In 2021, we started with growing for just a few customers. We grew about a pound a week of food (maybe less), and most of that was just for feeding my family. By the end of 2021, we made over $18000 in profits, and grew over 700 pounds of food. We used 832 gallons of water, if we instead grew broccoli to maturity it would have taken over 23800 gallons instead. Focusing on just a local population also saved vast amounts of emissions, and power since our logistic network does not require much traveling.
Here is what Spira Farms did in 2021 ?
January 1st, 2021. We grew about 7 trays, and most of those were just for the family. We did not have much space, had no idea how to market, needed to build a website, needed to figure out how and where to sell. It was overwhelming but incredibly exciting.
January 2021, looking at what I am about to cut and planting the next week’s greens.
We grew 4 varieties back then, and really only sold Broccoli and Radish. That lasted a few months until some of our customers began looking for variety. We brought some new seeds in the beginning of February, and got to studying! February brought along Spicy / Basic Salad Mixes, Sunflower and Beet. Learning the patterns of new crops is an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes you nail it, and other times just complete failure. There were so many weeks we just barely got by having enough for customers.
In February, we began posting in Facebook groups to bring awareness to the farm. Living in Lemont, we started communicating with our city’s group. We met so many people, and received many customers. One of our posts blew up, the love we received was amazing and stressful.
Our ‘blow up’ post, we received 74 likes on the Taste of Lemont Facebook group.
Pawlak Properties interviewed us, and we had our largest delivery date in February. That interview I remember mentally being ALL OVER the place in my excitement and anxiety. It took me months to be able to watch myself. We went from having 3-6 regular deliveries to just under 30 in a single day. The tools I used were NOT prepared for that. I used Mapquest back then, and it was not ideal. It took me down so many bad routes I was sick from stress because I wasn’t sure I could finish the route. February was, as my wife calls, type 2 fun. Type 2 fun means it was not fun in the moment, but in reflection it was fun (Type 1 = It was fun and reflection it was fun).
Things did not always go well
After the end of February, I was on a high of victory. The community fueled my drive to grow, build, and innovate. However, I could not hold onto what we had gained. I let our first win slip through my hands, it was demoralizing. Our website did not get back to the February levels until about September as shown in the below chart, in fact we were trending down most of the year.
Red line intended to demonstrate how long for orders to beat out the February levels
I get called crazy?
I spent the first few months of 2021 focused on getting into Farmers Markets. The first market we got into successfully was the Plainfield Farmers Market. It was a smaller market in 2021, and that was absolutely perfect for us. In May, we were in and selling our product. Suddenly we had a large new source of revenue to finance expenses, equipment and finally get us ahead of my initial personal investment in the business. It took about 2 months, but the business finally became self-financed.That said – to the time of writing 12/30/2021 my wife and I had never taken a salary from the business (I did take some cash as I desperately needed a haircut one day!).
First Farmers Market – June 6th, 2021
That first farmers market taught me so much about myself. Being introverted by nature, I did not anticipate passion to overtake me and push me to sell. I learned, I could do sales, it was a huge confidence boost. I remember one of my customers talking to me after giving my passionate education on microgreens. She said something along the lines of ‘you have this energy about you’. I asked if it was that I am crazy, or is it passion. I hoped for passion but learned it was somewhere in the middle, I’ll take it.
Aint Nobody got time
In July, we received the opportunity to join the Naperville Farmers Market, which became another huge win. Looking at a subset of our farmers market stats below, it more than doubled our growth for these events.
When August arrived, and we were working two full markets, time management became difficult. The schedule played out in that I would work my full time job on Friday, and then after work I would start to harvest the plants. If there were any complications in the grow (and there were plenty!) we would have some late nights.Friday’s could turn into a 12-14 hour day of work. Starting often at 6AM and leaving sometimes at 11AM. The Naperville Farmer’s Market started at 7AM, which meant I was waking up at 4AM to get there and setup on time. We also do deliveries Saturday mornings, which my wife handled while I worked the market. We were both solo on these days. People gave me great energy, to nerd out about microgreens with them, allowing them to try the greens with samples, and getting recurring customers was enthralling. However, a few months of this type of effort really hit us. By the time October hit and the final market took place, I noticed my energy levels dropped significantly.
You could say I am famous
In September, I received an email from WBBM Radio. They asked if they could come by the farm, and interview me for their show “Made in Chicago”. We met up about a week after that, and next thing I know I will be on their show the following Monday. The next weekend at the farmers markets, people recognized me from the show – my friends didn’t appreciate the ego boost, whatever I am famous. A few people came by just to talk to me as a result of that show, and this went on until the season ended. That sparked a lot of great conversation, and people to ask questions to and learn from.
October hit, and farmers markets were over. However, during the last few months wedding needs started hitting hard. On October 23rd, Cait and I got married.
We took off our first Saturday of 2021 – meaning we did not perform any deliveries and missed farmers markets. Once the mental burdens of the wedding started weaning off of us, new efforts on getting customers digitally grew.
Spira Farms website activity 2021
You will see a few low points in October, but we started experimenting with some success. Our website was revamped a few times throughout the year, and we started experimenting with different ad strategies. Profits from the farm were reinvested into marketing, which took some time for us to improve at (still have much more to go). This leads us to the end of 2021, and reflection of overall sales. Below are the number of products we sold, and their profits:
Sales Snapshot taken December 12 2021
Broccoli and radish were started first, and as such they are some of the highest numbers we have. The introduction of the Spicy Salad Mix was phenomenal in farmers markets. It makes for a strong introductory product, as if you’re going to try something new might as well get a mix to figure out what you like. Sunflower was also a phenomenal addition that came in later, people started coming to us just for this product. Sunflowers are a pain to grow, but incredible for having a full protein in a plant. We tried a number of different products throughout the year, especially experimenting in farmers markets. A few of the products we discontinued because of sales, others discontinued due to being difficult to consistently grow. We sold live trays of product to a customer, but found that this venture was logistically unfeasible for us today (driving live product in our current situation is a painfully difficult challenge).
We learned so much this 2021, and have a much stronger basis on where the next year will take us. We have a much better understanding of marketing, what purpose social media serves, our limitations, and especially the importance of rest. I am incredibly excited for what 2022 is going to bring to us, and I am currently working on writing out our 2022 goals, and profit goals (where the money is going to be invested) to be shared with our community as well. Thank you, everyone for being part of our ride. We have some exciting things to share soon!
- Chris Borek