It’s easy to be awe-struck more by the ostriches that reside at Fowl Language Farm in Gilmanton, than the farmer who tends to them.
His name is Michael Bedford and he would love to tell you about his flock of “prehistoric toddlers” and their dinosaur-sized eggs.
Yet, his own story is perhaps more extraordinary. He is an engineer of sorts, an executive in a cyber security company and maybe even a child genius, although he would never agree to being called that.
Bedford is not the type of guy to brag. He has a small farm and likes to play in the mud. But even before he was a teenager, he started showing a rare intelligence. Bedford was born in 1979 in California and at the age of 11 he started taking classes at Yuba Community College. A few years later, he moved on to California State University.
As an enterprising elementary schooler, Bedford learned how to use his smarts to make money.
“I was doing homework for people for five bucks a paper and I was good enough to make it so that the teachers wouldn’t know that it was me who was writing it,” said Bedford, who made sure not to overdo it, usually aiming for B’s.
In college, Bedford pursued his passion – space exploration – majoring in aerospace engineering. But Bedford started to struggle as he navigated social concepts far beyond his age.
“When you take an 11-year-old and you put him in school with a bunch of adults, you don’t fit in there and don’t fit in with the 11-year-olds anymore,” said Bedford.
While bright beyond his years, he struggled to find where he belonged.
The experience levied a massive weight onto Bedford.
“When you do something like that, at that young of age, you’re on the news in the newspaper and all that stuff, you kinda get hyped up,” he said. “People have the expectation that you are going to solve cancer or something like that, you’re going to do something great and you want to live up to that, to some degree. So I was like, ‘gosh that’s a lot of pressure for a kid that’s just barely turned, not even an adult yet,’ ” said Bedford.
After he graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering, he dreamed of working in space exploration, but the jobs in that field were dwindling and so was his desire to spend the rest of life behind a computer. So, he did what any bored teenager would do. He joined the Army.
“So I was young, stupid and I said ‘you know what, I am going to try and see how I can challenge myself in ways that school can’t,’ ” Bedford said. “Physically, emotionally do I have what it takes?”
Bedford’s family also had a history of service he was trying to uphold.
He spent the next few years trudging through swamps and gullies training in Army Air Assault. He gained an appreciation for the mud and grime that he would return to many years later.
“We would be sleeping out under the stars and there is something to being out in the middle of nowhere and it’s all quiet and peaceful looking around. You might be in a foxhole, you might be covered in mud and disgusting stuff. But you take it all in and this is living buddy, this is what it is all about,” said Bedford.
But before he would be a farmer, Bedford would return to computers. He got out of active duty just before the turn of the century at a time when the Y2K panic about whether computers would malfunction in the new decade. Bedford traveled up and down the California coast retrofitting both the software and hardware of computers at hospitals.
Bedford remained a man of passion, with big ideas. While he climbed the corporate ladder he also tended to his own pet projects, like trying to regrow temperature resilient coral and reintroduce it in the ocean.
Nowadays Bedford’s time is spent split between his farm and his cyber security job.
“My farm is my obsession now and I figure I can put all the energy into it,” he said.
Like most of Bedford’s obsessions, it is not about the money. “I don’t look at farming as a way for income, which makes it a lot less stressful for me.”
His ostriches return his boundless energy, even if they aren’t the brightest birds.
“They explore the world much like toddlers do – through their mouths. They don’t have hands so they use their beak to try and sample things. They are very inquisitive creatures,” he said.
In farming, Bedford has finally found his purpose.
“I got a jump start on my career. I got a jump start on a bunch of stuff, yet I find myself at 42 realizing that the most important things in life had nothing to do with what I thought was important back then,” said Bedford. “It’s out there working in bird shit.”
For more information, visit fowllanguage.farm. u