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Circle A Farms sees big boost in business during pandemic

A Cumming-based hydroponic lettuce operation is not only surviving – it’s thriving.

Many people around the area have become familiar with Circle A Farms. For the past few years, the Cumming-based business has offered farm-to-porch delivery of locally grown greens. According to co-owner Cheryl Howlin, business has never been better, despite the recent pandemic brought on by the spread of coronavirus.

“We went initially right into a lot more orders online,” she said. “So we went from a certain number to three times that amount which is a great problem to have, but remember it's still a problem.”

The problem, she said, was not a lack of produce. In fact, Howlin and her team just expanded their operation earlier this year, allowing them to grow even more greens. The problem, she said, was keeping up with the demand.

“We had the lettuce, but we had to have a lot more people cutting it,” Howlin said. “So it was a good thing for us. But at the same time, we have a philosophy that we want it to be the best lettuce that you can get. To keep quality very high while the demand goes even higher was our biggest challenge, because we did not want to gain new customers but then lose quality.”

Credit: WXIA

In a time when many businesses were forced to layoff workers, Howlin said the workload almost immediately increased for all her employees.

“Workers, most of them are in college, and so a lot of their college classes were changed to online. So they stepped up and worked more hours,” she said.” Our delivery drivers, we have three retired people working for us, kind of a part-time little gig. They were working 4 to 6 hours a day. They went to 8 and 9 hours a day.”

Not only did Circle A Farms retain all the employees during the pandemic, Howlin said the company is looking to hire a few more people now that farmers’ markets are opening. Some of the procedures have changed, though, she said.

“It’s a very great responsibility to keep people safe and keep people’s confidence high in us,” Howlin said. “We did everything we could and our workers could not have been more agreeable. We were all working with a new set of plans. It was almost a little bit like we're building the ship while we're sailing it. The demand went up like we wanted, but at the same time we had to make a lot of changes - work faster, work more efficient, and get the product out. We weren't used to that pace.”

Credit: Circle A Farms

In light of the current situation, Circle A Farms does not allow customers inside to purchase produce. A drive-through has been setup, and Howlin said they recently expanded their menu to help out some other local vendors who were struggling.

“We have a partnership with Olea Oliva olive oil store in Marietta,” she said. 

“They were basically shut down from people coming in. We just ramped up trying to help them and other small businesses, and we just offered the olive oils and vinegars for our salad customers, and people absolutely loved it. And I think we played a very big role in helping them continue to meet their bills and stay in business. For us, we tried to bring a lot more vendors onto our website to help other people during the time that we were flourishing. We had a delivery program, so we brought on about eight more companies and we offered their products online, and we've made a significant difference in helping them meet their monthly bills, which really in essence makes us feel very good that we can all work together.”

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