Farming in a Pandemic
It’s hard to know where to start with an update, or what to say that will feel relevant by the time this goes to print. This has been the most roller coaster of a season for our farm business in my memory. Not to say the most difficult. That year of the major flood/hail storm combo was pretty rough. The year the twins were born, when I already had a toddler in tow—that one wasn’t easy trying to farm either. But this year, it just feels like we have all been pulled in so many different directions, and it’s not just an individual struggle, it’s collective. We are in it together. We are reinventing ourselves, throwing perfectly good plans out the window and learning new skills. I don’t want to bore you with all the ways in which we had to adapt as a business over the last 4 months because I know it is similar for so many of you. Yet, it doesn’t seem like there is anything else of much importance to talk about, so I will just hit a few highlights.
I know it really varies by product/state/region/country, so everyone has had a different experience, but for us it really helped to know that we were an essential business. Growing vegetables and flowers put us in a prime position to be not only essential but also in demand. At the beginning of the shut-downs, everything we had was in demand: vegetables (boy, did people want to get food from people they trusted) and flowers (when all the wholesalers are shut down and every florist is your new best friend). It was great. And it was totally frustrating. Production didn’t peak for us with the pandemic. We had to turn a lot of interested customers away. We didn’t hire any new spring crew members because we wanted to keep our core employees as safe as possible. Sales stayed high for a long time but now seem to be tapering off. Do I feel like I have a handle on anything that is happening right now or in the near future? Not in the slightest. And as soon as I feel I have some little piece worked out, things change again.
Diversity and Trust
A few of the things I have been grateful for this year are having a diverse product stream and marketing channels. Having a loyal and trusting customer base that reads my newsletter has also been a huge help. If I hadn’t had a way to communicate all the many changes happening weekly to my customers, I don’t know where we would be. A pop-up on our website, auto-responder email, and an informative message on the answering machine—all those things helped as well. But, oh, the questions. The many, many needy questions that flooded in from all directions regardless.
Another thing I am grateful for is all the many partnerships we entered to make our business survive during this pandemic. Our farmers’ markets were closed but the market entity immediately opened online sales, and sold fresh veggie boxes along with flowers and other products from other vendors for a “drive-through” market. Sales were great and the market kept it so well organized. We were approached by so many other business partners who also wanted to help us out and offered their spaces to sell our products. It was great to see the business community coming together.
One thing the pandemic can push you to do is spend a lot of money on packaging. More with food products than with flowers, the panic over contamination was a big one. Many of our wholesale customers wanted every single item individually packaged. Plus all the boxes for our veggie box market program. Plus flower boxes for shipping. I spent so much more money on packaging than ever before, which goes against my environmentalist nature. But it also kept us in business.
Not only are we dealing with business in the time of pandemic, but also in one of the most tumultuous political times in my memory. As a business owner I have always left politics out of my business and my social media. Lately I have crossed the line and started to speak my heart openly and share with my customers what we believe, support, and stand for, openly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and social justice. It’s been cathartic to say the least. I realize that standing up for social justice isn’t political, it’s human rights. With the realization that if I couldn’t state my beliefs to my customers, then I was profiting off of an oppressive society was the tipping point for me. I have a voice, a responsibility, and an obligation to do the right thing, always. And honestly, for me, seeing so much collective outcry for human rights and putting people over profit has been a true gift of this year.
I have heard from many of you that flower sales are way up, even if they may look different than most years. We are all finding our new normal. I hope that you all are finding that through all the crazy changes that this year has brought, that there are also silver linings. For me it has been pushing myself to try new business ventures. Not being afraid to drop what isn’t working and go big with what is working. I have learned to not be afraid of online sales or of shipping flowers. But most of all, witnessing all the many kindnesses that the human race shows up for when times get tough is keeping me going.