As I hauled the garbage out to the rubbish heap towards the end of the work day, I paused, looking up at the sky to see a flock of Sandhill cranes dancing and singing in a majestic swirling, spinning, swooping array. I watched them for a moment, completely engaged and immersed. It got me thinking about how this is the beginning of winter, they will be migrating to their winter homes down south in balmy Florida. The new year will be starting soon, for them, and for all of us. December brings a cold and quiet blanket down upon Chicago and silently demands reflection.
December is the best time to think back upon the year that has passed and consider what our farm has accomplished. I asked myself and my fellow MetroFarmers what each of them considered to be our biggest success here, and what they hope to achieve in the coming year.
Ashley Luciani, our Greenhouse Manager, recognized the ebb and flow of seasons within the greenhouse, along with the fickle nature of sales, has given us an opportunity to reflect on the versatility of our crops. Sometimes we had more basil than we could sell in a week, and that forced us to come up with a solution to use all of our available plants. Now, we have a unique line of Pesto! It is in these instances where we are compelled to creatively think around our problems which helps to catapult the company into interesting, and often unforeseen, new directions. Ashley looks forward to continuing our experimentations with unique herbs, and developing new ways of integrating them into our diverse catalog of crops and products.
Shockey Funke, our Co-Founder, relates that our best success has been the lettuce mix. It grows well in the system and provides a solid return per square foot of grow space. The combination of red oak, bibb, and sweet crisp is both aesthetically and texturally pleasing, and has been a big hit with chefs and at the farmer’s markets. While growing lettuce may sound simple, it actually took a lot of trial and error to find lettuces that grow quickly enough in our system, keep their quality, and yet remain easy to harvest and breakdown into a mix. It has quickly become the workhouse product of the farm.
Our Founder, Ben Kant, thinks our biggest success has been proving the naysayers wrong and still standing strong after a first, full year of continual operation. He knows that demand creates the supply and is incredibly grateful to our customers for showing their continued support. The gears are turning quickly already for next year’s many developments, but he prefers to keep quiet about these until the time is right. What he can say is that we will continue to provide our best product and continue improving in all respects as we grow.
Personally, I think our greatest success has been connecting with the locals at the farmer’s markets. It is great to be able to sell to grocery stores and restaurants, but there is something really special about putting the lettuce you grew into your neighbor’s hands and thanking them for their support. It is really important to engage with people about what we are trying to accomplish at our farm and there is no better way than this to share what we grow. My mission for next year as the Marketing Manager is to find more avenues to reach out and broaden our community and involve more people in sustainable farming.
Overall, MetroFarms has evolved from a dream to a real working farm within a short time, due to a strong operations team and a dedicated customer base that supports what we do. We are grateful for all the trials and turbulence of 2016 and know that we will be a stronger, better farm next year because of it. We hope you will join us in continuing to localize food production and gathering together as a growing community. Happy Holidays from Metropolitan Farms!