDING TIME ON MAINE’S WOOD PRAIRIE FAMILY FARM. On our farm we mainly grow Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes

ANGUS FEEDING TIME ON MAINE’S WOOD PRAIRIE FAMILY FARM. On our farm we mainly grow Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes but cows fit into that equation.

We keep a small herd of Low-Line Angus cattle to help us manage the cull potatoes we generate. We rotate our farm fields in a 4-Year-Rotation and the off years away from our Potato Year allow us to produce pasture and hay, which is the lion’s share of what these forage-efficient cows eat.

Incorporating cattle into crop production borrows from the time-honored English ‘Ley’ system of agriculture. The cows and our rotation help build the Organic Matter (that’s where the word “Organic” in ‘Organic Farming’ comes from) in our soil. The cow’s urine and feces increase the biological activity and health of our soil.

Of course, our extended family also benefits from the high quality grass-fed Organic beef which we receive from our herd. With their bovine four-chamber-stomachs, cows are good at converting sunlight (grass) into protein in a way humans can not.

In this photo, Megan (Caleb’s mother) at left, and Amy (Caleb’s sister) use an Ice-Fishing-Sled to haul buckets of ground-up, blemished Organic Potatoes for the cows to eat.

The cows have free access to bright light shelter but they are smart. Virtually everyday they choose to be outside in the sunshine, snow and fresh air.

Caleb, Megan & Jim


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JUSTIN INSTALLING NEW ‘DROP SIZER’ CHAIN ON MAINE’S WOOD PRAIRIE FAMILY FARM. Haines Mfg has been fabricating Potato grading equipment for over one hundred years in nearby Presque Isle. Haines red-painted potato equipment has become iconic in farming circles.

Fred (third generation) is now in the process of passing the business on down to his nephew (fourth generation, son of Fred’s sister, Jennifer), Dustin Supa. Thirty years ago we would sell our Freezer Lamb to Dustin’s family.

It was around this same time, about three decades ago, that we bought three wooden Haines Drop Sizers at farm auctions for five dollars each. Northern Maine is wood country and so in the 1950s and 1960s, Haines built their Sizers out of rock maple, only later on switching over to metal. We salvaged parts from the two most challenged Sizers and then set to rebuilding the Sizer in the best condition.

Maybe 15 or 20 years ago we replaced the original induction motor with a modern 1 HP capacity-start motor which we, of course, bought off the shelf from Haines (they would buy a discounted boatload of 1 HP motors at a time from Graingers). Back then, not just anybody could buy from Graingers, so if you needed a Grainger part, Fred or his father ‘Junior,’ would provide a public service and order it for you on their account from the four-inch-thick Grainger catalog.

So far we’ve enjoyed thirty years worth of reliable service, and we expect many more years of use going forward. The design is simple. As potatoes travel up the incline of the ‘Drop Sizer,’ the smaller potatoes, depending on size, drop by gravity through one or two sizing chains. The largest tubers can’t drop down and so they ride over the top and get passed onto the ‘Roller Table’ for inspection. Tubers are handled gently with very minimal chewing up.

In this photo, Justin is installing that new 2 1/8” top chain, replacing the old 1 7/8″ chain. No surprises here, the new chain – made from scratch by Haines Mfg – went in well and worked perfect from the git-go. And we were right: the new size is a nice improvement and helps us do a better job handling your Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes.

Haines is a good example of how things used to work and are supposed to work.

Caleb, Megan & Jim


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SHORTENING THE NEW TOP SIZING CHAIN FOR OUR OLD-TIMER POTATO DROP SIZER. For the past thirty years we’ve run a 1 7/8” hexagonal top chain on our vintage ‘Haines Potato Drop Sizer.’

This Winter, however, we came to conclude we’d be better off splitting our Potato crops with a 2 1/8” top chain. So, we called HAINES MFG CO INC., century-old “Manufacturer of Haines Non-Bruising Potato Equipment,” in nearby Presque Isle.

Despite this being an old piece of equipment, Fred Haines had a few different sized 18-inch wide chains in-stock, but not the exact size we were after. We knew Fred owned in-house all the equipment needed to make perfect “Non-Bruising” sizing chain of any dimension from scratch.

Fred said to give him a week and he would make up what we wanted. Five days later the chain was done, and we ran up to town to bring it home. To play it safe – and as farmers we are partial to playing things safe whenever we get the chance – Fred had made the chain six-inches longer than the fourteen-feet we had measured and specified. To say that HAINES MFG knows what they’re doing is the understatement of the year.

In this photo at the correct point, Justin is grinding off the crimps which connect together the precisely-bent wiggle-rod and getting that new chain reduced down to the overall perfect length.

It goes without saying that we rolled up the old chain and will store it on nearby shelves just in case someday a differently proportioned Potato comes along and we find we can do a better job grading Potatoes with a 1 7/8″ hex chain. You might be surprised to learn just how much difference quarter-inch makes.

Caleb, Megan & Jim


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CALEB REPAIRING POTATO GRADING EQUIPMENT ON WOOD PRAIRIE FAMILY FARM. The reliability of Potato grading equipment is legendary so when there’s a breakdown, it’s worth noting the event.

Then again, maybe it was because we were discussing switching a sizing chain within earshot of our ‘Haines Drop Sizer’ and unaccustomed to the attention it took on a notion to act out, jam up and derail the process of pre-grading our entire crop of Wood Prairie Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes.

Whatever it was, Caleb went into troubleshooting mode and determined that a three-inch-diameter hardwood roller which serves as an idler on the top sizing chain had – after decades of use – increased a longitudinal crack to such a point that it had become out-of-round and the chain had squarely fetched up on it.

Fortunately, sitting on a shelf just thirty feet away was a salvaged-and-stored replacement hardwood sizer roller that would do the trick. Here, Caleb is using his mig-welder to repair a bracket which holds a metal pin inserted into the roller’s center that allows the roller to spin effortlessly. Ever since that successful repair was made, the Drop Sizer has worked flawlessly. The Potatoes backed up in the red ‘Haines Nylon Brusher’ is our fantastic new and rare variety from Hungary called “Sarpo Mira.”

And it’s a good thing the grading line is working well. We’re just about done pregrading our Organic Maine Certified Seed Potato crop and each shipping week is getting bigger than the previous week. This last week we were focused on shipping out orders to the approaching Spring in California, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina and beyond.

Caleb, Megan & Jim


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MOVING GRADED ORGANIC MAINE CERTIFIED SEED POTATOES TO BAGGING OPERATION ON WOOD PRAIRIE FAMILY FARM. In this photo, Caleb’s brother Peter is using a Clark forklift to move a pallet of sorted Organic Yukon Gold Certified Seed Potatoes away from the new inside Packing Room access point fed from our underground Potato storage. Tote bags of ‘Fort Vee’ compost-based Organic Potting Soil are in their perch on ‘new’ pallet racks.

The Yukons were graded down cellar into easy to handle fifty-pound units and palletized. They are being taken over to our new bagging area.

We’re fans of color-coding and Green 3”x5” cards are reserved for graded Certified Seed Potatoes ready for bagging up by the crew. We use a modified two-to-five letter abbreviation for each Organic Seed Potato variety which closely follows a system devised decades ago by the ‘Maine Seed Potato Board.’

Some abbreviations are obvious, like YG (‘Yukon Gold’), PB (‘Prairie Blush’) and DRN (‘Dark Red Norland’). Others take a little more thought, like PVIK (‘Purple Viking’) and SMIRA (‘Sarpo Mira’).

And yet other varieties contain curveballs and require secret-handshake-insider knowledge to decipher, such as CC (‘Carola’). The logical ‘CA’ had previously been snapped up decades ago by ‘Castile.’ And ‘BP’ is the abbreviation for ‘All-Blue’ because similarly, ‘AB’ to this day belongs to old-timer ‘Abenaki’.

Caleb, Megan & Jim


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MAINE TALES. “Good Deals.” Benedicta, Maine. Circa 2006. One must be prepared to face insults, ridicule

MAINE TALES. “Good Deals.” Benedicta, Maine. Circa 2006.

One must be prepared to face insults, ridicule and derision when one embarks on the quest for a good deal. Here in Maine, scorn is deemed an acceptable price. Because etched into the hearts of Mainers is an ethos of frugality, with the highest revered pinnacle being reserved for good trades.

There was this one time decades ago, when it was late in the day and a local farm auction was winding down. A beat-up, old two-row PTO-powered Potato Top Beater came up for bid. In its prime this tractor-drawn wheeled-machine had been a marvel of sheer-annihilation-power. Crossways to the rows of potatoes, the fast-spinning L-shaped ‘cutting knives’ attached to the ends of short chains connected to a revolving cylinder had done a magnificent job of obliterating-to-smithereens potato plants in need of desiccation ahead of harvest. This machine was a long ways past its prime. However, it did contain valuable parts – including a rugged gear-differential – needed for a current farm fabrication project and I was determined that the piece become mine. I won with my ten-dollar bid. The satisfaction of getting a good deal more than outweighed the public barb hurled my way by the wise-cracking auctioneer from his pickup-truck-bed mobile-platform. “Be sure you take that home with you today,” he implored in a somewhat jeering and taunting tone. To all nearby ears he was conveying his thinly-masked contempt that the old metal carcass was just junk and not worth hauling anywhere. “Oh, don’t you worry,” was my feigned and soothing response. For a pittance, I had gotten back way over ten-times the value in parts, rough and ready to be utilized. Millennia of human experience has demonstrated one may tolerate quite a bit of belittling harassment if the deal within grasp is a good one.

An oft-repeated rule for those attending an auction is to never make the first bid. Generally, this is sound advice and is a tactic worth adhering to almost all of the time. However, at every auction this rule is relentlessly violated. In fact, if the rule were never broken, nothing would ever get auctioned off because of the absolute absence of bids. The inherent situational problem is that when one makes the first bid they have extinguished any hope of learning just how low the opening bid might have gone had you not been so anxious and undisciplined as to make that first bid. When there is no second bid made which tops the opening bid, observers grasp that the bidder likely made his opening bid too high and paid more than what was required. Such overpayment may not be a cardinal sin, but it would be a sin nonetheless.

However all that said and done, on occasion it is a sound tactic to violate that rule and make that first bid at a level calculated to still qualify as a good trade. Sometimes, a bid at just the right level scares off anyone with casual interest from jumping in. For example, on nickel-and-dime items, a quick opening bid of five-dollars might dissuade other bidders from entering the fray because that next step up to a bid of $7.50 would be widely regarded as simply too much to pay.

Auctioneering school must teach well-worn successful techniques or else why attend? When an auctioneer in these parts engages with a new auction lot, and before launching into his fast-talking-auctioneer-chant, he would begin the choreographed procession by throwing out a certain, calculated dollar figure, as in, “OK, boys, who will give me $300 for this here manure spreader?” This dreamed-up-value is never where the bidding will begin. However, it represents the level where the working-on-a-percentage auctioneer has high hopes it will land up as the final bid. This psychological trick aims to embed the desired selling price subliminally into group-think. Verbalization mentally grants a potential bidder subconscious permission to accept that bid-goal as an altogether rational price. Because of its regular deployment, one might conclude this auctioneering-school-technique is a keeper.

Now it was almost twenty years ago, on a clear sunny Saturday in June after potato planting was all done, that a local farm auction was held on some sloping high sod ground in the little farming Town of Benedicta. Beginning back in 1834, the Catholic bishop of Boston, Benedict Fenwick, began sending Irish settlers north to establish a new potato town in the shadow of Katahdin.

This auction field enjoyed a breathtaking view of Katahdin which lay just off to the west. One of the last multi-generational potato farming families in Benedicta, a Qualey he was, decided to retire from farming and was auctioning off all of his farm equipment. Along with our boys Peter & Caleb, I drove our truck down the hour south to look over the equipment and see just what equipment we might be able to use and afford.

Farmer Qualey had been geared up to irrigate his potatoes during Maine’s dry years and he had a good amount of irrigation equipment to get rid of. Some nice irrigation pumps and Hard Hose Reels were auctioned off first. Then came along the six-inch aluminum irrigation pipes in efficient thirty-foot-lengths. Those pipes are sought-after by all the big-scale Maine potato farmers who have switched over to irrigating.

Soon, the auction worked its way over to an enormous pile of older four-inch-diameter irrigation pipe in twenty-foot lengths, a mixture of both lightweight aluminum and heavy-guage galvanized steel. Each lot of irrigation pipe that day was being sold by the foot so you would multiply the number of pieces by length of pipe to determine what exactly you were bidding on. The four-inch pipe was all gathered together into a single lot, about two-hundred-pieces in all, or around four-thousand feet. Four-inch was too small to mess with for the big farmers, but it was perfectly adequate for our scale of family farming.

Sensing the crowd and with some hesitation, the auctioneer began into his liturgy, “Who’ll give me a dollar a foot?” Stone silence from the crowd. Eying the heft of all that pipe, he involuntarily let slip a discernible sigh, then he once again repeated, “Who’ll give me a dollar?” No reply was forthcoming.

With words of auctioneer-desperation he then pleaded, “Is there any interest at all?” Silence continued. Suddenly, pouncing on the opportunity at hand, the crowd heard called out in a loud voice, “Five cents!” The auctioneer, a bit stunned, did a double-take and cast a gloomy look of disdain directly at me.

After a moment’s pause in which he gathered his wits, his memory-muscle kicked in and he bellowed out, “OK! Who’ll give me ten cents?” No takers. Then he decided he’d drop the bid increment, “OK, seven-and-a-half cents. Who’ll give me seven-and-a-half?” Again, not a single word nor a single hand raised. Grasping imminent defeat, the auctioneer’s last move was to pivot quickly onto to the next auction lot and leave his heartbreak behind. So out came his ultimate and curt, “Sold!” and suddenly, we were the new owners of a lot of irrigation pipe.

With Katahdin looking over us, we had been granted a supreme trade. But next, we had to somehow get those many long lengths of pipe home. We gathered up the miscellaneous items we’d also purchased, secured them onto the back of the truck and squared up at the mobile-trailer-office. Then we high tailed it home to hook up a trailer. We made the first two loaded round-trips that same afternoon and evening. On Sunday morning, admiring majestic Katahdin as we loaded up, we made our third and final trip to bring all the pipe loot home. On each trip the monstrous accumulated weight of that galvanized pipe flattened out the leaf springs and squatted out the trailer tires.

Shortly after, we sent samples of the old, dry-rotted rubber-pipe-gaskets to our irrigation dealer. After some sleuthing, he scored a treasure of pristine gaskets in a dusty bin somewhere out in California. We told him to get us a boxful and spent almost as much money on those gaskets as we did for all of the pipe. But we weren’t whining: we got our money back on both purchases the first time we used the pipe. And we’ve re-used it many times since, each time savoring the burned-in-memory of a good trade.

Not always but sometimes, the cost of getting a good deal may mean weathering the heights of humiliation. The Maine equation is simple. In measure equal to the potential of a deal must be your mettle to withstand mockery. Transcending contempt, momentary mortification passes quickly, but the memory of a good deal lasts a lifetime.