Where’d Y’all Go?

Have you ever sat and just thought ‘’ How freaking crazy has this year been?’’

I mean really, is there any way our future generations ( if the planet doesn’t get hit by a doomsday astroid soon) will believe any of our own “ Back in my day’’ stories. 

I don’t know if i’ll be able to accurately recall any of those stories myself. 

This year seems to have substantially hacked away at my memory.

There is a lot of  blank spots over the past few months that seem to run  together. Like in a movie when a person is racing a car and everything outside their window seems to just blur when they hit the nitrous button. 

I feel like my memory was there in the car, but I couldn’t really see much outside the window. 

A few things stand out though. 

Like the third week in March when everyone went into panic mode. Everyone cleared the shelves in the super markets then they came and cleared the shelves at the local Farmers Markets, Produce Stands and Farm Stores. Then the Websites and Web Stores were sent into a deep “ Out Of Stock” cave.

How about the insane number of faces we seen that week. There is roughly 120,000 people in our small county in north Alabama. At times It felt like every one of them had called me on the phone or sent us a message on Facebook. Mostly asking the same few questions. ‘’ Do y’all have ground beef?’’  “Do y’all take Cards”? ‘’What are yall’s prices”? “$8 per Pound, are you serious’’?

I hung up on so many people, not to be rude, I was never upset with them. Its just, there is 5 different customers parked in my drive way /yard, someone was beeping in on the other line, my wife was trying to read me this email, one of my kids was yanking at my shirt trying to ask me about food, and some sweet lady, a Paula dean twin,  is telling me she can’t believe that we sell them or that anyone could pay $5.00 /dozen for eggs because she was raised on a farm and she knows what they are worth. Its was like this for 16 hours a day for about 10 days straight.  

Each day was even more insane than the one before. 

Several days in that period, our Daily Sales surpassed our Monthly sales for several months last year, and last year was good. I mean it was a really good year. 

Last year( 2019) was so good that we made commitments for this year about getting a good head start on the market season. Making sure we were stocking up pork and beef. We had a few early processing dates to get our brand new, super bad ass, walk-in freezer stocked up and organized. Wow it was beautiful. Everything had a shelf, every product had its own container and its own little spot. We even a very accurate inventory sheet, we knew exactly how many of each product we had in stock. I wonder if we will ever get to that point again. 

Over the next month or so, we felt like local heroes. It honestly felt like we were making huge changes in our Community,  We were being made to feel like saviors. Most people were just so excited that we had some meat that they could buy because they have been looking everywhere and its all gone. (Small farms like ours were the last choice, did you catch that?)

Everyone kept saying,’’I went to Walmart, then Kroger, then Food land, then Publix and all of them were out of everything’’. 

Yet here we were, Standing tall, ready to feed our community. Ready to make changes in our nations fragile food system. Bridging the ever expanding gap between people, and the people that grow their food. We had so many pleasant, meaningful conversations between ourselves and people who seemed to have become genuinely concerned with where they get their food, who grows it, how it’s grown, and what all it takes to get it to them. 

Social media changed too. Everyone seemed to be posting more pictures cooking at home with their families. They were Hash-taging the names of small farms. #Buy Local, #Family Farm,#Local Farm, #Live #Laugh, #Love, Yeah all that shit. 

I remember when the processor called me and said ‘’ hey if you are going to get anymore hogs killed this year you better tell me now because we are booking about 6 months out now’’. Previously at this processor they were typically around 2 weeks out for us and we could always get an emergency appointment sooner if we needed it. 

We called the other processors that we use they were booking up too. We sat right here in the living room and booked all of our pork and beef appointments for the next 2.5 years. We ended up getting a few un expected processing dates that set us up pretty good for the start of our Farmers Market season. 

After the initial rush, three weeks or so,  the shutdown started and we all kinda buckled in for the ride. We went though a thick fog of stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, burn out and fatigue. We worried about how our business deal with what was to come. We tried to make decisions based on what would be considered normal, ‘’outside of the pandemic reality’’. We always seem to be in this weird spot of limbo. We need to make plans and execute decisions for the future, but we also kind of need to see what happens next with the whole pandemic. I remember very clearly Jessica and I looked at each other and  said ‘’ we may sell out, we may actually sell every single item we have in this freezer. This would be bad. This would be terrible because it would be weeks before we had anymore animals processed. Leaving us dead in the water.  Our food system was starting to be disrupted too. 

We were facing many of the same obstacles the big multi national corporations were facing. Economically hazardous situations, supply chain disruptions, too much product, not enough processing. Selling faster than normal causing empty shelves. You see, we had already planned on the 2020 production numbers back in 2019. Of course there is a little room left in for adjusting production up or down on a month to month basis depending on how sales are going. For instance if pork sales in August aren’t so good, we just won’t process as many pigs in September, or if we sell out in august we can process a few extra in September. But none of us, not the big companies nor the little guys at the farmers markets were prepared for a 2000% increase in demand inside a 2 week period. Our website went from 10-15 orders a week( which we were thrilled to get during off season months) to 10-15 orders per hour. The amount of ground beef we would normally sell in a month was gone in 3 days. 

I remember feeling so bad for some of our friends with produce farms. Basically  whatever they planted is all they have. For instance, they plant strawberries in the fall to be ready in the early spring. There is no ‘’we will just process two extra beef this week’’ for them. 

Somehow we made it into April. We had planned on starting back milking cows again by this time. 

We hated to snuff that one out but this just wasn’t the time. We had a full plate already. We also stopped rabbit and quail breeding. ‘’Lets just focus on Eggs, Pork, Chicken, and Beef.’’ 

Every single day we were meeting new people. My voice was fading from speaking so much. There is a few sentences I usually speak when someone says ‘’ tell us about your farm’’  and I swear I must have recited those words a million times. I started noticing many people had became regular customers, stopping by our farm store or ordering from our website on a regular basis. 

This was very humbling. It also fueled our growth and rapid increase in production 

The next few months was much of the same. We broke our own Hourly, Daily, Weekly and Monthly sales records time after time.

As we came into August we were very unsure of what to expect. In 2018, August was a terrible month for our sales. Schools starting back adds some craziness into all our lives. With busy schedules full of work, school, extracurricular activities , many families struggle for time to cook at home, including us. I know it seems ironic that we grow all this wonderful, great tasting, nutrient dense, sustainable food and here we are eating frozen pizza because its 9:00pm and we just got home. 

Last year (2019) August was one of our best months of the year. I don’t know why. Maybe we did better at targeting consumers with more ‘’laid back’’ life styles. Maybe the weather was better and people made up for the lack of home cooking during the week by cooking everything in the house on the weekend. Maybe we just got lucky.

But this year we were scared, we already had the big wheel turning and weren’t sure about the whole stopping part.

As August came to an end we started wondering Where’d y’all go? Some bad scenarios played out. We started seeing less and less people at the farmers markets. We started noticing vendors who usually sold-out in the first hour or two would still be sitting there with product at the end bell. We started seeing our own sales drop off. Was it just August like 2018? Are people just bust again with school, sports, work, life? Where people just over the pandemic restrictions ? Were people just tired of cooking at home and ready to get back to their favorite restaurants or frozen pizza? 

Hundreds, maybe ever Thousands of people would tell us and other farms like ours ‘’ I won’t be buying my meat from the supermarkets anymore ill just keep getting it from y’all’’ Where’d y’all go? What happened to all the Hashtags ‘’Buy Local’’ and “ local farm’’ ? Where’d y’all go?