In his October newsletter to customers, Monte Skarsgard of Albuquerque's Skarsgard Farms wrote "We have a saying around here that 'Numbers don't lie.' Numbers don't get hunches, have feelings, get political or get emotional. Numbers tell a story whether you like it or not. And right now, COVID numbers in our enchanted state aren't good."
Now, I don't know if that's because we all kind of got bored sitting at home, if it's because some people insist on keeping their masks just below their noses when they're out or if we're just being outsmarted by that crafty coronoavirus bastard, but I do know that new case numbers are rising dramatically. Good, then, that Skarsgard Farms is eliminating a need to visit the physical store. Since March, the company has grown like crazy, rising to meet the pandemic head on through a reliable and affordable CSA/grocery delivery service with offerings as vast as they are enticing. But its massive growth isn't just some overnight success story, it's the product of years of hard work from a rather unlikely guy.
"I'm from Albuquerque originally, and I was working on a farm for two years in Seattle after college," Skarsgard tells SFR, adding that he'd gone to UC Santa Barbara for business and never even saw himself in agriculture. "At a certain point in my life, though, I was just asking myself what am I going to do? Where am I going to be? So looking to Albuquerque, and this was in 2003, it was really underserved at the time with, I think, one CSA and, like, 45 customers."
He took the methods he'd learned in Seattle, rented land from Los Poblanos Organic Farm and went at it. Nearly 20 years later, he's grown the business into one of the more prominent and convenient CSAs in the state, partly, he says, due to the mounting foodie movement of the early-aughts; partly through a desire to both feed and impact his hometown community. Additionally, he says, the COVID-19 pandemic is making us all rethink how we interact with food supply lines.
"The people who connect to their food, [the CSA] really moved them," Skarsgard says. "But it's not a matter of the McDonald's 'billion served' thing—our model doesn't need the one billion hamburgers sold."
COVID-19 has ironically played a major part in the company expanding. Skarsgard says his Santa Fe customer base has grown by 500%, for example, and he's been able to go from a 13-person operation to 42 employees over the last eight months.
"We've been hiring every single week for the past five or six weeks," he says.
This includes pickers, packers, warehouse staff, delivery drivers and a restaurant quality staff for making prepared meals and kits. Yes, you'll find the boxes full of fresh organic veggies and fruits synonymous with any CSA—choose from an arranged assortment or customize it however you like—as well as newer options like coffee, gluten-free pizza dough, soap, masks, dairy items, baked treats, fresh juice and, the newest jewel in the Skarsgard crown, cuts of meat from right here in New Mexico.
"Fortunately for New Mexico, the meat offering makes it a lot easier to have a year-round program," Skarsgard explains. "There are a lot of people in the state who are raising animals in an amazing way, then they end up selling them at a barn auction. That's the end of it. When it comes down to the final mile, there's this disconnect where the great work leaves the state. It's been a cool thing to see that value of what we do in connecting the dots with hungry New Mexicans who want to support a local meat program and couldn't before."
It's not all local, though. Not only would that be impossible given New Mexico's seasonality, getting the freshest sometimes means looking outward.
"We think of it like a ripple effect with New Mexico being the center," Skarsgard explains. "If we don't have some thing, we look to Colorado, then maybe Arizona and so on."
Still, if something can be procured locally, it will be. Even better, most options are as affordable if not more so than the grocery stores. For example, Skarsgard offers, a 10-pound box of dented or scratched produce for $14.95. That's a little less than $1.50 a pound.
"Maybe it's a zucchini that's a little larger than they like at the grocery store, or maybe it's a carrot with a crinkle in it," he tells SFR. "Only 50% of what comes out of a farm is the primo grocery store stuff—this might have a blemish on it, but if it's just going in a soup…?"
Of course, while Skarsgard is well aware the spike in business is COVID-19 related, and while he's committed to maintaining deliveries at an accelerated clip (Tuesdays and Friday to Santa Fe, btw), he says the company is prepared to evolve with its customers. Meal kit options will expand as will the other prepared foods; fresh fruits and veggies will never go out of style.
"It's a difficult transition to get people out of going to the store just because that's what we've done forever," Skarsgard points out. "I'm very conscientious about that, but I try to bring the value to the people—direct to consumer, direct to the grower. Every single time something changes hands, there's a markup. We take out the middle men and women. And I think w'eve got a pretty diverse offering."
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