The outliers and the unloved
On Monday dozens of CERES staff tune into a Zoom meeting to hear CEO Cinnamon Evans report on the Corona-virus’ impact on CERES and take questions.
The mood is heavy; many people leave web-cams off, listening behind black tiles with only names showing.
Cinnamon relates a picture of an organisation turned upside-down – parts have closed, parts are just holding on and parts are under pressure to serve a huge wave of customers.
Going through a list Cinnamon reports;
CERES’ Schools team, who would have been delivering environmental education to more than 360,000 children this year, have closed and are trying to create online alternatives.
CERES’ Vocational Training, as well as our NDIS program and two bush kinder groups have also had to close.
The Merri Café, like so many other hospitality businesses, has shut its doors.
Likewise, our popular Venue Hire service has no one to open up its workshop spaces for.
Our purpose-based tours enterprise, CERES Global, can no longer operate in a world of closed borders and grounded airlines.
The Site Team office is quiet; thousands of corporate and community volunteers who come each year to help out on the farm and in our gardens are now isolated at home.
The cumulative effect, Cinnamon reveals, is that 95 people, around half of CERES’ staff, have been stood down.
Hearing the number out loud leaves a pit in my stomach – the meeting is punctuated with silences as the scale of what has just happened is digested.
Our situation gets me thinking back to various business development sessions we engaged with over the years.
Time and again consultants flummoxed by CERES’ seemingly random gaggle of projects from bee groups to dosa-making refugees, would attempt to narrow focus on our core business – environmental education services.
It’s a path that today would have had us all out of a job.
Instead, Cinnamon reports on the remaining social enterprises that are helping keep CERES alive.
At the CERES Nursery you’ll see people in a well-spaced line-up out into the car park. Staff now fetch over-the-counter and phone orders while customers wait out front for their seedlings and plants – trade, apparently, has never been busier.
Taking a similar approach The Grocery has shifted their business model, including taking phone orders up to the car park for an unlikely, but much appreciated, drive-through service.
Up the Merri Creek at Joe’s Market Garden – the popular Saturday Farm Gate has been packing socially-distant veg orders and selling veggie boxes online – Farmer Em Connors says boxes sold out last week and numbers are being increased to cope with demand.
Not to be out-done Tamil Feasts cooks have switched their famous Sri Lankan dinners from sit-down to take-out. During the week project manager, Emma McCann, tells me their online orders also sold out both nights.
Adult Workshops have also been quick to get online – all of the face-to-face courses can now be done from home – the feedback from participants, eager to learn urban farming, cooking and self-sufficiency skills, has been overwhelmingly positive.
For Fair Wood the timber business has bubbled as locked-down DIYers throw themselves into building projects and garden bed-raisings.
And over at the Fair Food warehouse the crew are packing and delivering three times as many items as usual. Ten CERES staff have come over to help out and recruitment is well underway to begin delivering Saturdays and evenings.
Cinnamon finishes up. Questions are asked and answered, difficult ones are taken on notice to be answered later. A sadness and resignation hangs in the air.
For the moment we have lost half our fellow staff along with their projects and enterprises, but for those who still remain I am grateful to CERES’ elders for sticking with our unfashionable diversity all these years.
It’s taken a crisis to reveal why mother nature’s always made room for the unconventional, the outliers and the unloved.
Full Stack Dev
I’m not exactly sure what that is – but if you know your way around Ruby/Rails/Angular software and the sound of helping CERES and Open Food Network support local, small farmers and eaters connect with each other all across the world gets the hair on your neck standing up then maybe you should apply
Have a safe week