By the time you read this I will have already retired from Norm’s Farms. April 30 is my official last day with Norm’s Farms, a business my husband, Rodger and I started with help from our daughter, Erin, nearly a decade ago. Although I will keep up with the company and be there to assist in any way needed, I will no longer have official roles or regular hours. It is a big life transition for me, and aside from the expected sadness over my ending role with Norm’s Farms, I’m excited to be able to retire and to begin a new chapter in my life! When I look back…what a roller coaster ride the last 10 years have been.
We started our business when the jobs we had held for decades were crumbling beneath our feet and despite trying for well over a year, couldn’t find another similar job in the middle of the last Great Recession. They say that to form a successful business you can’t have a "plan b", and we didn’t. It was Norm’s Farms (we called it Elderberry Life back then) or bust. The day we started the business we could never have anticipated finding our current partners and retirement was the last thing on our minds.
What do I remember of those early years? Working all day, every day and having a great time for the most part. When fears of failure would creep in, I discovered that hard work was the best antidote to that fear. I found myself repeating my friend George Marshall’s favorite saying about what it takes to start and run your own business: “Hard work, perseverance, dedication and self-sacrifice”. That saying became my mantra and I used it to push my way through the exhaustion and occasional hard times and fear that comes with them. We put our heads down and worked like the dickens to pull together Norm’s Farms because we had no plan b and because failure wasn’t an option.
I also remember having to develop comfort around uncertainty and probability. Would we be able to sell that first 7 pallet order of products made with the elderberry we grew? Probably. But what if we couldn’t? What if our labeling was all wrong? Did we miss any regulatory requirements that would prove fatal to our little business? The answers to all those questions was “probably not” but there was no crystal ball that could deliver the certainty I craved. Over time, I learned to trust in our ability to overcome the obstacles and problems that arose and to be comfortable with not being able to see exactly where we were headed. We also learned that failures, like our “ready to drink” products that were launched under the name “Elderberry Life”, are just as valuable as successes and, maybe more so, because to make a failure valuable, you have to learn from it.
By the time our future partners, Brittany and Devon, first introduced themselves to us, we had survived a re-branding to our current name, Norm’s Farms, we had let go of the ready to drink products because we had no chance of succeeding in that market, and had overcome numerous crop failures too. Despite those failures and others, our business was still growing by as much as 60% each year. In short, we had become so comfortable with making mistakes and suffering failures that I was writing blog posts about failures, like this one about all of our labeling and naming mistakes, or this one about crop failure, a totaled van, the loss of our two labs, and more. It would take a couple more years before Brittany and Devon joined us as investors and partners in Norm's Farms and, once we got the deal done, we have never looked back. We knew that our little business needed a younger generation to carry it into the future and that is exactly what Brittany and Devon, and the many people that now work for Norm’s Farms are doing. To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. It is time to let the “young’uns” as we affectionately refer to them, carry on without us.
We’ve found new passions to lose ourselves in these days and having something to turns towards as I leave Norm’s Farms behind is a blessing. Rodger and I and our adult kids have been building a camp for our extended family and friends on Lake James. Rodger is rebuilding a boat, and I continue to explore painting and other forms of creativity. The Covid-19 crisis was not the environment we planned on retiring into, but we’ll make the best of it, as so many people are these days. We can’t open up our camp until the crisis is over, but we can still retreat to our lovely patch of woods by the lake, listen to the leaves rustle in the wind and the cries of Bald Eagles, Osprey and Red Shouldered Hawks. We can still receive our daily visits from the Pileated Woodpecker and Whippoorwill that also call our little cove home. Thanks for a lovely ride, for following us over these many years, and for supporting small business! We wish everyone of you the best, this year and for years to come. Go Norm's Farms!