Many of you have asked how we are doing considering the enormous amounts of change we–and you–have been enduring. To sum it up for us, we have been adapting and thriving! It has been over four months since we reopened and we have had to adapt every aspect of our operation to ensure our customers, visitors, and crew stays healthy and safe while also continuing to provide the highest quality products and experiences. Our hard work seems to be paying off, our sales numbers are hitting new records compared to last year and we have been able to hire 11 new Crew Members and 6 new Junior Crew since reopening.
While we are a nonprofit organic farm, we grow more than vegetables. We are dedicated to helping our local Appalachian youth grow to reach their fullest potential. We are the first project of Farms Work Wonders, a West Virginia based nonprofit social enterprise that provides real-life experiences and job opportunities through “living classrooms”. These living classrooms consist of our bakery, market, farm, and soon to be launched production kitchen and restaurant.
Most nonprofits are based on a “help us” model; they do good but rely solely on donations. Our nonprofit believes in a “help ourselves” model where we are doing good and making money. Our income is generated through sales from our living classrooms with 100% of the profits being reinvested into our program.
Key to our sales success this year was the launch of our online market www.farmtakeout.com, which allowed customers to choose and pay online and pick up through our contactless drive-thru. Our order numbers from the online market were 94 for April, the first month it was launched, increasing to 194 in May, 136 in June, and 151 orders in July, when we reopened. Once we finalized our COVID guidelines and protocols, our in-person market and bakery were open once again to the public. We now are welcoming folks back to the farmhouse three days a week and it has been busy (and we thank you for that)!
Maintaining Mission Focus
We also never stopped putting effort into our mission-focused work. During our closure, we implemented an online learning system that provided enrichment programs and a paycheck for our Junior Crew. This turned out to be a huge success, keeping them employed while still allowing us to provide a variety of enrichment and mentoring support. This system also allowed us to run our annual STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Arts, and Math) Summer Camp program virtually, which provided a unique summer program for campers and tested our Junior Crew as they learned new skills while creating the camp’s programming. We also made time to honor and celebrate our graduating Senior Class members by hosting a small, socially distanced, graduation ceremony for them and their families this past June and were able to award five of them $2,000 scholarships from our scholarship fund.
Once we reopened we had to adapt how our Junior Crew interacts with our customers and visitors. They have always supported the market during the holiday season. but this year they developed and launched their own beverage cart that will have hot cocoa and hot apple cider available. For us it serves as another living classroom where retail skills, including business development and implementation, are learned. At the beginning of October, we relaunched our After School program to offer a quiet, safe space for the students to work on their schoolwork onsite with a support system. Our program provides tutors for various subjects like geometry that our students need help with.
Organic Produce and Optimism Never Stop Growing
During this past year, food stability was a threat that most had to face. Not knowing where your food was coming from, who had handled it, and if there would be enough healthy options were a concern many had. Throughout the year our farmers kept doing their thing and growing fresh, organic produce to help our community keep their access to these healthy options. In fact, they were the only crew that did not get to work from home! Because of their hard work, we saw an increase in our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) memberships and more people becoming educated on the process of handling the produce and the regenerative processes we use to grow such delicious organic produce! This year we had over 35 CSA memberships and were able to keep them at a reasonable cost so that our customers are never spending more than 20 dollars a week to get some of the best and freshest organic produce each week. Our CSA was so popular we had to create a waitlist for the first time.
We continue to dream of a better tomorrow while life starts to become a new kind of normal, and we are thankful for the opportunity to grow and learn. We once said that our greatest hope is that these experiences will make us stronger and better at what we do – and we think it has. If you want to keep up with our journey and learn more, please visit us at www.wardensvillegardenmarket.org.
My name is Chelsea, I’m the Generation WV Fellow here! In my spare time, you can find me hanging out with my 100-pound dog, Olive, or reading the latest mystery novel.
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