August 21, 2018
Austin Ford, Jr. Rotary Club of Plymouth-Foothills
Noting a serious unemployment problem in his adopted Amador County, Fiddletown, CA resident and member of the Rotary Club of Plymouth-Foothills, Austin Ford, Jr had a need to create jobs.  “No No” his wife said; “You’re retired.”  When one nearby family lost their home, there was no more discussion. Ah well.  “I looked to see how cash flowed into the County,” Austin told us.“  “Economic growth was in the wine and vineyard industry, the question was how to tap into it.”
How it Started
Gophers are a huge agriculture problem, particularly given increasing environmental pressures on vineyards and farms to be ‘organic’ by reducing pesticide usage. “When a friend mentioned Barn Owls as a natural solution, I called Dr. Martin Cody, UCLA Professor Emeritus, who had also retired to our area and spoke at our Rotary Club about owls. He said the Barn Owl is the most efficient hunter of small mammals but their old nesting environments were going away and the population was shrinking.” However, he said, “if you build a safe home, they will nest in it and the population will increase…and gopher populations will decrease.”  Hmmm.
With neighbor, Jack Vining, a life-long woodworker, and Martin as science advisor, Austin formed the Amador Barn Owl Box Company in October, 2011. The demand was immediate. And now, 7 years later, the company’s products are sold in over 32 Cal communities. In addition to 5 models of Barn Owl Boxes, the product line now includes Screech Owl and Bluebird boxes, Bat Houses, Wood Duck boxes, Raptor Roosts and more.  “We’ve shipped all over the country. Austin said. So much for retirement, but a number of good folks are deriving income.  Now to get the Honey-do list under control. “
Unexpected Rewards
There are related rewards.  Six weeks ago, the company was asked to relocate a Barn Owl Box that had been abused by a vineyard tractor.  Lo and behold, even this late in season, there were small owls in it. They were lethargic and slow to react; no sign of the parents.  A local partner who rescues and rehabilitates raptors-in-need was called.  She removed 6 (yes, six) babies and took them home.  “Monday of this week, she called me, that it was time to release them – at dusk that evening. We actually released 9. What a sight!  Nine very healthy high-energy young Barn Owls had their freedom and went for it. 
Austin is Past President of the Rotary Club of Plymouth-Foothills. He is retired from High Tech but consults to startup businesses, often as a service of his Rotary Club.