The Best Worst Lesson of 2017

Since I am new to the board and haven’t done much in any official ASCFG capacity as of yet, I’ll just introduce myself and our farm this go around.

We farm in northern Arizona, between Prescott and Flagstaff, in the high elevation desert. We are in Zone 7 where we actually get winter, unlike the low desert where the human snowbirds all flock this time of year. We are able to grow vegetables year-round with the help of storage crops, heavy row covers, and unheated greenhouses, and currently the flower growing season is about 9 months long, although I would love to figure out how to have 12 months of flowers too. We are hot and dry in the summer (although keep reading and you might not believe me on the dry part). We currently farm on 18 acres with about 3/4 of that being vegetable production and the remainder in flowers. Our main sales outlets are farmers’ markets and CSA subscriptions, with an increasing amount of product going wholesale to restaurants and florists. We also do some wedding and design work, but that is currently a small portion of the business.

We started with a quarter-acre personal garden almost 20 years ago. We have grown in small increments and with occasional growth spurts along the way. As you all know, farming is an endless quest in learning. There is so much we have learned over the years and so much more yet to come. Last year, in particular, our lessons were big. We experienced our most destructive weather event in 20 years this summer, in mid-July, when a flash flood and major hailstorm came through simultaneously.

Because it’s the digital age, I immediately posted photos and video footage of the storm on social media, without really thinking about where that would lead. It was intense. Over the next few days, we took stock and estimated about $75,000 worth of crop damage, not including the loss of topsoil. Our community was distraught and eager to help. But the thought of tens to hundreds of people showing up with shovels to help unearth plants from mud and debris made me have heart palpitations, from liability issues to the chaos of untrained helpers doing more harm than good. And, in actuality, what we really needed most was to keep our employees on staff, when the easiest way to survive financially would have been to lay most of them off. I half wished I could just delete my storm posts and hide under a rock and maybe just quit farming at the same time.

In an effort to not alienate our dedicated customers who truly wanted to offer some help, and with a lot of prodding from trusted friends as well as a few days to get over our own pride and self-sufficient mindsets, we decided to do a fundraising campaign.

And here is where the real lessons came. All these years of farming and we thought we were just working hard to grow something good and then sell it. But we were really doing so much more. The outpouring of love, sympathy, support, financial contributions, kind words, and personal stories showed us how meaningful our struggle was for others. The campaign spread quickly and reached so much further than I could have imagined (it was shared 225 times just on Facebook). I thought it would just be our geographically close community that would support us—the ones who we see at the farmers’ market each week. And they did support us.

But so did many friends far and wide, along with farmers around the globe and even strangers. It created such a mix of feelings. From joy, to relief, to guilt, to gratitude. I have a hard time receiving compliments from friends, let alone money from strangers. When I contemplated why people were so generous (I actually had to ask a few of them because I was in such shock) the answers that came back still surprise me. Because we have given a lot to the community through donations, tours, classes, and just sharing our story. Because people trust us and want to make sure we will be around into the future to grow their food and flowers. Because they love what we do and not just that, they love us too. Learning to be receptive to these answers was the big lesson.

I know this type of natural destruction is nothing new to farmers. Last year was especially hard weather-wise in many parts of the world. After what we had been through, I felt such a deep sympathy during Hurricane Harvey and the northern California fires when my farming friends were experiencing similar devastation. I wish there was a way to help in every disaster. Figuring out how and where to put your efforts is its own challenge.

I am happy to say that through the support of our community we were able to keep our employees working, recover some of our crops, and replant even more of them. Thankfully we have two farm sites and only one of them bore the brunt of the storm. In the end, our sales didn’t look great for 2017, but we’re surviving and we are obligated now to keep trying our best. We’ve weathered the storm with the help of so many others. We are headed into 2018 with more knowledge, more humility, more resiliency, and just as much grit as we’ve always had.

I look forward to my future updates being full of successful crop stories, marketing ideas, and business improvements. I’m excited for my future work with the ASCFG Board and helping our Region through collaboration and learning opportunities. Please get in touch with any ideas and feel free to stop by our farm in Arizona for a visit.

If you would like to see some video footage of last summer’s storm go to vimeo.com/232169720 use the password: farm