Where Have You Been?!?!
Don’t worry, I’ve been asking myself the same thing, for months. We have been so busy this year that it’s been overwhelming at points, but in good way, so let’s dive in shall we? :)
First off for those of you that don’t follow us on Facebook, I’d recommend it for updates, I try and post there a few times a week at least. It was on Facebook that we announced the hiring of our first employee Yamarys. Yamarys was with us from the beginning of May until September, she was a huge help with getting everything planted and harvested for market. I missed having family around this year to help once a week (but they’re busy too), so Yamarys did a good job of taking our farm to heart and doing what she could to help. She was only here for around 10 hours a week, but during those hours I could focus on pickle making, or washing and packing, which then left time for me to spend with Samaree at the end of the day instead of doing farm work.
After Yamarys left we took on Katie, a friend of a friend you could say, who I believe is up to the challenges that I can see needing help with. Urban farming comes with a certain set of problems and solutions, but it’s the in-betweens that you learn about while in practice that you need to figure out. Having someone like Katie who is already going to college to specialize in this field, has worked in this field as well and is growing at home seems like a no-brainer. In the first week of her helping she found a problem and a solution that was remedied within the week. We’ve talked about short-term goals, long-term goals, things to work on, things to cut out, it’s just been great to have a like-minded individual who not only works as hard, but is also good at being my voice of reason I don’t always have. Honestly to have someone tell you that what you did wasn’t smart and you should’ve shifted to something else is something you need to hear, and until you do you’ll probably keep making the same mistakes.
This year has also been about infrastructure, we’ve basically upgraded everything. The biggest being our new greenhouse, this one is made out of aluminum and polycarbonate panels and should theoretically last 10 years or more. As opposed to our polyethylene greenhouse from ShelterLogic that lasted us two seasons. I’m not saying it was a bad greenhouse, it sure helped us get a start in a business we were fairly new with, but in hindsight we should of spent the money on a better greenhouse in the first place.
Our girls also needed a new home, so they got two! We purchased 2 EcoFlex coops earlier this year to accommodate our 6 girls, these are made with recycled polymers and reclaimed wood fibers that would otherwise have wound up in a landfill. It took me a couple months of research before I purchased these because I wanted something that would last. Even though Matthew and I built one out of really good wood and chicken wire it was falling apart after a couple years. These EcoFlex coops come with a 10 year warranty where they’ll replace anything so it just made sense to get these. Yeah, it might of cost a bit more, but it saves me time and the warranty makes up for it in the long run.
There’s also a 275 gallon water tank sitting next to the house that needs to replace the 55 gallon that’s currently there. Yeah, we’re going to up our rain catchment big time! We also turned our stand up freezer into a cooler thanks to our friend Jason at market who worked this out for us. What would normally cost us a few thousand dollars instead cost us around $80 and a freezer we already had. And in turn we have a place to keep our produce fresh for market. Will this change in the future? Possibly, with more production. But for now this cooler has worked for the 453lbs we’ve produced so far this year.
And to give you an idea of our pickle predicament, well last year we sold 157 jars, all year. This year in 6 months we’ve sold a little over 1300 jars! We are making anywhere from 60 to 80 jars a week of various flavors of pickles. And this is just from two people, and a lot of times, it’s just me. This is obviously because of the market, we’ve been able to put our product in the hands of a lot more people. We even have a few wholesale accounts, the requirement is to buy 12 32oz jars to get a discount. We have businesses, and a few families from Chicago and near Indy who drive just to get our pickles. We started out making these pickles 17 years ago for ourselves and family/friends, who all told us we should sell them. Now that we get to see on a weekly basis how much other people are enjoying them it really makes us smile, and even more so because we don’t use any kind of weird ingredient, everything is right on the label.
We were also lucky enough to be approached by a local magazine, Edible Michiana to do a story on local urban farms. That whole experience was beyond anything we could’ve imagined, to see our picture and our story in a magazine was pretty remarkable. I was inspired by so many others to become an urban farmer, I saw how broken our food system was, even within our own city and all I wanted to do was help fix it. And my hope is that sharing our story, teaching classes, selling our produce and explaining what we do will encourage others to take up urban farming as well. My feelings are that if we as a society, all of us, are going to beat the ever growing chemical ridden and genetically modified foods we’re going to have to band together and do it ourselves. I think it’s truly up to us small farmers, backyard farmers, urban farmers, small acreage farmers that need to take the food industry by storm and transform our landscape, figuratively and literally. You can find a link to the article from the magazine here.
So what’s our next chapter? Well we are now a permanent resident at the South Bend Farmer’s Market so it’s about growing. We’ll grow to new spaces next year, and we’ll keep learning what our customers want so that we can zero in on providing an abundance of those products. We already know that the amount of lettuce we grew this year needs to triple if not quadruple for next year, and that perhaps we need to sell herbs potted and not bagged. It’s all a learning process and we’re so grateful for all the support we’ve gotten, it just further drives us to keep doing what we know is right, and providing our community with the best possible food we can.