Closing Our Doors
We’re writing to let you know that after almost a decade of working on Starvation Alley, we’re hanging up our hats on juice production and other value-adding efforts. Though we will continue to work on the agricultural side of growing organic cranberries, Starvation Alley SPC will be shutting its doors. It’s been a long, arduous road trying to earn our livelihood from this business, and we’re thankful to all of you that joined us on the journey.
As may be expected, the story began at our farmhouse kitchen table where as a family, we first debated the merited, but ‘impossible’ dream of growing organically.
Though in hindsight this doesn’t seem so lofty, the reality was we risked a tremendous amount in the name of sustainable agriculture. The odds (and establishment) were stacked largely against us - the experts said it couldn’t be done. Cranberries are a giant and sedentary industry and when we started in 2010, only 300 of the 40,000 acres of cranberries grown in the States were organic.
In 2012, we became Washington’s first certified organic cranberry farm. We helped our neighbors grow organic too, keeping over twenty thousand pounds of synthetic chemicals out of our precious northwest watersheds.
Our environmental outcomes were significant, it’s true, however the financial side of the business didn’t see the same success. As a small farm with a reduced yield due to our transition process, we decided to add value to our crop by turning it into juice. This created a monster that spread us very thin as a family and team. Thanks to debt and equity financing from a handful of innovative and mission-aligned individuals and entities, the business was able to pay the farms we worked with (most of the time), create products and pursue local markets.
So why are we shutting the doors? What didn’t work?
The answer isn’t so straightforward. My best response is that being a farmer is difficult. Most farmers are brave and are willing to do hard shit for their family and their land if they have help and are shown the way. It’s nearly impossible to deviate from the norm, much less make the revolutionary change needed for an equitable and sustainable food system, on the back of a small farm, especially on the first try.
In a world in which the farming itself was enough, there’s a possibility we wouldn’t have started a juice company-- a completely different, equally challenging endeavor. Doing both of these at the same time? Ambitious!
Our story isn’t unique. Many young people are returning to farming as a livelihood. For them too, it’s hard to find mentors, access needed financing, develop skills to be good at farming and business simultaneously, and to retain a passion to farm ‘better’ when there’s often a lack of incentives.
This isn’t to say we’ve lost hope.
In fact, though Starvation Alley in its current iteration is going away, we’re already scheming what’s next. We’re joining forces with Ty Vincent, of Oregon’s Vincent Family Cranberries to achieve something we think the Pacific Northwest will be proud of. Stay tuned for more information in the coming months.
We will also continue to fight for organic farming nationally through our work with Oregon Tilth and others. This winter we plan to co-host the third organic cranberry conference, a project we started in 2017.
Lastly, we want to acknowledge all of the cranberry love we’ve been showered with and surrounded by endlessly through the years. It’s scary putting this story into the world for fear of disappointing those of you that have given us so much. I know many of you that are reading this have sat around the infamous farmhouse table with us and shared meals, worked on spreadsheets, provided counsel on rainy days and a glass to cheers against in our times of celebration. You have invested time, money, and insight that have made a difference in our food system and in our souls.
Thank you for sharing all your gifts and know that because of our collective blood, sweat, and support we’ve greatly moved the needle forward. As one of our friends said, we’ve successfully “broken trail” which is exhausting, and now, others can travel our path more easily.