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Gratitude for the Power of Community

by CHRISTINA STEMBEL

I started Farmgirl Flowers in the dining room of my tiny San Francisco apartment back in 2010. I worked on a heavy, wooden table of which I’d underestimated the size when I purchased it. I had to saw off the bottom four inches of each leg that, once I got it through the door, had to reattach using hinges and a hardware store’s worth of screws. I had a “cooler” I put together in the bay window of that dining room using makeshift blackout curtains to trap the cold winds coming from the water.

I’d chill that morning’s market haul until I could transform it into one of the daily arrangements I’d designed by teaching myself how to arrange flowers from YouTube. I bulk hydrated greens so often in my tub that I took showers with leaves underfoot. Back then, the company was pretty much just me: The farmgirl.

I was the CEO and founder, but also the marketing manager, the designer, the customer service agent, the procurement manager, and so on. But today? It has turned into a team of over 200 strong. We have processors, receivers, designers, fulfillers, customer service agents, and managers that make the world that is Farmgirl go around. Together we made over $30M in annual revenue in 2019 by shipping our arrangements and gifts all over the contiguous United States. Or did, anyway, until Monday, March 16, 2020, when San Francisco county enacted a shelter in place mandate that forced us to temporarily shutter our warehouse in Potrero Hill.

In the almost two weeks that have passed since, our business has changed dramatically. Understandably, our orders are down almost 60% and we’re not alone. We’ve already watched three floral transportation companies close their doors this month along with several farms. We’ve also seen other farm partners throw out hundreds of thousands and, in some cases, millions of dollars worth of flowers that have gone unordered. And while the devastation to the floral industry is breathtaking in its scale, it’s just the beginning.

I, like so many, have watched the COVID-19 case and casualty count tick upwards on my Google News Alerts. I’ve also heard of countless cancelled weddings, missed milestone birthdays and so many other “quiet heartbreaks” (as The Wall Street Journal called them). The health and human impacts of this pandemic are, without a doubt, the most tragic part of this virus, and the steady onslaught of these tragedies, both large and small, has snowballed into something that to me feels greater than the sum of its parts. And yet, in the midst of this, I’ve also watched hope and community grow in a similarly exponential way. I’ve seen it in the notes on Farmgirl orders, outpourings of love and support and kindness in 350 characters or less. I’ve felt it on our Instagram and Facebook and in emails, with businesses supporting other businesses during this difficult time. I’ve seen neighbors helping neighbors they’ve previously never even stopped to introduce themselves to and, more broadly, communities coming together in ways that I couldn’t have imagined before this happened. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what the other side of “this” looks like.

Getting Farmgirl and my team through this crisis, in a lot of ways, feels a lot like getting that oversized table into my tiny apartment when I first started. There’s a lot of pivoting and taking things apart in the hopes that we can reassemble them on the other side of the door of the COVID-19 pandemic. We made the decision to open a second distribution center in Ecuador at the beginning of this year. So, while our SF operations are closed, our South American facility has been fulfilling all orders placed on farmgirlflowers.com. Their spirit, grit and determination while doing the work of two distribution centers has been humbling.

And so, too, has been the response from our customers. I’ve always felt incredibly lucky to have such engaged, thoughtful, passionate and supportive people and, in particular, women who love Farmgirl. The comments and direct messages from our customers sending their well wishes, asking how they can support us and rallying their friends, if they can, to do the same, has been incredible. Their love for the brand and the experience of giving or receiving our arrangements has always exceeded my wildest dreams, but the support they’ve shown us over the past two weeks has been nothing short of a miracle. Especially as we watch so many in our industry have their businesses decimated by this pandemic, I am incredibly grateful, eternally grateful, for every comment, every like, every share and every order.

So, while I don’t know what the future will look like, I am at least certain now of how we’ll get there – with a little humility, with a lot of community and maybe a little hardware to help put things back together on the other side.

This essay was featured in the March 29th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.

CHRISTINA STEMBEL

Christina Stembel is the CEO & Founder of Farmgirl Flowers.