The Freeport,ME Community Came Together to Save Laughing Stock Farm
Ralph and Lisa Turner run Laughing Stock Farm in Freeport, Maine; an organic vegetable farm that supplies local restaurants with fresh produce. When COVID-19 hit the states, local governments ordered restaurants to close down in order to help stop the spread of the deadly virus. Without restaurants to sell their produce to, Ralph and Lisa found themselves to be in quite the pickle. That is, until their neighbors swooped in to help.
It didn’t take long for Ralph and Lisa to start to panic once they heard the news that restaurants in the area were shutting down.“In a period of about four hours on one day in March, 75 percent of our business went to zero,” Ralph told the New York Times.“So our first step was to panic. That was step one.”
The thing was the husband-and-wife duo spent all of their revenue from the previous year (2019) on the crops that they were growing for the coming year (2020). That’s the way farming works: every spring the crops are harvested and sold and then that money is used to start the cycle all over again.
Well, without restaurants to sell to, their cash flow suddenly came to a screeching halt and they had 20,000-pounds and eight greenhouses full of goods – and no one to sell it to.
But that didn’t break the spirits of the owners of the Laughing Stock Farm!
Ralph and Lisa are both engineers by training, so they have a mind for strategy. “Lisa and I are both engineers by training,” Ralph told the New York Times. “and we’ve always kind of had the philosophy that bad news is good data, because once you have the data you can start to fix the problem.”
And fix the problem, they did!
The turners knew that they had to find a solution for their tons-of-supply-and-no-demand problem, so they put their heads together and decided that a farm stand would be their best bet – it could work to at least sell off some of their stock.
They portioned out eggs and bagged up vegetables, priced them, and spread the word through their community supported agriculture (CSA) newsletter, hoping that they could bring in 10 customers a day but expecting to be disappointed.
To their absolute surprise, they went through 130 cartons (each carton is a dozen) of eggs in just two and a half days! “It was insane,” Lisa said.
The farmers saw success with much more than just their egg supply. To their astonishment, members of their community were coming by to grab a $3 bag of produce, handing them a $10 and telling them to “keep the change!”
Lisa compared the experience to the closing scene of the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life in which the Bailey family is at risk of losing their family business. The community couldn’t stand to see that happen, so they piled into the Bailey’s home to give them enough money to pay off their debts – and then some.
In the end, the Turners didn’t have to throw away a single item from their harvest. Everything ended up balancing out and they aim to start the New Year by opening their very own farm store. It will be stocked with organic eggs and produce from Laughing Stock Farm as well as meats and cheese from other local farms.
Thanks to the kindness of friends and strangers, alike, the turners were able to keep their farm – even in the face of a global pandemic.