Yesterday I sent out the following image, urgently on Instagram:
To my dismay, I had discovered that my harvest had no destination. The Whole Foods Co-op and Mount Royal had ample stock to get them through to this coming Thursday, my main delivery day. I’ve been doing a small Monday harvest as a backup, so as to better ensure an adequate supply “midweek” after the busy weekend rush. I had a modest amount of product in search of eaters, so I sent out this Hail Mary pass.
The response was immediate, and unorganized as I was, I sold out of everything. Not wishing to cannibalize my grocery stores, critical to our long-term success, I only offer $20 bags equivalent to 4 clamshells at retail. I don’t offer a discount. In fact, since they retail at $4.99, this costs my customers an extra 4 cents. We’ll chalk that up to a delivery fee.
I’m only searching for the true fans in these instances, and it’s a real boost. Just eight customers allowed me to unload my small harvest, put $160 in my pocket, and seemed to be very well-received by my appropriately distanced customers. Are you interested in receiving occasional deliveries when I have unexpected surpluses? I have to be careful not to destroy demand at my grocery stores, so I haven’t built a direct-to-consumer model for my business. I wrestle greatly with this, because I do feel a bit exposed to shifts in consumer behavior during the pandemic. Any thoughts? I might build a small list at some point in the near future.
These deliveries got me out of the house for an extended period of time, and were remarkably encouraging. As a one-off, I agreed to deliver several orders well north of town. Normally I confine this sort of activity to the city limits, because these forays are far less profitable. But this time I figured what the heck, lets take advantage of this buck59 gas, and enjoy 50 miles roundtrip in the country.
I had no idea how badly I needed the experience. The drive up the shore of Lake Superior was awesome. The lake has been unusually blue of late, and this was topped off with the most gorgeous whitecaps. A rollerblader had to bend down way low, as if bowing to a Japanese dignitary, as he made progress knifing into the lake breeze along Scenic 61. (As I side note, I highly recommend walking/running/biking the Scenic these days, as it’s virtually devoid of the crowds one must navigate on Duluth’s popular Lakewalk).
It feels marvelous to be out in the world during this period of quarantine. It’s critical that I maintain some form of direct connection with customers, as this really does provide fulfillment in what I do. A well-known writer, for example, texted me, “You’ve improved our sandwiches for a week!” He also left me a novel written by a friend of his, thus helping me with the brain portion of the day (reading fiction is crucial). These small interactions are why I do this in the first place. I need to be creative in maintaining them somehow, because I will not be in the farmers market this year. It was a difficult decision made months in advance of the current pandemic. In a nutshell, experience has shown that my offerings aren’t diverse enough for the average visitor to the market, and perhaps more importantly, I found twice-per-week markets running relentlessly for 6 months to be utterly exhausting. Saturday afternoons generally found me curled up in the fetal position beneath the ceiling fan in our bedroom for hours. Finally, I am not self-employed because I wish to be overly handcuffed to a schedule. If I’m going to eschew a larger income, I darn well better have a high degree of flexibility. That’s the long and short of it. Please continue to support my friends at the Duluth Farmer’s Market, however. They open this coming Saturday, May 9th.
I wouldn’t say I’m overly confident in this decision. Based on the growth of my wife’s reach as an artist, it was a simple decision at the time. The world is remarkably different now than it was a handful of months ago, though, so time will tell. Rather than turning a profit last month, her business actually ran at a loss for the first time in April. That said, just days after we started praying about income arriving, she went on to sell a couple paintings, including one to the Netherlands. Our needs always seem to be met. These experiences are positive for our faith as a family. And so, time will tell if this was a wise decision. Every year I continue to shrink down the business to its core essentials in an effort to balance productivity with family time and work/life balance. It’s all very much a work in progress.
On my final delivery, I was afforded the opportunity to walk across much of the property of one of my newest customers, who went on to offer up this horse to my daughter! What a preposterous suggestion, at first glance. But, she’d continue to board it, and my daughter does love horses. We’ll see. I’m thinking some sort of lease arrangement might be in order. Getting back into the country was so good for the soul. I’d love a reason to return regularly.
Thus ends the “commerce” portion, as I seem to engage in these disciplines in reverse these days. Meaningful, mutually beneficial commerce is vital to having a good day.
Since I was so far out, and being one to combine every trip in the car with something else, I enjoyed an 8-mile walk/run on a fairly remote portion of the Superior Hiking Trail between Duluth and Two Harbors. Exercising outdoors is critical to my mental, physical, and even spiritual health. Thus, the “brawn” portion of my day. Being somewhat out of shape, my quad muscles still feel this lengthy excursion today. What a blessing sore muscles can be! How I got them was even better.
I ran an out-and-back from the Fox Farm Road trailhead toward the Sucker River (basically you drive to the end of Homestead Rd, take a left, then a right, and drive gravel for a while to get there). It feels surprisingly remote. I have trod very little of the 57-mile section between Duluth and Two Harbors. My overall sense of this 57 miles is that it’s MUCH less crowded, and less visually stunning since it doesn’t run along the impressive ridge lines that exist from Two Harbors to Canada. That said, I was surprised by how expansive this journey felt. I think now is probably the best time to hike these sections, with the possible exception of late fall. When the leaves fill in visibility will diminish greatly, such as in numerous spots like this:
It felt amazing to move the body and connect with the terrain beneath my feet while navigating undulations of the land.
The trail skirts alongside and through several small logging operations that provide wide visibility, but there are lots of little poplars growing that will obscure the views once the leaves fill in.
So, nothing utterly spectacular, but it was tremendously fulfilling. The journey got me excited for hiking this portion of the trail with my son, which will likely require a couple overnight camping excursions. We should jump on this soon, putting these cold nights to our advantage. I think the area will be less desirable during bug season.
Finally, the day ended with some reading and writing. It’s crucial to engage your brain at these times (well, always). Check out this post describing how I experienced BBC as being the best RX for the unemployed some years back. Just this past week I recovered my writing mojo. More on that soon….
I love my customers so much. Thanks for regularly cheering on my family’s success, and for finding joy in our produce. If you have thoughts or suggestions for setting up and engaging with a customer list, I’d be most appreciative. I definitely don’t want to take away from the success we have experienced at the Co-op in particular. Are those of you wanting occasional deliveries less likely to shop there anyway?