Two farmers, one mission – How a Self-defense couple tailored to the pandemic
Angelique Taylor and David “Kip” Ritchey had plans to distribute microgreens from their regenerative small farm in Quincy, Florida to restaurants in the Self-defense area in late February. But when the pandemic hit, restaurants closed and they were unable to maintain a steady supply of high 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 stated that they had lost 20% of their sales.
Noella Williams reports for NPR’s Next Generation Radio
“When we created Smarter by Nature, we wanted to create an icon that represented the future of agriculture and a more sustainable and truly inclusive way to do agriculture,” said Taylor.
Taylor and Ritchey have been a couple for five years and founded Smarter by Nature, LLC in December 2017.
Angelique Taylor and David “Kip” Ritchey plant onions on their farm in Quincy on a cold Tuesday morning.
Angelique Taylor (27) and David “Kip” Ritchey (30) have been a couple for five years. You started Smarter by Nature in 2017.
“We use regenerative practices that promote soil and soil health so we can grow nutritious foods for our local community,” said Taylor. Regenerative agriculture 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 methodologies for growing food at home with people who are curious about farming, gardening, and the outdoors.
“We grow healthy food and bring it to our community that doesn’t have as many options and access to quality fresh food,” said Taylor.
Near Taylor and Ritchey’s farm, Self-defenses Frenchtown is a mostly black neighborhood and a food wasteland. Florida’s poorest zip code, 32304, is not far away. Due to the lack of grocery stores and organic foods, Taylor and Ritchey bring oyster mushrooms, Nigerian spinach, mustard greens, marigold flowers, and more fresh produce to the Frenchtown Heritage Market on Saturday morning. There, customers have the option of using SNAP, EBT or WIC as currency. The store is partnering with the nonprofit Fresh Access Bucks to customize the customer’s SNAP / EBT purchase and double their rewards.
Taylor and Ritchey see their role in the community as going beyond just selling fruits and vegetables.
“I think our role is to be a glimmer of hope and inspiration to people because a lot of people say they want to learn how to grow, but they’ve never grown,” said Taylor.
Courtesy Angelique Taylor
Ritchey and his partner are vendors at the Frenchtown Heritage Market. The farmers’ market is held every Saturday morning in Self-defense.
Courtesy Angelique Taylor
“And we were just like that. We didn’t grow up as farmers and we have an agricultural background. “
Once the shutdowns began, Smarter by Nature’s plan to partner with restaurants was no longer an option.
“We’ve grown,” said Ritchey. “We pretty much had a lead in mind, and the pandemic was like an incoming storm.”
In addition to losing sales, they had fewer volunteers for safety reasons, and nearly half of their customers stopped visiting the farmers’ market.
This changed the way Taylor and Ritchey communicated with their customers to let them know that their fresh produce was still available. To provide a safe, contactless option for groceries, they’ve joined the online nonprofit Red Hills Online Farmers’ Market.
“Customers order their products in Red Hills and there are scheduled days for roadside collection or they can choose to have delivery,” the couple said. “Outside of Red Hills, customers can contact us on Instagram or Facebook and arrange to pick up the available products.”
They are currently planning an adaptation by hosting their workshops virtually. Currently they are allowing volunteers to enter their farm while safety is in place. Due to the increased interest in home cooking since the beginning of the pandemic, sales increased with consistent activity on social media. Overall, the couple say the pandemic has changed their business for the better.
“It made us solidify our purpose and get our online community more involved.”
But the past few months have really strengthened their relationship too.
“We already spend our time together and, like every day, we study all the time,” said Ritchey. “So it only helped cement our personal and business relationship.”
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