116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As March marked Women’s History Month, I took time to reflect on my journey as a female small business owner in the world of agriculture. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Iowa one year ago, I have had to adjust my business to continue to grow.
When we opened the Holton Homestead on a small acreage in Elkhart in 2015, we had a vision of providing homegrown produce, poultry and bee-based products to a growing community. Opening a small business is difficult, let alone in the agriculture community where there’s constant market fluctuations and upfront operation costs. However, I wanted this challenge and have found success. Knowing how difficult it is for women to succeed in a male dominated field like ag, this month, I encourage all Iowans to support women entrepreneurs taking on new challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed everyone’s life in March 2020, from parents, to teachers and especially our nation’s front line workers. The agricultural community was also impacted, including mine, as farmers markets are a major source of revenue for the Holton Homestead. Part of my business model included being a vendor at farmers markets throughout the Des Moines metro so customers could sample and buy my products and then want to patronize the farm store in Elkhart and buy online.
Much like other businesses, I had to make changes in my business strategy. Wanting to follow COVID-19 safety protocols and to keep my business running, I had to shift to a completely online model. Facebook and Instagram have been critical in sustaining and even growing my business, even during a pandemic. With the help of the “shops” feature on both Instagram and Facebook, I’ve been able to seamlessly stay connected with my customers who can directly buy my products on those social media platforms. Facebook has increased traffic to my website, as I saw 3,655 visits last month via this platform.
The Homestead’s business has grown steadily over the past year, due in part to more Iowans wanting to support local businesses over this period as well as the easy ability to shop online. It is absolutely critical to keep customer engagement high, which is why posting photos on Facebook and Instagram has led to great customer interactions. While this past year has been challenging, and we aren’t past the pandemic yet, I have grown confident in my business’s ability to pivot and overcome any challenges we may face.
Sadly, not every small business has had the same experience as me. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported in August that only 47 percent of women would report their business being in good health, a drop of 13 percent from the previous quarter. This is a statistic that should not sit well with everyone and it demonstrates the need for Iowans to support women small business owners.
Though there’s light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines becoming more widely available this year, the economic toll many of our small businesses felt has been devastating.
It is critical for all of us to support women business owners beyond Women’s History Month. Between lost revenue, an unpredictable economy and ongoing restrictions, an engaged community will need to support this segment of the workforce. Iowa can lead the nation in supporting women entrepreneurs year-round, but it will take all of us.
Sara Todd is owner of the Holton Homestead in Elkhart.