Fiscal Year ending March 31, 2020
Posted June 2020
Fiscal Year ending March 31, 2020
Posted June 2020
Here in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and urgently-needed protest against racial injustice, we take a moment to pause and look back at our past year. In the wake of the 2018 wash out (endless rains, lost crops), 2019 was a much kinder harvest season for us. We were able to source all of our main produce from our core farm partners. It was also an excellent cucumber season. Downy mildew spared the cukes for once and the long harvest extended from mid-June to late August with several local farms offering surplus. We exceeded our cucumber fermentation goals for the season AND found buyers for all those extra pickles! On the other hand, the fall cabbage season was somewhat mixed. A couple of farms came up short due to a hard frost that arrived in the first week of November. Thankfully, we were able to replace that cabbage from within our existing network of farms in Western MA and VT, and make good use of the new cold storage facility across the street at the Franklin County Community Development Corporation’s Food Processing Center. Thank goodness for our strong regional food system!
Our vegetable manager, Ryan, spent the winter making arrangements as usual with our farm partners to grow the vegetables needed for our upcoming season. This is a challenge in normal times because, as early as January, we must commit to purchasing vegetables that will be harvested and processed in the coming summer and fall, ferment through the next winter, and in some cases not hit store shelves until the following summer – that’s 12-18 months after we’ve made initial arrangements with our farmers! Our dedication to regionally-sourced food means careful strategizing and comfort with planning amidst uncertainty. This longstanding challenge has prepared us well for the current moment and COVID-19.
Meanwhile, our 2020 vegetable plans went through several rounds of re-assessment over the course of the spring as we grappled with the ever-changing news and predictions about the year to come. Ultimately, we cut back on some of our 2020 vegetable orders, but largely decided to proceed on the hope that our production and sales will not be drastically set back by the continuing pandemic.
As the pandemic unfolded in March, carefully made plans went out the window, of course. The last month of our fiscal year was our highest sales month ever as customers stocked their pantries in preparation for stay-at-home orders, but it was impossible to know what to expect going forward. We briefly paused production activities in mid-March while we reviewed federal and state safety guidelines. Then, we resumed under the COVID-19 Essential Services provision of Massachusetts’ new emergency order, with reduced staff and in accordance with guidance from the MA Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and US Food & Drug Administration. All staff able to work remotely began doing so, with those working on-site following social distancing protocols in all aspects of production, shipping, deliveries, and office work.
We are glad to be in operation and able to produce healthy food during a time when people especially need it. Our top priorities include: caring for our employees and keeping them safe; continuing to provide nourishing food to our community; supplying regional grocers who are experiencing surging demand and intermittent distribution and supply; and successfully steering our business through these challenging times so that we can continue to provide healthy food, meaningful jobs and ownership opportunities into the future.
Our next annual report (Fiscal Year 2021) will contain more complete updates on the impact of COVID-19 to our business. Meanwhile, we wish everyone a safe and healthy year ahead!
Despite uncertainty and disruption from COVID-19 in the final weeks of our fiscal year, FY’20 was another strong year for Real Pickles. Total income for the full fiscal year ended up at $1.57 million, with good net income and ample cash flow. Sales volume was up 11% over the previous year. Three core products – Organic Sauerkraut, Organic Kimchi and Organic Beets – showed significant growth this year. We also re-introduced our delicious Organic Red Pepper Hot Sauce to strong sales, and food service orders jumped due to our new partnership with Le Botaniste (see more below).
We’re excited about our new collaboration with Le Botaniste, a plant-based organic food and wine bar with three locations in New York City. They approached us to make ferments for their salads, and we are thrilled to be supplying them with organic and regionally-sourced fermented vegetables. As with restaurants across NYC, Le Botaniste was forced to temporarily close their cafes this spring due to COVID-19. We wish them success as they navigate re-opening in these challenging times!
Our farm partners at Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland, MA recently took the big and exciting step of building their own processing facility for making their delicious sriracha, salsas, and tomato sauces. We took an all-staff field trip to visit the building and farm in early March and were so impressed by their beautiful kitchen, grand farm views, and commitment to quality. Congrats to Tim and Caroline and the whole Kitchen Garden crew!
Last June we fulfilled a decades-long dream of creating a Real Pickles float and joining in a parade down Main Street in Greenfield. WE DID IT! The 2019 Franklin County Pride Parade included a red pickle truck with a rainbow of paper maché vegetables and RP staff and families. It was an exhilarating experience and we are so happy to celebrate the diversity of love and friendship in our community.
PRODUCT & SUPPLY
Worker-owners Annie Winkler and Greg Nichols accepted Good Food Award medals in January for our Organic Beet Kvass and Organic Nettle Kraut! The San Francisco ceremony was hosted by renowned farm labor activist Dolores Huerta, food author Michael Pollan, and chef Alice Waters. Good Food Awards recognize American food and drink crafters who demonstrate both a mastery of their craft and a commitment to maintaining exceptionally high social and environmental standards in their work. “These awards highlight the reason we’re in business,” said Annie. “We are proud to be a co-operative business that values and works for a healthy and vibrant food system – for people, communities, and our planet.”
We’ve been continually tinkering and experimenting with small batch flavors this year. Katie, our skilled and creative fermentation manager, has been working on a wide array of ingredient combinations, and it has been so fun to taste the trials and imagine them as future additions to our small batch line. We know our customers are adventurous and love to try new flavors. It is especially rewarding when we can work directly with a farm that specializes in growing a certain vegetable or herb, such as tender green beans from Deep Meadow Farm or fresh nettles from Foster Farm Botanicals. There is such deep agricultural expertise in our region and so many farms taking sustainable practices seriously. It is a joy to make new connections with people that are improving soil health and biodiversity on the landscape as well as growing good food for people!
This year we fermented a classic New England favorite: Dilly Beans! These beans are tender, crisp, and packed with fresh dill and garlic. A mid-morning snack, packed in lunches, garnishing a happy hour cocktail, or chopped into a dinner salad… we can’t stop eating them, and we think you’ll love these dillies all day long! The beans are sourced from Deep Meadow Farm on the banks of the Connecticut River in Ascutney, Vermont. We appreciate their commitment to caring for both land and community.
For Thanksgiving season, we released a limited-edition edible centerpiece for the holiday table, a full head of fermented cauliflower! Our expert cauliflower-growing partners at Kitchen Garden Farm delivered up a couple dozen whole heads that we transformed into a delicious and beautiful dish. Served on a bed of sauerkraut, the cauliflowers were offered to local customers on social media and were gone in two days!
We’re so happy to welcome Jess Howard to our group of worker-owners. Jess came to Real Pickles in 2017 bringing with them years of valuable farming experience and has become an integral part of our team. Their many responsibilities include working with the production team, bookkeeping and payroll, shipping, and representing Real Pickles at events. We look forward to birthdays and anniversaries here at Real Pickles, because Jess loves to bake and often brings in yummy homemade treats to share! Jess lives in Greenfield with their partner and two cats (Garak and Chapel), and likes to read, collage, and play co-operative board games. Welcome, Jess!
“I really appreciate the sense of community and shared responsibility that I experience being a worker-owner at Real Pickles”
Russ Lilly is the most recent addition to our group of worker-owners. Russ first joined Real Pickles in 2017 as part of a re-entry program run by Greenfield’s Franklin County Jail to help inmates transition back to community life. Russ received a Farm and Food System certification through Greenfield Community College and took classes studying co-operative business. Russ now works with the production team and in our shipping department. He is also an invaluable resource for all things mechanical! He feels that he is making a difference in the world with his work here at Real Pickles and is proud to be a worker-owner. We are proud of you too, Russ!
“Throughout a difficult time in my life, Real Pickles accepted me for who I am and what I was going through. I am more than proud to be a part of a co-op that values environmental sustainability, utilizes local farmers, and helps give healthy, fresh, fermented foods to our community.”
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Even though this annual report does not cover the time period of mass protests following the killing of George Floyd, we wish to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter network and all who are standing against police violence. There is much work to be done and we are committed to learning, listening, growing and doing our part to end racism and white supremacy. Recognizing the work we need to do at our organization, our co-op holds ongoing justice and equity discussions, working to educate ourselves about racism in the food system. We annually support food justice and food access work including the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust and, in response to the murder of George Floyd and the continued violent response against protestors and people of color, we have made recent donations to organizations such as Reclaim The Block, Movement for Black Lives, Black Visions Collective, and the Massachusetts Bail Fund. We pledge to continue to educate ourselves and do our part in the fight for equality and justice.
Real Pickles staff and families at July 2019 picnic.
Our Mission is to promote human and ecological health by providing people with delicious, nourishing food and by working toward a regional, organic food system.