Saving the Ivan took many steps. In the last blog, I outlined how the team was put together for our first year. The next step was to figure out how to build a buzz for a tomato that hardly anyone knew existed. As a social media marketer, I knew we had to use social media. We need funding so an Indiegogo Crowdfunding Campaign was a great way to go. We believed that if we could get the Ivan’s story out there, people would connect with it on some level and want to support this fabulous tomato.
A village came together to make our Indiegogo Movie. I had some friends that all put their energy into the film. A film maker choreographed and filmed, a photographer handed us 19 gigs of pictures after the shoot, and a videographer jumped in to help the filmmaker. My sister, an actor and writer, helped make sure the movie script was effective. Some friends who have a fantastic band, Dirtfoot, gave us the rights to use one of their songs as our music. This all led to August when we filmed on Jordan’s farm during some of the hottest days of the summer.
I began to build the social media buzz with the Ivan Tomato Rescue Project Facebook page, create a website and connect with other like-minded groups. I spent months working on PR coverage of the story. We managed to get the story into several media outlets including: Feast, Vox, The Columbia Missourian, KBIA, The Slow Food Newsletter, Inside Columbia Magazine, Post Gazette Pittsburg, and the News Tribune in Jefferson City. Our suspicions were confirmed that when folks herd about the story of the Ivan they were willing to help us build our buzz.
We launched the Indiegogo in November running it through New Years. Our goal was $10,000, yet we only raised about $4,400 from 111 backers. The good thing is that we raised enough to cover our campaign costs and get our first season of plants started. We also got Ivan seed packages out to over 100 people in 27 states and 5 countries. We did not meet our goal of having funding to build a full size green house and operation on our own property. However, the exposure we got was a huge help and got the ball rolling.
We continued to sell seeds, on line, through our webpage at www.victorygardeners.com. We grew plants for our first season as a nursery and ended up offering 12 types of tomatoes, 10 types of peppers, 17 types of herbs and some decorative flowers. We had a booth at Earth Day, the Columbia Farmers Market and the Baker Creek Planting Festival. We learned a lot.
At the end of the seasons we had sold a lot of our plants including over 800 Ivan tomato plants. We had covered our costs and had a little money left over to contribute towards building a small greenhouse in my backyard. The green house was made from re-claimed windows reducing our expenses to the framing, roofing and accoutrements. We counted our first season a success.
8 Important Things We Learned:
• We may love flowers and decorative ornamentals but that is not our market.
• Growing plants is a huge amount of work and takes every bit of time and energy you have available.
• When you are responsible for 1000’s of plants you cannot slack off, at all.
• Transplanting time is exhausting and expensive, invite friends to help, bribe them with free plants.
• Use great soil and organic fertilizers and get the best results.
• Tarping a trailer is not easy and not doing it correctly can result in losing 100’s of plants in about 25 seconds.
• Pay extra for better space at plant shows.
• Tell your story as often as possible and to everyone who will listen.
The Baker Creek Tarp Disaster
I will now share with you the story about going to Baker Creek Planting Festival and our tarp disaster. We were so excited and looking forward to being vendors. I had gone for years as a shopper and enjoyed it immensely while acquiring unique and wonderful plants. The sale was in early May, right at the beginning of planting season. We had requested the lowest cost booth to keep the expenses down. We had to pay for our transport, food, lodging etc. We figured we would make the best of it and learn all we could from our first exposure.
The sale was on a Sunday and Monday. So, we did the Farmers Market in Columbia, Missouri on the Saturday morning for the biggest plant sale weekend of the season. Then we packed up as many plants as we could fit in Becky’s trailer and tarped it as best we could. The trailer had two levels so the bottom level was covered by a hard-protective layer. The top level was covered by the tarping. We had never tarped a trailer before and did not really have all the right straps and bungies. We used what we had and figured we had it nice and tight.
We left at about 8:30 pm so it was just starting to get dark. I was following the truck in my Van with hanging baskets, camping gear and more plants. We were about 30 minutes into the drive, at about Versailles Missouri, when I saw the tarp begin to flap a little bit. I called up to the truck and told them about the motion. We stopped and checked it out. It seemed tight. We figured it was OK.
We drove off with me keeping an eye on the tarping. About a minute later stuff just started pelting my car. Bungies, bits of tarp, soil, plant shavings, and plastic containers all came flying at me. I called them again yelling for them to pull over. We pulled over and assessed the damage. We figured we lost several 100 plants but couldn’t see in the dark to really know. One of the top supports had collapsed on the bottom level mostly crushing whatever was under it. At least 2/3 of the top level looked like something out of a science fiction flick. It looked like something had come along and ripped everything right out of the soil, leaving some stems and mangled plastic.
This was a huge blow to everyone. We worked so hard to grow those plants. My first fear was that it was the Ivan’s. It was like my heart sunk, the rest of the long drive was done in silent sadness. It was no one’s fault. We all needed to learn this lesson. The next morning, in the light, we were able to assess the damage. Thankfully we didn’t lose any Ivan’s. However, we did lose about 300 pepper plants and about the same number of herbs and flowers.
I guess the lesson to learn is that when you start your own business, and especially when you are working with farming, you can’t project how things will go. You can’t possibly control everything, and you must learn as you go. However, you can make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice.
We managed to focus on the plants we had at the sale. All things considered, we did very well. Our booth was at a less than ideal location in the back corner. We should have paid more for a better booth space. We sold many plants and found an audience that was truly interested in this new tomato. People bought many Ivan plants and enjoyed our story and our mission. We learned many lessons about how to succeed in this environment and we had a lot of fun meeting new people. We look forward to applying the many lessons learned as we continue on our journey to Save the Ivan Tomato and other heirloom plants and bring them back to our gardens and tables.