Two Farmers, One Mission — How A Tallahassee Couple Adapted To The Pandemic
Farmers at Smarter by Nature are tending to their community and their crops to cultivate their business. By maintaining a social media presence, the couple has been able to increase their profit during a global economic and health crisis.
Angelique Taylor and David “Kip” Ritchey, had plans to distribute microgreens from their regenerative, small-scale farm in Quincy, Fl, to restaurants in the Tallahassee area in late February. But, once the pandemic hit, restaurants closed down, and they weren’t able to get a consistent supply of quality seeds to grow more reliable, long-term crops.
At the same time, fewer people were visiting the farmers’ market where Taylor and Ritchey sold produce every weekend. Overall, they say they lost 20% of their sales.
“When we created Smarter by Nature, we wanted to create a symbol that really represented the future of agriculture and a more sustainable and really inclusive way into farming,” Taylor said.
Taylor and Ritchey have been a couple for five years, and established Smarter by Nature, LLC in December 2017.
“We use regenerative practices that build the soil and build the health of the soil, so that we can grow nutritious food for our local community,” Taylor said. Regenerative farming is the practice of reversing the effects of climate change by restoring previously degraded soil.
The couple’s mission is to build sustainable relationships by hosting workshops and sharing methods of growing food at home with people who are curious about farming, gardening, and nature.
“We grow healthy food and bring that to our community, which doesn’t have that many choices and access to fresh quality food,” Taylor said.
Near Taylor and Ritchey’s farm, Tallahassee’s Frenchtown is a predominantly Black neighborhood and a food desert. Florida’s poorest zip code, 32304, is a short distance away. Due to the absence of grocery stores and organic food options, Taylor and Ritchey bring oyster mushrooms, Nigerian spinach, mustard greens, marigold flowers, and more fresh produce to their vending table at the Saturday morning Frenchtown Heritage Market. There, customers have the ability to use SNAP, EBT or WIC as a form of currency. The market partners with the nonprofit organization Fresh Access Bucks to match the customer’s SNAP/EBT purchase to double their rewards.
Taylor and Ritchey see their role in the community as going beyond selling fruits and vegetables.
“I believe our role is to be a glimmer of hope for people and inspiration, because a lot of people say that they want to learn how to grow, but they have never grown before,” Taylor said.
“And we were just like that. We didn’t grow up as farmers and have a farming background.”
Once shutdowns began, the plan for Smarter by Nature to collaborate with restaurants was no longer an option.
“We were growing,” Ritchey said. “We had a track in mind pretty much, and the pandemic was like an incoming storm.”
In addition to a loss of sales, they had fewer volunteers due to safety restrictions, and nearly half of their customers stopped attending the farmers’ market.
This shifted the way that Taylor and Ritchey communicated with their customers to let them know that their fresh produce was still available. In order to provide a safe, contactless option for groceries, they joined the online nonprofit organization, Red Hills Online Farmers’ market.
“Customers order their produce on Red Hills, and there are scheduled days for curbside pickup or can opt for delivery,” the couple said. “Outside of Red Hills, customers might contact us via Instagram or Facebook and schedule a pick up of available produce.”
As for now, they are planning to adapt by hosting their workshops virtually, and they are currently allowing volunteers onto their farm while maintaining safety precautions. Because of an elevated interest in stay-at-home cooking since the pandemic began, their sales actually increased with their consistent social media activity. So overall, the couple says the pandemic changed their business for the better.
“It caused us to solidify our purpose and be more inclusive of our online community.”
But the past few months really strengthened their relationship, too.
“We already spend our time together, and we study like every day all the time,” Ritchey said. “So, it just helped fortify our relationship, both personal and business.”