The Tortoise and the Flower Farmer

The Tortoise and the Flower Farmer

Challenges will happen in life, some that have an immediately visible cause and others that do not. If people don’t see the bigger picture, however, they are likely to blame the someone or something in front of them that they least understand.

A strange man settled on the outskirts of a village. He had acquired some land from a family that wanted to move toward the growing capital city, and needing the financial means to survive there, they were happy to take the higher payment for their land – breaking the tradition of keeping it in the village community. That was the first thing that went wrong.

The outsider mainly kept to himself, leading to abundant speculation in the community. In his 40s without children or a spouse, he seemed to spend all of his time alone walking the fields and writing things in a little book. His only company was a tortoise that made its home under his house. It didn’t bother the man, and the man didn’t bother the tortoise.

He slowly began to till the fields. Then, he began constructing strange houses of clear canvas. Next, an army of donkeys arrived carrying enormous, black tanks, which he placed around the buildings on his farm and connected pipes to them from the roof tops. When it rained, all of the water went into these tanks rather than straight into the dirt. Then his clear houses began growing strange things—flowers in fact, someone discovered under the cover of night.

Soon, the village had plenty to gossip about over tea and daily meal prep. “Who is this man who thinks he knows better than the earth when it should drink?” 

“Why doesn’t he grow corn to eat? He is fascinated with his flowers.”

“Why doesn’t he have a family? He is too old to be alone.”

“What does he write in his little book?”

“Doesn’t he know tortoises bring drought? He is going to bring bad luck to our village.”

“He also wears the strangest hats. This is a truly odd man.”

These conversations continued as the weeks and months went by, but eventually they became just an occasional “Hmmph” and shaking of the head as people passed the man’s abode. The man continued collecting water from the sky, he tended to his flowers, and regularly shared a proper head of lettuce with the tortoise under his house. Occasionally he would take his small truck, the back full of flowers, to the city, which would return empty. Life in the village continued.

Soon, however, as the seasons changed, something bad began to happen—drought. The corn stalks grew shorter and produced little corn if at all. There was barely enough water for drinking, let alone cooking, washing clothes and more. With the drought came hunger and thirst. With hunger and thirst came sadness and fear. With sadness and fear came anger and desperation.

The village buzzed. “It’s been years since the earth has been this dry. We have done nothing as a village to anger it. What changed? Who has done something to bring this about?” As they gathered to discuss the problem and solution, every shadow began to look like a monster.

“I know,” someone said. “That outsider has a tortoise under his house.” Everyone looked around in shock as they remembered this unsettling truth. “Well, everyone knows that a tortoise brings drought, right?”

“Yes,” came the resounding answer from the group.

Others began to voice their observations as well. “That outsider never spends time with us. He just keeps to himself and obsesses over his flowers.”

“That’s right,” said another. “And he bottles the water in containers rather than letting the earth drink. The arrogance!”

“The land is punishing us on his behalf,” they finally surmised. “The outsider must be cast out.”

“If we cast him out we are just passing the problem along!” “We must kill this man and kill that dreadful tortoise.” “And burn that farm and all it’s strange houses! It is taking from the land.”

With torches and collective resolve, the village stormed out to the man’s farm and called him to account. The village leaders, having seen the convinced and bloodthirsty mob, were even courageously pointing the way. It was a movement. They were going to end the problem that night, and there was no turning back.

“Come out, outsider!” One of the village leaders demanded. 

The flower farmer opened the door and looked at all of the angry—and intrigued—faces. This was the first time many of them had ever spoken to him. He had a warm smile and a calm presence.

“How may I help you?” The farmer asked the mob.

“You have been harboring a tortoise,” one of the leaders responded. “We have come to kill it.”

The man looked confused. He looked at the hole under his house and back at the village citizens. He asked, “what is wrong with this tortoise? It has never bothered anyone, including me. I don’t mind it staying here, and I certainly don’t think it needs killing.”

“Tortoises bring drought, and all of us are thirsty and starving as a result. You have brought this on us. You too, must be held accountable.”

The farmer lost the warmth in his smile. He now understood the gravity of the situation. While he knew that there was no connection between him, the tortoise, and the drought, he knew it was a truth that didn’t matter. The village had its own perception, and that was the truth they were prepared to act on.

When the moment for execution and atonement had finally come, there arrived another unexpected group of outsiders.  Walking up to the back of the village gathering, with a donkey and some empty buckets on a carriage in tow, a small family joined the conversation.

They humbly interjected. “Sorry to bother everyone, but we have had a long journey from the next valley to here, and we need a place to stay. Our village has been without water for some time and we can’t go any further. Do you have any to spare?”

Everyone looked at them in silence.

“I have water I can share,” said the farmer. “And I’m happy to share with others as well, if they would like some.”

Everyone continued to look in silence at both the newcomers and the flower farmer.

One of the children spoke up with excitement and asked the visiting family, “Do you have a tortoise in your village?”

“No,” the family responded.

“Well we have a tortoise,” said the child. “That’s why we have so many problems. You must have a tortoise.”

Silence. A very long silence.

The flower farmer looked around at the village, at the new family, and back at the home of his tortoise tenant.

An idea came to him. 

“I wonder if we can make an arrangement,” the man said to the village leaders. “I don’t have enough water to last the entire year, but I may have enough for this season if we can use it sparingly. I only ask that you leave enough for my flowers and leave the tortoise alone. I will also go to the city and buy corn for us to share, if you will help me carry it back. At the end of the season, my flowers will be shipped across the sea and we can discuss what to do from there,” he said. “On the other hand, if you throw me out, you still have nothing to get you through the season.”

This was a strange and compelling proposition. It involved watering flowers, ignoring traditions, and sparing a confounded tortoise—terribly strange indeed. 

But they had no better alternative.

“We need water and food,” someone finally said. “Let’s go with his plan just this time.” “Yes, let’s see what happens.” The rest of the village murmured in tired agreement.

The village leaders concurred. “Alright, we will try this plan. But you must also let this new family stay on your land so they are not a burden to us. And let us not catch this tortoise anywhere besides your home, or it will be burned.”

The season went on. Day by day, the village came and collected equal amounts of water from the farmer’s tanks, and they carried corn and other nourishments back from the capital together with the farmer. Without corn to harvest, they also began to help the farmer raise and collect his flowers. They learned how the water was used to irrigate the greenhouses spread across his farmland. Some of the children began to feed the tortoise as well – flowers, no less, but the farmer didn’t mind.

At the end of the season, the village was surprisingly healthy and happy. There was less gossip and more creativity. Some of the villagers had begun creating greenhouses of their own and planning for how they would collect water when the rains finally returned—if ever. It was an industrious, though odd, time for everyone.

Still, a deal was a deal. There was no rain, and there was still a tortoise living under the flower farmer’s house. 

The village leaders collected once again in front of the flower farmer’s house, on a morning that would typically have been a market day in the village center. The farmer had just returned from the capital city the night before, having taken the last of his flowers to be sent away on an enormous ship.

“Your time is up, flower farmer,” they said.

The farmer agreed and sadly turned to fetch the tortoise from his yard. He had given it his best shot. That was all he could do.

But just then, a drop of rain landed on the brim of his large, round hat.  More drops began to land as dark clouds rolled into view. The once sandy shell of the tortoise began to glow beautifully with the rainwater as it bathed his exterior and he walked steadily toward his hole to get dry.

Everyone looked up.

“The rain has returned!” They shouted. The rest of the village soon joined as well. “We are saved!” The visiting family’s children came and played in the rain while other villagers watched their new tanks begin to fill with water.

As though nothing had ever changed, the rains continued like they did before the drought, and the fields began to sprout again. The earth was green, and food was in abundance. The village was a vibrant place of community.

Yet everything had changed. They were growing flowers as well as corn, the land was irrigated, and there was a tortoise still living under the outsider’s house. The man also hired a company to come and dig a well using the money he made from selling all his flowers from the past season. They would be bought by families and restaurants overseas who wanted to have fresh cut flowers on their tables.

The village was thriving—not just surviving. And they had a tortoise to thank for triggering the series of fortunate events.



In my life and career, I’ve seen many initiatives and projects die because they were new or too different from what people were used to. “That’s not how we do things here,” is a common statement made by anyone and everyone who has been succeeding by developing strong habits and traditions. The proven way is the only way!

By the same token, newcomers to an organization often find themselves isolated by the culture, their own doing, or both. They try to grow something by themselves or with a small faction that ‘gets it.’

In reality, the forces of change that we face are bigger than any project, new leader, or traditions. They come with a slow turn in climate or a swift and unexpected fury. Either way, the organizations who survive and thrive are the ones that can embrace the flowers and tortoise.

What’s your tortoise? Who or what in your life is something that people want to make the ‘scapegoat?’

What might the flower farmer have done differently from the beginning?

Like living between the lion and the leopard, the right solution is rarely found simply on one side or the other. It’s in the middle.

Share this tale with someone…
Share via Email
Share via LinkedIn
Visit L&L on Instagram
Copy link