Spring pounced with the kind of weekend we were all dreaming about. Blue skies, balmy weather - break out the bicycles and running shoes. Memories of Nor'easters and power outages faded and forgiven.
Saturday's AM trek to the Union Square Greenmarket was filled with unrealistic expectations of seeing green - peas/lettuce/asparagus - anything with a shade of green to counterbalance the long months of winter's stingy bounty - potatoes, parsnips, carrots, hearty greens, celeriac, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, everything preserved and pickled, beets and leeks and of course, apples.
But the transition from dormant to abundant doesn't happen with a sudden change of weather. And weather is a fickle thing anyhow. The transition process from winter's fallow fields to the startling renewal of spring is slow and steady with every milestone reflective of hard work with incremental results. Days of meticulous hand seeding, weeks of nurturing and perfect greenhouse conditions before transplanting to the fields is even considered. And the intense labor in the fields readying the soil as it transitions from frozen to thawed to fertilized to fertile.
So there will be several more weeks of storage crops along with the tantalizing treats from several local greenhouses, which will remind of us of the season ahead. The otherwise static winter landscape has been punctuated by the tasty tomatoes/herbs/lettuce and cucumbers of Shushan Valley Hydro Farm; hearty greens from Norwich Farm and Bok Choy and Kale from D&J Organic Farm; Micro greens from Katchkie Farm; Blossoms from Windfall Farm; and the most unusual radishes from John D. Madura. Our gratitude to the greenhouses and hoop houses for filling the void, and appeasing my expectations of bountiful green produce with these endearing shades and robust flavors.
Similarly, the first quarter of 2010 is nearly over, another dormant season of deferred celebration and muted expectations. Where's the green in our business lives?
To the question of what is happening in the hospitality industry, well it's not unlike what is happening at the farm. Change is slow. Working towards a season of parties and events is not simple. Nurturing relationships, constant attentiveness to detail calls to mind the process of seeding and reseeding; success and failure are all part of what it takes to advance from the nursery to the field - all just one-step at a time in an evolving process of restoring confidence. And how ready we are to have a good growing season in business. The phones are ringing again; dates and venues are being booked; chefs are cooking new menus.
But, there is not a lot of green. Customers are flexing their hard learned negotiation skills and margins are as lean as I have ever seen them. And the grim memory of 2009 is just below the surface, so we all just accept the challenges of this new cultivation season with patience and wisdom.
It is also a return to traditional discipline in our sales oriented world. After a long run of reactive salesmanship, it is time to sharpen the proactive skills again. Outreach calls, consistent follow up, focusing on customer service, pushing response time, picking up the phone and making contact, going to extra mile daily - the skills that distinguish a winning team from one that just gets by - are again the standard. Balancing the mix between electronic communications via computer/BlackBerry with the power of human contact has never been more important. And to make things even more complicated, assessing the impact of electronic promotion vs. traditional methods impacts how we influence a new generation of buyers. Indeed a complex landscape to cultivate.
Waiting for the world to change - waiting for the green to proliferate with the abundance of a fruitful season. How are we able to balance the longing for immediate change with the reality of gradual transition?
A friend shared a conversation from her yoga class, as the instructor spoke to a similar desire of wanting spring to be in full bloom so badly. The advice: while waiting for spring to emerge, look inside yourself; find the spark within you to sustain the wait. From our life on the farm and our life in a complex business world, we have learned the value and the inevitability of patience and discipline; of hard work with few shortcuts; and the power of devotion and dedication.
Look inside and outside - and don't forget your rain boots!