To our amazing customers, members, supporters, and friends,
What more can be said about this year that has not been already? 2020 has been challenging in ways we never could have imagined. The ravages of disease, an election that didn’t seem to end, and an economy that, as we head into winter, doesn’t seem to be recovering. No matter your profession or status in life, I am sure you join me in having a great appreciation for what life was like prior to March 2020.
Due to the immense challenges of continuing to operate in the current environment, the risks to our reputation, and the nature of the original design of our farm, we have made the unfortunate decision to stop selling weekly shares and will only be servicing Pre-paid shares, which will continue to be available on our website in durations from 1-12 months. At the end of this week, all active and on-hold weekly shares will be canceled. Additionally, starting next week, all home deliveries will only take place on Tuesdays.
This is not a decision we make lightly, but one we had to consider as a result of current adverse challenges in the local market. Due to recent outbreaks, our entire local ski season could be in jeopardy, and all our in-person restaurant dining is likely going to be at the mercy of local, state, and federal guidelines and lockdown orders for the foreseeable future. Moreover, the unemployment rate has doubled since we started selling retail farm shares. When we took a survey of our on-hold members, 9 out of 10 said they planned to restart; 4 out of 10 said the reason they canceled had nothing to do with quality but was strictly due to loss of income. This is a circumstance we are simply unable to control.
One of the most incredible stories of my career will be how our business, with its prime means of production consisting of a 3,680 square-foot greenhouse built initially to service 6-8 wholesale restaurant customers, pivoted at the start of the pandemic to home delivery farm shares within about 48 hours of the statewide lockdown order. As a food supplier, we are fortunate to be considered an essential business. And, when our local newspaper ran an article on the front page of the business section, we almost immediately sold out. Being fully transparent, we tripled our revenue that month from the one previous. It was one of the best months we’ve had, bolstered by the fact that we were directly feeding the community and working to provide a valued service for a totally lovely, appreciative customer base.
In the 8 months since, we have delivered produce twice per week to a loyal group of incredible customers, have come up with some unique ways of hosting food competitions, and, up to last week, had been planting vigorously for new, incoming restaurant industry orders, which had looked to rebound this winter.
But personally speaking, it’s been about 18 months since I’ve taken a vacation. ‘Days off’ spent in quarantine don’t seem to have the same rejuvenating effect as those spent doing literally anything else. Just as the rest of the country now has ‘pandemic fatigue’, so too does our staff, which, with the current production scale and footprint, will only ever be a maximum of 3-4 people, including a couple of growers and a part-time driver.
In an effort to continue production, improve on our product and overall concept, limit operational stress and the potential risks we run to our reputation, we’re taking some down-time to best ‘control what we can’. My hope is that this will remedy some of the mental and financial strain we have felt while waiting for these crises to abade and that, come time to truly reopen at full capacity, we are able to support a healthier, more vibrant market.
So: we’re not really going anywhere, just rethinking (once again…) how we have been and will best continue to keep operating. I believe we will be taking a step back to take two steps forward and will emerge from this a stronger business, even more in line with the original vision and promise of 41North’s original concept.
In the meantime, there are a number of new initiatives and projects we will be working on, which we can’t announce yet, but look forward to doing so shortly. Stay tuned. And when life returns a bit more to normal, we hope to again scale up our production and offer the convenience and flexibility of the weekly share program. Until then, the only way to receive our produce through the winter months will be through the pre-paid farm shares. And, rest assured, if you are a prepaid share customer, nothing about the service or produce itself will change (with the exception of ever-more interesting varieties of produce still forthcoming). We are just moving to this system to ensure more consistent, stable levels of production, labor, and quality while we all weather out this storm.
I could not be more proud of our small, local business, and our absolutely incredible team as we reacted to and adapted to the rapidly changing circumstances of the past year. We have and continue to keep members of our community employed with jobs that offer opportunities for learning and lots of room for growth. And I am more encouraged than ever that what we have built here can truly help bring tremendous opportunity and benefits to our communities, not just here in Yampa Valley, but throughout Colorado and the rest of the country.
Here’s to good health, great food, and to keeping small business and local agriculture alive, well, and thriving well into the future,