I’ve hit The Dip. That place in most creative endeavors when you look around and wonder when is what I do going to get some real traction? Does anybody care? Does this matter? What’s my purpose? Ironically, The Dip is a precious time. It’s when you get to dig deep and consider what do you do, for whom, where is it needed? Not everyone wants or needs what you have to offer. But when you gather in those who do, it’s like magic…..
Some years ago I was working as a shepherd at a fiber farm on the outskirts of outskirts of Charlottesville, Virginia. While there I met a fellow named Joe who raised organic goats for meat. A number of his customers come from the D.C Beltway area. They were quite happy to pay good money for quality food.
But the time came when Joe was no longer satisfied selling goat meat from his farm. He wants to venture out and educate people about the value of eating what he raises: food that’s organic, sustainable, humanely harvested, no bad stuff in the feed, and lots of pasture to graze. But he doesn’t know how to begin.
Maybe it’s fate, maybe it’s the post office but a flier arrives from the University of Maryland Extension Program, College of Agriculture. Joe reads about a weekend course on marketing your produce and decides to jump in. As with so many of these programs what to do seems straightforward: get out there, network, push the product. How hard could that be?
Joe finds an old “roach coach “ for sale and fixes it up so he has a traveling kitchen. His route? Each and every state and local fair in Virginia. Surely, people eat at the fair.
His experience is rocky. It’s worse than rocky. It’s offal. Fairs offer a lot of cheap fried food: onion blossoms, corn dogs, brats and peppers, curly cut fries. Joe is offering 3 items: organic goat kabobs, organic goat curry and an organic skillet goat burger. While his prices are in keeping with what he’s trying to sell, they are several times more than the competition. And it’s foreign. Nobody is interested – except on a dare.
What to do? Lower the price? Offer one organic goat item and maybe a few side dishes? Seek other venues where the palates might be more educated and the pockets deeper? Give it up altogether as a baaaaaad idea?
Remembering why he started this maaaaad adventure Joe decides to dig in and keep on the Virginia fair route. It’s not easy changing minds or attitudes or appetites. Folks at the fairs give him a hard time about the product and the prices.
At each place he stands outside the mobile kitchen and begins to share his story – one that the U of MD encouraged him to tell: why goats, where are they raised, who takes care of them, how do they live, what makes this meat special, and so on. He prints up a one-page of the story and hands that out. Slowly it changes. The story draws them in, the goat meat keeps them there.
I asked him how did he keep it going through the rocky parts? He confides his mantra: “Some will. Some won’t. Who’s next?”