We felt that this message from Nate Parks at Silverthorn Farm was a pretty good snapshot of what all of the small family farms that we host here at the Market, and across the state and the country are going through in these crazy times. We think you might find it interesting and illuminating, and so we are sharing it here.
A Farm Update from Nate:
Hi everyone, it’s Nate. The warm spring rains have finally arrived and you can feel the energy of the farm really start to come alive. With the third week of farmers market and weekly online sales behind us, some anxiety has been lifted with all the questions about how the season will go; while many other unknowns linger as we try to figure out where the farm goes from here in this uncertain time!
It has been great to be able to connect with customers and long-time supporters Friday nights on the farm and Saturdays in Broad Ripple. We get so many questions on how things are going: What’s next? Are you bringing the CSA back? Lots of important and tough questions that we have been wrestling with for the past few months! I thought this would be a good time to layout the scenario here with answers to all of the uncertainty about how the past year has played out, the impact on our farm with the current COVID-19 situation, our decision to not restart our CSA, and where the heck to we go from here!
First, I want to express my gratitude to so many folks who have made this journey possible over the past 14 years! It has been an incredible roller coaster life that has no doubt made me a better, stronger, and more patient person. I still have a deep passion for organic agriculture, local foods, farmers, cooperatives, and the folks buying and making our products into incredible meals. I hope we stay in this industry for years to come.
As many of you know restaurants have been the lion’s share of our sales over the past few years — 70% of our farm’s total revenue has come from this segment. Tyler Herald is the chef who helped me start the journey in that industry. Tyler, along with me, and close friends Eli and Genesis with Full Hand Farm, have had some pretty difficult conversations lately about the changes we are all dealing with. I don’t know if the restaurant sales channel will be able to recover. What a ride though! For more than 5 years Indiana’s local food scene has built so much energy and awareness that wasn’t there before and has created some of the nation’s most highly honored restaurants – almost all of which were buying local food!
Second, so many long-time supporters have come to us asking us to re-open our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). This spring has seen a spike in CSA memberships nationwide and given a much-needed boost to that segment of sales avenue for many small farms. Perhaps I am too rooted in my beliefs, too unsure of my future (maybe just unsure of the moment), but I cannot with a clear head reopen our CSA membership at this point in my or the farm’s life.
The core value of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is about connecting a local community with a small farm and each sharing in the production of food to feed the membership. The farm is paid in advance to produce food, and the members are securing a food source for their family and supporting an agriculture they believe in. We can certainly fit that criteria and agree in total with the mission! But here is my hang-up! I think investing in a CSA membership with a farm is about investing in a future; a future of your own food security as well as the farm and it’s future.
I cannot with a clear mind tell any customer that we will be here next year at this point. I don’t say that in a panic. I am mostly over that now…but that is the current reality. We are in a really tough spot, like many, many small businesses are! Treading water and trying to rebuild an entire marketing and sales channel in a new world that none of us quite understand at the moment. Supporting us each week buying whatever food we have available that is of value to you is the best way to help be a part of this farm. Ordering online, making that trip out to the farm or just stopping by and grabbing a bag of lettuce all goes a long way for us right now! THAT IS HOW YOU CAN HELP!
Next, is our hemp project that we really were excited about this exact time last year. How great it was to start the season with so much hope and high expectations for a brand-new crop with so much potential! We had hoped to produce the crop, harvest dry and ship it out to a processor and we would be done; no complicated marketing, distribution, or sales madness that the vegetable business has been for the better part of a decade. Just grow it and sell it is what we envisioned and planned on. That reality never happened as the whole country was also trying to start a brand-new industry with so many challenges. We had to pivot to what we already knew how to do, sell a branded retail product. Thank goodness I have had Jeff Evard and Zach Morris at my side to help try and navigate the madness! Many months later with a thousand little decisions made and changed between processing, packaging, labeling, distribution, sales, and so much more. Finally – we may be on track to get the small hemp enterprise we have built stabilized! Hemp is such an incredible plant with so much to offer! I am happy to have been a part of its journey so far, and hope to be able to continue the adventure.
Lastly, we ask the question: How do we make any solid decisions? And that answer is simply: I have no idea! Day by day is the only way I have been able to stay on track this year. I literally have no crop plan written out this year, something I am not proud of but have had no mental capacity to create, among the massive amount of uncertainty. I have slashed our vegetable production by more than half, we will end up with 9 or 10 acres in production this year rather than 25 or more like most years. 3 or 4 acres of hemp instead of 11. It has been really strange to plant such small amounts of product at each planting, but at the same time the whole crew feels great about our ability to manage such a dramatic cut in total workload. We planted another 28 acres of hay this spring to put a few fields to rest from our annual production cycle for a while and another 25 acres into a summer cover crop awaiting whatever the soil’s next assignment may be.
I expect many changes over the coming months, only wishing I knew what they were ahead of time. In the mean-time, thanks for being interested enough to read this all the way through, supporting us in any way you are able, and we will see you soon! Every little bit helps!
Nate, Em, the kiddos, and the whole Silverthorn team