It’s April 7, 2012 in Athens GA. Our first market as 3 Porch Farm and we are in the very back. To get to us, you need to pass by 7 other talented, productive, and well established farms. We set up, nervous, lean, exhausted. Our work weeks are 105 hours each. We slept 2 hours last night. Desperation, delirium, and a splash of hopefulness all swirl into the cocktail that is our consciousness. Will people come?
A week before, I met a bread truck driver at an old country store. He generously gave me a bunch of big stackable plastic bread trays that we are now rolling to our booth. A huge rolling rack of trays filled with pints of sweet smelling berries. Red, ripe, dewy from the cooler. Vendors eyes are on us. Other booths have berries, but just a few pints. We went big. Literally bet the farm on it. By the time we set up, we have tables and racks filled with beautiful red berries in blue pint boxes. It’s a scene.
Still though, we are in the back and nobody knows us. At this market, no sales are allowed until the opening bell, but people are starting to gather. I’m nervous because a million things, but also because I don’t know if our berries are good. I want to sell the berries, but I don’t want to sell something that people don’t like. I’m from the land of fruit in CA and not to pick a fight, but fruit just tastes better there. It’s so dry there, that the fruit doesn’t become over saturated with water and the sugars can concentrate. Cool nights help too. So my frame of reference is off. I’ve got berry insecurities.
A line forms. The opening bell rings and people start buying. 2 pints at a time. We are hustling, restocking, smiling, transacting, chatting, but I’m anxious still. I have no idea if they are any good. 20 minutes in and our first customer comes back with an unhappy look on his face. I think he hated them and it’s all gonna crumble around us. Then he cracks a huge sly smile and says “They’re amazing! I ate 2 pints before I got to my car and need 2 more!” A layer of tension releases, my hopes more firmly established.
We sold over 200 pints of berries, established regular customers immediately, and as the day warmed up, began to sell our HoneyPops. Popsicles that were free from water and sugar. All organic berries and honey from our bees, created in our Solar Powered certified kitchen and brought to market in a truck that runs on recycled vegetable oil. Wholesome AF. The kids loved them. The adults too. We became the carrot that parents dangled in front of their kids, so they could get them to go to market without a tantrum. Kids would come running up without their parents, barely able to speak, just sticking an empty hand up to us. The parents arriving disheveled minutes later stating that the child just ran the moment they stopped the car.
It really was about as good a start to markets as is possible. Market life is a hard life. Even when it’s good, it’s still just keeping the lights on. For the moment though, we were ecstatic. All that hard work done almost in vain for the better part of a year was actually paying off. The best part was being embraced so warmly by the Athens community. Such good people.
There’s an underlying message for new farmers/small businesses in here. Do good right off the bat, even if it’s super hard, and people will be drawn to you. Our berries and pops were good and that helped. But our commitment to sustainability is really what put eyes on us.
We were on the front page of the local paper that morning for being the only solar powered business in our county. That’s why so many people knew to look for us at the market that morning. That’s why we had a line before the market started, or anyone knew us.
From that point, we’ve been interviewed and featured countless times because of our efforts to do good before doing well. We believe the culture of philanthropy is backwards. The idea that you should make profit through exploitation of people and resources and then, after you have millions, should you donate to a good cause.
If you aren’t doing the right thing the whole way up….you’re missing the opportunity to use your influence to make the world a better place. That’s a big missed opportunity.
Businesses have more impact than individuals. It’s on us to use that influence in the most positive way possible. The hidden bonus that is generally overlooked in our shortsighted economic paradigm, is that doing the right thing by people and planet with your business can actually be more profitable in the long term. People want to support good works. That kind of loyalty is stronger than the loyalty just born of product appreciation. So, entrepreneurs….do both. Create a quality product, yet do it by creating sustainable systems that enrich your employees, the community, and respect the environment. You need both. The ROI takes longer and is harder to justify when just looking at the short term numbers, but I promise you… It is much more rewarding on every level. Your customer base will be bigger and more enthusiastic, and you’re heart will be fuller and your head more at peace.
For those who miss HoneyPops, we may have some news for you next week. Stay tuned…