Tomorrow is Christmas and even though we have a week of the year still in front of us, I think most people are already relishing the thought of being done with 2020. Unfortunately we still have COVID and with everyone heading inside for winter, it seems flu season has become COVID season. I’m personally looking forward to spring more than Jan 1 2021.
But as we wind up 2020, I thought it was appropriate to reflect on where we’ve been on the farm this year. We are blessed to still have the same great people working for us.
Jeanette, Miguel, Vicente are all still here making our operation possible.
We did loose Crystal in the store. But since she’s turned 16, we knew it was time for her to move on to bigger and better things.
While we try to have the best food possible, make a little money occasionally, and generally run a business that heals the land, the main goal for our operation is to allow kids, who couldn’t get a job otherwise, a chance to grow and learn in a real business. Crystal leaving us isn’t a sad day, it was a day of celebration.
And now Eva and her sister Yori have started taking some shifts filling in when my girls cannot work. Sometimes the girls don’t charge things out correctly, or count the change correctly, or restock the freezers from the stock room. Those are all frustrating but our wonderful customers as so kind, and always look out for the girls and the store. I had a call yesterday from a lady who was undercharged and wanted to come out today to pay the $6 difference. I told her Merry Christmas and pay it forward.
I haven’t mentioned Spork lately. My son has been our tour guide for years, giving tours to thousands of people.
This little blond kid has become a 6’1″ man who has a job off the farm, is finishing high school, starting college, and plans on flying helicopters in the Army as soon as he joins.
He’s also built an airplane and is getting his pilots license currently.
With all that Spork has going on, and with all the concerns about COVID, we ended our farm tour offering this spring. I’m still doing large group tours when they make sense, especially for NC State when they come since they partner with us so frequently. And of course home school groups when we can since we always try to support home school. But the one off tours every weekend are over and not coming back. We just don’t have the time and the boy doesn’t need any more practice.
Jeanette has been adding new products to the store. Chicken pot pie, pasta, elderberry jelly. I don’t even know what all she’s added, but I know it has all been flying off the shelves. While beef, pork, and chicken are our main staples, we always need to add and remove products from the shelves. Both to keep the store fresh when you come in, and to always cultivate the best products. I give Jeanette pretty much free rein to add and remove what she likes. She’s the one in the store and seeing what people like and don’t. She continues to find good products to add, even though all the food shows we would normally attend didn’t happen in 2020.
I can’t talk about 2020 without talking about our raw milk. Our dairy farm is run by Tamryn and has been for years now. She does all the magic when it comes to dairy. Breeding, calving, milking, feeding, mucking. She does it all, almost always by herself on a farm about as big as ours where we have multiple people working full time. While she’s the sweetest lady you’d meet, with all the work she does every day I wouldn’t fight her, not even if I could sneak up on her. Which I can’t.
Tamryn has had some health problems recently and has had to have a series of surgeries. She’s soldiered through all the previous ones, but this last one was a doozy and she needed to dry off the animals, both cows and goats, because she just couldn’t do the farm work needed post surgery. That shut us down on raw milk from November all the way to February. Tamryn is doing much better now and is back to light work (light being relative, it would kill most people) and she’s even managed to get some lamb produced under her own label so we can have a bit of lamb in the store now. It didn’t last long, as we never have enough lamb, but as my dad used to say, part of something is better than all of nothing. She’s slowly ramping up production for more lamb next year so look for that in 2021.
We may be light on lamb, but for the first time in a long time, we are full on beef. I was lucky enough to meet some new beef farmers who we producing great beef, but having trouble selling it. Bob and Elissa with BB Organic Farm have a beautiful spread and plenty of land to produce quality beef, something we have need of in the store as we are always out of something, mainly steaks but even hamburger through this crazy year. I already picked up 150 pounds of hamburger from them, and probably another 100 pounds of steaks, roasts, etc. They have a cow scheduled to go in February, as do we, so in partnership with them, we should be able to produce some excellent animals and keep much better stocked in 2021 than in 2020. Of course I gave their place the check over to verify their practices and they came out squeaky clean. In fact they had a few things I’d like to adopt so I think this will be a great partnership.
This doesn’t mean we are getting out of the cow business. Not by a long shot. We are expanding what we do, and who we work with, to better serve you.
Speaking of serving you. This year has been one to write home about. We’ve grown every year since the beginning but by about 2019 we were starting to slow our growth. Still double digits, but getting down to a more reasonable level of growth. Since we don’t advertise, or heck, even have a sign out front, I was ok with growth slowing. Then COVID hit, and the rumor went around that beef would be unavailable in stores. Then beef WAS unavailable in stores. We went from someone wanting a whole cow (which we really don’t sell) maybe once per month, to several wanting a whole cow EVERY DAY. It was crazy. I very quickly made the decision to stick to our roots and not jump into any shenanigans to try to slip someone a sale barn bought cow (saw that done) or slip them someone elses beef (saw that done too). We put limits on what people could buy per visit, and continued to do our thing right here in the little farm store only. We turned away hundreds of thousands of dollars of business, sometimes to irate people who just didn’t understand why we wouldn’t sell them what they wanted. Despite that approach, we still increased our sales 52% for 2020 vs 2019. The second quarter of 2020, when COVID really hit, our sales increased 117% vs 2nd quarter of 2019. But in the 4th quarter, we are up 49%, 2019 vs 2020, much more inline with our overall growth of 52%. That 49% growth is very encouraging, because it means that the people we took care of, our normal customers, are still rewarding us with their business while the panic buyers have returned to Costco or Food Lion or wherever they normally shop.
Yes we could have tripled or more our business. But at what cost? I don’t want to be in the whole cow, freezer filling, high volume, shady meat dealer business. I want to be in the family focused, holistic local farm business. Thanks to each and every one of you, that is exactly where we are.
Thank you for your continued support of our family farm. Merry Christmas and God bless you all. I hope Santa is good to you tonight and you have lots of happy memories being made tomorrow.