Could a Dream Career be Just a Stone’s Throw Away?
How do you leave a lucrative career and the fast-paced city life you love to take the risk of a lifetime? When it’s time for a career change, how do you know you’re headed in the right direction? We asked Nora Pugliese owner of Stone’s Throw Garden, a CTU Distinguished Lecturer and former New York City video editor and producer, who transformed a personal vegetable garden into an organic farming business, for advice.
CTU: Having found success in New York as a freelance video editor and producer, it takes a leap of faith to go in a whole new direction.
Nora: I loved my work in video production and living in the city, but things changed when my son was born. Also, given the commute, and a husband who traveled extensively, I knew something had to change. At the time, farming didn’t make the most sense - I couldn’t keep a houseplant alive, but I had a deep passion for organic farming and its future. After some research, I realized that I could be a paid apprentice, earning money while learning how not to kill a plant! That sprouted into the inspiration to become a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmer and start Stone’s Throw Garden, a small organic farm in rural Lebanon, New Jersey. The name suggests that fresh, organic produce is just a stone's throw away!
CTU: Tell us more about being a CSA farmer and the business model.
Nora: The CSA model operates on a membership system. Members purchase a share of the farm's produce, before the season begins, providing operating money. During the season, members receive their produce according to pre-determined frequency, depending on what is being harvested and how much of it is available. The farmer has a guaranteed market regardless of weather conditions or other problems. Selling directly to members eliminates the middleman, earning the farmer top dollar. The financial rewards for small-scale farmers are not great, but with careful planning, attention to detail and some good luck, a farmer can have a rewarding career and lifestyle.
CTU: What are some considerations when making a career change or starting a business?
Nora: It begins with three questions:
- Am I financially prepared? Everyone’s risk tolerance is different, so carefully assess whether you have the financial resources to make the transition.
- How will this affect my family? Starting a business is hard work. It will affect the people around you. Be prepared to successfully navigate the relationships that matter most to you.
- Do I have the necessary skills and education? I changed careers, so needed to learn new skills. But even those who transition from employment to entrepreneurship within the same field have a learning curve. Owning a business requires different skills than being an employee, so preparation is key.
And finally, realistic planning is critical. Assessing your market and planning for growth to extend your market reach are all part of the planning process.
CTU: Those are great points, Nora. What aspects of your new business were most surprising?
Nora: I was stunned by how invested my customers were. I expected that growing my business meant doing a lot of sales and marketing independently. But it turned out my customers really wanted me to succeed.
I was also surprised by the amount of creativity needed. You really need to think and act outside the box. For example, we use an electric fence to keep deer away. One of my electric fences stopped working, so of course, deer gobbled my crops! I knew replacing the fence would be a significant investment. Instead of extending my credit, I asked if customers would pay, in advance, for two seasons worth of produce. Guess what? I got a huge response and could pay for the fence. But that also meant I now had to cultivate more land to bring in more customers the following season.
CTU: Are there resources you'd recommend small business owners tap into?
Nora: First, don’t forget how helpful your current customers can be. I also strongly recommend social media. I began leveraging my local city government’s Facebook page quite by accident. My customers were there first, talking about my business, sharing my pictures and blog posts. Before I knew it, I was welcoming new customers. Facebook has been invaluable.
CTU: Many assume success is a direct line from point A to B, while experts often say it's a meandering path like yours. How did you put your life experiences, whether academic or professional or personal, to use as you undertook this journey?
Nora: In film or television production, the goal is to draw your audience in by telling an interesting story. You want to get them invested enough to stay until the end. That’s experience I apply to my business. I tell stories about my business through words and pictures. If you visit my website, you’ll see pictures and informative blog posts. They draw people in.
Whether it’s film-making or farming, whether I’m working with a customer, an employee or a vendor, good communication gets results. I take the time to get to know my customers through one-on-one conversations. It might be about the vegetables and cooking them, or could just as easily be about their kids. I make my customers feel valued. For instance, I’ll grow a specific variety of a vegetable for a customer who loves it. Or, they can cut themselves a bouquet of flowers from my garden, if they like. In turn, they feel invested in my success. A vast majority have been with me from the beginning. It’s also about:
- Clarifying what I expect from others.
- Being and keeping others informed of progress or problems.
- Asking for and actively listening to feedback.
Success is also about living life on one’s own terms. I’ve created a lifestyle that perfectly suits our family, love my work and am in charge of my career and my future. Best of all, I get to enjoy raising my children while building an incredible business.
CTU: How do you deal with self-doubt?
Nora: Most doubt comes from fear. My husband and close friends pull me out of my own head. And I'll ask, what is the worst thing that could happen and prepare to keep it from happening or to move beyond it.
Feel inspired? Share this story, watch her Distinguished Lecturer Series webinar and tell us more about your goals and aspirations in the comments below.
About Nora Pugliese
Nora Pugliese was born and raised in Miami, Florida. After receiving a bachelor in media communications, she moved to New York to pursue a career in film and television production. When she wasn’t working, she spent time nurturing a personal vegetable garden from her home. That eventually sprouted into the inspiration to start a Stone’s Throw Garden, a small organic farm in rural Lebanon, New Jersey. Learn more about Nora and her business at www.stonesthrowgarden.com.
Image Credit: Stone’s Throw Garden website