"All The Experts Are Dead"
(a metaphor for gardeners)

Dateline: 3 April 2015

I tell this story fairly often. Maybe I've told it here in the past (after nearly 1,000 blog posts, I can't remember everything I've written). But even if I've written this before, I think it is worth repeating...

Many years ago, I worked for a remodeling contractor. Shortly after he hired me, the contractor hired another guy to help me. The new man's name was Steve, and Steve had recently gotten out of the Army. 

Steve was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, and he was an exceptional soldier, as evidenced by the fact that he came in 2nd place in a Paratrooper of The Year competition, beating out thousands of other soldiers for the honor.

The Army taught Steve the esoteric craft of using explosives. As I understand it, he was trained to be dropped behind enemy lines with a handful of other men, and, among other things, blow stuff up.

One day, early in our working friendship, on a job site, I mentioned to someone that Steve had been a demolitions expert in the Army. Upon hearing this, Steve immediately corrected me...

"I'm not an expert. I'm a specialist. All the experts are dead."

The difference between an expert and a specialist was not immediately clear to me, and I asked what he meant. Steve explained that experts are people who think they know it all. Specialists know a lot but realize they can never know it all, so they are always looking to learn and understand more. If you are a demolitions expert, you are in great danger. This concept (without the life-ending aspect) can be applied to all of life.

The difference between an expert and a specialist boils down to a matter of attitude. Experts have a proud attitude, while specialists have a humble attitude.

Steve and I became the best of friends. We had a unique working relationship because we both had the specialist attitude. We realized we had a lot to learn about being skilled in the building trades, and we pursued the improvement of our skills with passion and effort. We eventually went into business together. Those were good years.

The world we live in is full of so-called experts, and I've noticed this is the case with a lot of gardeners. For example, my YouTube video, Four-Day Carrots (now with over 340,000 views) has a fair number of comments from gardening experts. 

They assert that my idea for germinating and growing carrots is stupid and unnecessary. They say they can grow more and better carrots in the same area of garden bed. They say their permacultural gardening methods are far better than mine. They criticize me for using plastic mulch in the garden. They criticize me for using old tire sidewalls to hold the plastic down. Such are the gardening experts of the world.

We all have our opinions, and often our opinions are perfectly valid. But from my point of view (that of an avowed gardening specialist) I would never think of criticizing anyone's methods of gardening. 

The fact is that gardening is a subjective skill that can not be fully mastered in a lifetime. It is subjective because every garden plot has it's own unique variables of soil and climate; what works well for me in my garden may not work well for you in your garden. And there are so many techniques and ideas for gardening that they are all worth considering.

My garden is not simply a place to grow food That would be kind of boring. Instead, my garden is something akin to a lifetime laboratory of learning. I am continually trying new ideas, evaluating them, and discarding or modifying them in an effort to improve my garden and my gardening skills. 

Beyond that, there is the artistic aspect. My garden is akin to a painter's canvas. Every spring I have an opportunity to co-create with God something that is amazing and full of beauty. I do this with the attitude of a specialist, who has so much yet to learn.

Homegrown Food Summit

Speaking of gardening and learning, have you heard about the FREE online 2015 Home Grown Food Summit?  It will run from April 6 to April 12. It looks like an excellent resource for anyone who is interested in gardening (and homesteading). I signed up yesterday. Click the link and check it out.

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Rozy Lass said...

Thank you for the explanation of expert and specialist. I recognize that I am a specialist at homemaking and cooking. I'm always learning new things. I'm not too proud to admit that I don't know it all, and yes there are differences in homes, tastes, and preferences. Now I feel better about myself and my work. Happy Easter to you and yours.

Gail said...

I had never really thought of this but your friend and you are so right. I often think how little I know but some think I am knowledgeable.

I am always open to new ideas in gardening and more. I can't imagine why someone would rudely point out what they perceived as short comings. I am sorry but when you're eating carrots and they are not, they may rethink things.

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Dear Mr. Kimball,
I took the time just the other day to research what type of plastic you were using and read a majority of the comments on your video. It was painful.
That is one of the reasons I don't pursue a more involved internet interaction for my blog. People are difficult.
I know I can be difficult sometimes and I know I have hurt folks feelings by something I wrote or said. I can tell you I could count on one hand the number of times I INTENTIONALLY meant to do that.
You are right, experts have pride. I had pride in my 1995 Toyota 4 Runner that looked good and ran great, then one of the valves went and I had to have the engine replaced. I had pride in my nursing career. That got taken away from me. I don't have any pride in much anymore. Too dangerous. ;0]
And I really don't know what I am doing and that is why my homestead and most things on it are an experiment.
From my perspective, you present your information accurately, not as an expert but as someone who has something that works for them. You are the most thorough instruction manual writer I have ever dealt with and frankly, your instruction manuals are a delight to read. It's like sitting down with an old friend. So what if there are typos or grammar things....eh, big deal. (I didn't notice any of the bat) Sometimes the grammar police needs to lighten up.
I want to share with you something I saw last year around this time. Shortly after the abrupt end of my career.
If someone rejects what you have to say or offer, likely they are not ready for what it is you have to say or offer. It's on them, not on you. You offered the "world" but they were looking for a "neighborhood". Hope I explained that right. Hope it is helpful too. It helped me understand a bit of the circumstances with which I was dealing.
The other thing I am reminded of is that when you have an opposing idea or viewpoint to someone, the courteous thing is to ask questions and take a wait and see attitude...no one is perfect as your friend in your story alludes. Perfect people or experts are dead.
I am grateful for your time and energy and all that you share with us. We are the lucky ones. It's always a good day when I see you've posted. It's like hearing from a trusted and loyal friend.
Have a blessed weekend dear Mr. Kimball.
Respectfully and Gratefully,
Pam Baker

Anonymous said...

Herrick - If I've learned anything reading you-tube comments it is that they run from simple expressions of gratitude to the dregs of society spewing venom. Don't take them to heart.

Like everything you do for us, your videos are wonderfully informative and a pleasure to see. Your blog and others like it have greatly influenced my world-view and for that I am grateful.

All the best to you and Marlene on this most joyous Easter Sunday.

John L

Anonymous said...

Well then I had to be all nosey and go over to the comments on your enjoyable carrot video..wow it must have been a very long and irritating winter for a lot of people ! I had always assumed gardeners were of a different variety of folks , but I have been proved wrong..Many of us completely enjoy seeing what you do and how you do it , do not let this other variety of folks get you down , I have never ever had luck with carrots and your videos got me to thinking how I might change that. Thank you for all the time and effort you put into this blog and all your other endevors it is encouraging to me and I really appreciate the Christianity part to. Karen from Michigan

Jim said...


I'm definitely not an expert in much of anything. Those that think they are, well you know what happens. I take the knowledge of many and try to apply it to my particular situation and hopefully come up with the best solution.
It's obvious what you do in upstate NY is not going to work the same in the basically desert climate of southern Idaho, but we all can learn from each others results. What work there, doesn't necessarily work here, but I can adjust for the differences and learn from it. I would probably have a tough time for a while in adjusting to your conditions as you would adjusting to mine, but we both understand we could learn to do so because we aren't experts, we are specialists.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that your gardening ideas and blog are an inspiration. After using some of your methods, my garden has definitely improved. Thanks for sharing.

W. said...

I enjoyed your carrot videos and never bothered to read the comments. Now I'm glad I didn't. Please don't let the haters stop you from posting videos again. I found the carrot videos to be clear and concise, as well as informative.

Debbie K said...

"Though an old man, I am but a young gardener"
Thomas Jefferson

Herrick Kimball said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I wasn't looking for sympathy about the negative comments at my YouTube video. At least, I didn't think I was. Maybe subconsciously. Whatever the case, I appreciate your kind and encouraging words. :-)

Unknown said...

Two comments that were made to me many years ago.

1. An expert is someone who is more that 50 miles from home.

2. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Anonymous said...

An expert is : Ex is a hasbeen
Spurt is a drip under pressure.