Wow… what a week, huh? Last Thursday the storm starting coming in when we got the news that the upcoming Tower Grove Winter Market would be cancelled due to Covid-19. That night, Dave and I went to a meeting with fellow farmers where the main topic of discussion was what farmers are to do during this pandemic. At that meeting we found out that our second winter market was cancelled later in the month. We needed to do something. The storm was here.
I’m very lucky that Dave is who he is in that he is the ultimate provider and forward thinker. While I tried to figure out what to do about our business, Dave already had us taken care of with a good amount of essential supplies. He started ordering enough feed for all our animals to get them through at least one month. 1) Because you never know what there might be a shortage of and 2) at the moment we still had the money to do so.
Now that it’s starting to be clear of what the “new normal” is, I wanted to take a moment to collect my thoughts on what it means to be a farmer and small business owner at this time. As a business owner and farmer, I’m anxious and unsure for our future. But as a human, I’m very thankful. Thankful that I live on a farm where I grow my own food, where I know how to preserve said food for extended use. I’m thankful for my animals that give us eggs, milk, meat and lots of cute distractions. I’m thankful for the woods so that even if we have to be on some sort of “stay in place” order, we still have acres of woods to roam. I’m thankful that I know how to do things now. The person that I was 10 years ago probably wouldn’t be so confident during such uncertain times. And even though we don’t have Uber Eats, Postmates, InstaCart, cable or Netflix or hell, even reliable internet, I have plenty of things to occupy my day and mind.
But as a farmer/small business owner…. I just don’t know. Unfortunately, unlike some other businesses, we can’t just shut down, slow down or lay off employees. Plants keep growing, animals need to eat, and we need helpful people to take care of the day-to-day goings on of the farm. And we need to take care of those people. So instead we have to come up with creative solutions for how in the hell we can keep moving forward. And it’s simple… you do the things. You collect eggs, check on the goats to see if they’re close to going into labor (which it seems like they never will), water the greenhouse, prep the garden for spring planting and move pigs from pasture to pasture. Just keep calm and plant on. Because we have to. There’s no other option.
That being said, we have a dilemma. This time of year we have two sources of income: restaurants and farmer’s markets/events. And those are both kind of gone. Luckily, Tower Grove Farmers Market came up with a great way to have an online farmer’s market of sorts and we can move some of our product that way. However, that only will take us so far. So we came up with a way to do deliveries into the city with orders through our online store. We also have a CSA with some spots left to fill. We’re determined to stay on schedule and start that in mid-May, but do home deliveries if we need to. Basically, we’re re-creating our business every 24 hours. Every day we’re coming up with new things, new spreadsheets, new lists with things crossed out and circled and crossed out again, my hurried fingers dashing across a calculator.
But now we’re running the risk of running out of product to sell. We have some pork that’s currently being made into summer sausage, but that takes 4-5 weeks. If we’re not careful, we run the risk of selling out of retail pork cuts. That’s a majority of what we have to sell right now. The soonest time we could get an appointment to take more pigs in for retail cuts isn’t until April 30th. So the pork that we do have has to last us until then. Vegetables aren’t ready to harvest. Goat’s aren’t in milk yet. And we need to make money. It’s all pretty stressful.
Eventually, everything will be ok. Because it has to. We need to pay our farm family every day, we have to have money for animal feed (we have 100+ mouths to feed!), meat processing so we can actually have a product to sell, potting soil for the greenhouse, money for gas so we can deliver, etc. The thought of us even being able to take any salary or even an owner’s draw is absolutely out the window. But in times like this, Dave and I aren’t a priority. Our people, the well being of the farm and our animals are our priority. No matter what happens out there in the world, the farm keeps going. This whole pandemic really puts things into perspective for us and hopefully others as well.
I hope people will start to see again how important a connection to local food is. While the big store’s shelves are empty, farmer’s shelves are full. By buying local, you can help the little guys like us and also know that you’re getting good, clean food. By joining a CSA, you know that you have food coming to your door, even if things continue to stay uncertain. And you know where it’s coming from! I really hope this is the re-birth of the local food system. I’m already so impressed with how to community has rallied together to support local restaurants and farms. I hope it stays this way.
How long will this whole thing last? I really don’t know. But we’re going to keep going because we have to. We’ll be here, we’re not going anywhere. We just hope you stay here with us. Keep calm and plant on.