2020 was undeniably a year of collective upheaval. Much of it stressful if not outright painful for the billions of us skittering about the surface of this marvelous blue orb. Societal structures have had tectonic shifts and individual expectations and perspectives on the why, what and how of life have been profoundly altered for a good many people.
On the farm, we are practiced in adapting to big changes rapidly and frequently. Nature has a way of delightfully dashing the best laid plans quite often and a farmer with an inability to be nimble in the face of such repeated “defeats” will be hard pressed to remain solvent, let alone remain a farmer. This doesn’t make the shock of such impacts less painful, especially when the pain felt is on a global scale, but it has prepared us to continue to function and recalibrate a healthy way forward in the midst of an array of unforeseen and undesired realities.
For 3 Porch, the transition has been a big one. For a decade we built our whole business around farmers markets. It was the sun our lives orbited. Everything revolved around each Saturday. Rain or shine, sickness or health, 11 months of the year, you show up on no sleep after an 80-100 hr work week, with a big smile and hussle your rump off. It’s just about the only way for a small farm to make it. It’s also incredibly heartwarming to make deep connections in the community. Wonderful people populate these markets. But…nothing lasts forever.
Everyone has to make their own risk/reward analysis on how to proceed in the midst of a pandemic. For us, with Mandy’s dad on chemo with half a lung removed and in need of our help, we knew that no market revenue was worth the risk of possible infection to him. We couldn’t go to market. As bosses, we wield a lot of power over the lives of our employees and we take that very seriously and do whatever we can to make that influence be as positive as possible. In light of that, we knew without question that we couldn’t ask people to do what we weren’t willing to do.
The farm was empty at our busiest time of year. 7 employees (including us) and 6 of them gone home to quarantine. Mandy moved to her parents for 2 months. The tunnels were full of our most valuable flowers and the inevitable financial debt of winter was at its peak. No sales outlets. No help. The world in upheaval. And I’m alone on the farm, seriously wondering if we have to call it quits entirely.
2 years prior we were overwhelmed by poppies. We are always inundated by requests for our flowers in remote places. We bought boxes and ice packs with the thought of shipping poppies, but that’s as far as we got. Many ideas never come to fruition out here. We swim in a sea of overwhelming stimulus. A constant game of triage. The boxes sat. The ice packs sat.
I’m running around the farm, cutting, pulling, protecting, processing, trying to do the work of 7 people (I ended up 30 lbs lighter than i am now), and in a conversation with Mandy the idea popped back up…..”let’s try shipping.” It was a hail mary pass at best. We didn’t know how to do it. The logistical hurdles were significant…..but, people were locked in their homes, isolated, afraid, desperate for something uplifting.
Shipping flowers became the best thing that we could have ever chosen to do as a farm. The notes we received from nurses, daughters, mothers, were enough to melt you. And it dawned on us that in our myopic ecological purity, we had been overlooking the true metric. By us shifting to a shipping model, we were now providing the only option for organic and domestic flowers in the U.S. We are also the only provider whose infrastructure is all solar powered, whose shipments are covered by carbon offsets, and whose packaging is all compostable. When we were competing at farmers markets, our success just prevented other local organic growers from generating sales. With shipping though, our sales prevent flowers from across the world that are sprayed with nasty pesticides and subsequently fumigated or dipped again in toxic pesticides at farms that often exploit laborers, from traveling via trucks, trains, and planes to get to Miami where they are then boarded on other planes to wholesalers, then bought and shipped again to designers, then shipped again to the end user…filled with plastic, foam, and swag. Though we are a tiny drop in the bucket of shipped flowers in the U.S., the relative beneficial impact we are having environmentally is magnitudes higher than it was when we were doing markets. I wish we would have seen this more clearly sooner, but it feels good to more closely meet our goals of having a net positive impact on the environment. We are grateful for this silver lining.
The Farm Store is now open again as of this week and it too was a response to upheaval. We had thousands of customers waiting to come to our annual plant sale and everyone of them desperate to start a garden as food uncertainty loomed heavy at the beginning of 2020. Mandy worked frantically to develop a virtual version of our sale and Rachel came back to the farm in time to start putting together custom orders for folks and setting them under a tent where scared and high risk customers could safely collect their orders. The logistics of creating this online were a nightmare, but with help from our new friend Laura at Helium, Mandy was able to get it functioning and customers were gratefully able to get their plants and start their gardens.
Mandy, always a visionary with a knack for creating welcoming and whimsically beautiful environs, dreamed up a way to make the whole experience more charming and functional, and also made it a way for our local customers to still be able to access our products without shipping. That vision is now our Farm Store. Another big pivot for us, since we vowed never to have a farm store. It quickly became a beautiful safe haven, and a weekly getaway for many of our more cautious or immuno-compromised customers.
So, we are excited to have the store open again this Fall for our plant sales (one now and one in November) and for our Dahlia CSA in September and October. We’ll continue to curate an ever-changing array of delights to entice and inspire you (and ourselves). We’ll also dip our toes into shipping dahlias in the weeks to come. Keep an eye out for more info on all of that in our newsletter and on Instagram.
Thanks for sharing this journey with us and continue to take care of yourselves and each other.