A Fresh Focus
While our nation seems to be waiting to exhale as 2020 comes to a close, it appears the new year won't be bringing swift relief just yet. Distance from our loved ones, erratic supply chains, awkward social decisions, the endless struggle to define fact from fiction—these were the *best* of the pool of problems we all shared. On the other end were those of us with loved ones dying without us, homes we could no longer afford, and jobs that reluctantly let us go.
While there are certainly silver linings among the rubble of 2020, they mean the least to those who've lost the most. At Prema, we've felt the turbulence of this year like everyone else, but we've been buoyed by the immense support of our community from the very start. We're fortunate to be an essential business and to grow food for passionate folks who could pivot with us as we created new distribution models on the fly. We're also beyond lucky to work with an amazing team of bright hearts and strong quads. There were moments throughout the summer of 2020 where Zach and I looked at each other with an uncommon weariness. Peak season is always intense, but what we were carrying was more than usual, for longer than expected. In moments like these, we naturally begin discussing a break. Surely we could find time for a little break to rest our minds and bodies and adrenals. Surely our always-in-motion kids would understand. :)
We had longed discussed taking a few weeks off the farm in the winter (this is something every farmer dreams about from their first season onward... it's the perfect daydream amid a laborious harvest in the heat of summer). Every fall we'd consider the possibility of it and after a few days of mulling it over we'd decide it would be too stressful to pull off. As a four-season farm, operations have to continue without us and that was always too big of a learning curve to hand over. We've had our share of winter catastrophes to know better. But 2020 pushed many of us to consider new avenues. The unexpectedly unemployed forged into passion projects they once feared to go all-in on. The painful rat race pace many of us knew too well came to a crawl, giving us space for reflection and reappraisal. And, at the farm, the demand for our goods through home delivery, farmers markets, and wholesale rose to a level that required us to train our employees on the reigns. Quickly.
We're fortunate to have Cassidy and Aaron on our farm year round (those are the bright, smiling eyes you see at the market each week, with occasional cameos by Rachel and Ray) and we were grateful that they were undaunted by the notion of running the show while we stepped away for a few weeks this past month. We packed our bags, headed south, and slept more than we have in y e a r s (even the kids!). It was a very nourishing break and we'll surely be sourcing from it for months.
As we organize a swift reentry into peak season preparation — including planting our tomato seeds next week (!) and launching our CSA signups in early January — we are also reevaluating our current operations. Our commitment to the Riverside Farmers Market is unwavering, as we've nurtured it since its inception in 2018 and are currently the the only vegetable producer there each week.
Our challenge is with our home delivery service. One surprising realization has been that it takes only a bit longer for our drivers to deliver to 80 homes than it takes to deliver to 20 homes, since so much of their time is spent moving from one region of Reno/Sparks/Spanish Springs/Verdi to another. So, when our home delivery orders drop by 75% (which is normal in the cold season since our production shrinks by about 80%), our labor for the delivery operation only drops by 15%. This is with already slim margins on the delivery operation in general. We know many of our regulars enjoy home delivery for the safety it offers, but at this point, it's not keeping itself afloat and our production rates won't change that equation until the sun grows higher and stronger.
These are the most challenging decisions for us. The ones that rub our business sense against our hearts. It's always invigorating to choose what feels right in the face of losing money. Like a punch to the face of illusory fulfillment. But we've learned over and over the real cost of making imbalanced decisions: our passion. For Prema to sustain and improve, our choices must balance the good of the farm with the good of our community. Striking that balance is a continual process of review and re-review, with enough humility to see it clearly.
So that's where we're at, friends. We will continue to offer orders for pick up at the Riverside Farmers Market, for those who want to get in and out quick. We will also include Baker Zach's bread as an option for that pre-order pick up, although he has developed a brand for his bakery now and will be set up in a separate booth at the market (Stay tuned! The unofficial debut is set for January 9th!). And rest assured, we do intend to resume home delivery come late Spring, if not sooner. Once our production can offer enough orders to at least make this service break even, expect to hear from us.
Until then, we hope to see your smiling eyes at the market and we're available by email at any time. You'll be hearing from us soon about our CSA launch, too, which will still have a home delivery option like last year.