A Little Farm Biz Talk

Published by 39 Comments

A Normal Business Clock

Introduction: It’s no secret I believe the Commie virus chapter in our history was horribly, perhaps criminally, mishandled by our ruling elites.  We would have been far better off simply treating the virus, instead of trying to contain it.  I won’t go into this at length, because it should be obvious; you can read a few of the Covid truths that were never true here.  Make sure to watch the last video podcast to the end.  It contains a hilarious montage of policy pundits — everyone from Fauci to Rachel Maddow to our unctuous surgeon general — assuring us that the vaccine would both prevent our own infection  and prevent us from spreading it to others.  It does neither.

(Is anyone else amazed by how absolutely certain some people are about being right, even though they change their position every few weeks?)

The Farm:  during the old normal years, I was always struck by how the business cycle actually matched nature’s cycle.  The second Thursday in March would generate walk-in traffic, and reservations, at just about the same volume it did the year before.  Some of these comparisons were almost spooky in their regularity.  You could check the same date, going back several years, and it would occupy the same dip or peak in the graph with more certainty than charting the arrival of the apple blossoms.

Covid public health policy, (not Covid itself) dealt a kind of knock-out head-blow to all of that.  Children, who were never at real risk from the virus, suddenly couldn’t attend field trips.  Our primary revenue stream was decimated.  Millions of dollars, in bookings, fell off the calendar in a period of a few days.  We were fairly certain we would have to shut down and sell the farm, but our loyal customers and staff rallied; we enjoyed a few Saturdays with enormous bakery sales — the only kind of commerce we were allowed at the time.

As grateful as we were for that surge, a business with million dollar obligations can’t immediately shift to drastically lower sales without being in constant financial danger.  I worried then, and now, that we’re trying to run a business in a world where politicians, and bureaucrats can shout, “you’re off,” and then “you’re on” and then “you’re on for a little while, maybe.”  Some of us in the service industry don’t get to hunker down in the living room office and take zoom calls.  Our business depends on being able to serve real people, in the flesh.  We hire real human beings with real human obligations and bills to pay.  We don’t get to cancel the economy and then isolate in the man cave while the taxpayers keep paying our salary. The Covid chapter shuttered more than 100,000 independent restaurants, and the few families trying to survive have invested all of their savings to keep their struggling operations afloat.  Most of them, still, are not out of danger.

To Hell With That: we opted for old normal and insisted on being very belligerent about itWe took some heat from high-maintenance neurotics in the media. Our core customers loved us for it and we began selling out our dinner theater and harvest programs.  Honestly, we’ve never seen such growth.  Sleepy Hollow, our largest theater program by far, grew by 58% in 2021.  So far, so good.   Field trips are coming back as well.  We’re seeing every manner of new homeschool group, charter school, private school and even many of the sensible public schools are returning.  All very, very good.  Most Americans are something like those Canadian freedom truckers:  sensible,  steady, and utterly impatient with pointless regulation.

The Bad News: I don’t worry as much about the government anymore.  Our own, local, county government has been sensible about the crisis.  I don’t worry about the meddling bureaucrat. What I do worry about?  The crisis has created a permanently neurotic sort of consumer — the kind of person who thinks their five year old is at risk for Covid, the kind of person who actually believes masks and six foot distancing dots protect us.  During January’s Omicron surge, I believe this actually came to include otherwise sensible people who were simply tired of defending the old normal.  They had a scratch at the back of their throat and they didn’t worry about causing contagion, so much as being accused of it.  They were simply tired of their needy relatives’ constant carping.  They stayed home.

(By the way, I actually contracted Covid myself, and even though a lot of my critics had hoped I would die from it, it was something like a mild cold.  I found a doctor who would prescribe Ivermectin and I beat it in four days — never missing one of my 4 mile a day walks.)

Back to Biz:  we’ve noticed a significant decline in walk-on bakery, lunch, and retail sales.  Some of the major attractions in our area have reduced public hours and the trend is confirmed by industry-wide metrics.  (According to Moody’s, January was a really tough month for restaurants.)  People are either battered by the economics of a failing supply chain or they are tired of talking their fearful relatives into living again, or they are simply running out of disposable income.  We are witnessing what two years of abject fear can do to the economy.

The Reservation Model: So here is our situation.  We have to consider what may be our only option in these crazy times.  The farm may only be open for people who pre-reserve to be here.  This actually seems to be what the market is telling us.  Our reservation programs are selling out, but we just don’t get enough walk-on traffic to justify hiring people to wait around for it.  What say you all?  I hire, and pay, for live music on Saturdays. (Our bands don’t pay for tips.)  The tavern has been more or less empty.   We have customers who have supported us, through the crisis, every Saturday, and we’re very grateful for them, but I must ask myself the question: are Americans ready to start living again?  Mary and I took a mid-week trip to Santa Barbara, to visit a relative after the death of his wife.  Most of the hotels were flashing “vacancy” signs.  I’ve never seen that before.  Santa Barbara is an EASY sell.

I welcome your comments…

The Trails Again

One of the few GREAT things about Covid?   I lost 40 pounds walking the farm for the last year.  I usually do about 3.6 to 4.1 miles a day, and I found out, today, that simply walking the old 19th century apple terraces will get you a “mile-per-serpentine.”  See the pale blue line on the second to last picture below.  If you ever try cardio in the mountains, you can be discouraged by long periods of gaining elevation, punctuated by long declines, but when you walk the apple terraces, you are always going slightly up or slightly down.  It’s a good work out.  You should try it this Saturday.

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This post was written by Jim Riley


  • Shawn Rice says:

    Riley Farms,
    Here is the story that is not being told.
    The world’s elite DO NOT make money out of thin air. Granted, their use of Our future-labor-interest-credit-deposit is wildly out of control, at the end of the day we still own it. We are the Grantor/depositors/beneficiaries. See 50 USC 4312, Common Law Trustee. Also, some of us are litigating the covid issue and are in court continuously. There is a document that debunks the “money out of thin air” fallacy. They are attempting to avoid that depositary liability by switching from future-labor-interest-deposit (Basel 2) to In-ground-assets (Basel 3) (obtained from our future-labor-interest-deposits). If they kill off enough people and enslave the rest, they will be successful. Their plans do not appear to be as successful as they had planned. I do this for a living, converting people’s status from operating in “Agency” as a “minor” (31 CFR 363.6) to Holder-in-Due-Course/Secured Party Creditor. We do not owe TPTB. They owe us. This is the real Covid fraud. TPTB are scared that We The People are going to rise up and take back our future-labor-interest-deposits, which we are doing. It is a slow process as there is an educational gap in the world’s population but we are gaining momentum.
    Thank you,
    ST Rice, JD (#86082)
    Fed. Tr. Cir. Ct.
    Shawn Rice and Associates
    In-House Counsel for
    Since December 2018

  • Linda Weber says:

    Thanks for your determination! We live in Escondido and no longer just hop in the car and head off…age has had that effect on us. We come to the farm for reserved activities, farm to table dinners, Christmas etc.
    With gas reaching $5 a gallon you may have even less walk-in traffic. What a shame.
    Let’s go Brandon!
    Sincerely, Linda Weber

    • Jim Riley says:

      Yes, we’ve been thinking about gas prices too. My guess is that it takes people a while to start connecting the per gallon price to how little they have left for other things. People are beginning to weigh the value of a long drive as part of the equation.

  • Lisa Collinsworth says:

    I hope you don’t become a reservation only venue! With that being said, I understand that you need to do what is good for your business. I work at Planes of Fame Air Museum and January was super slow for us. I’m hoping it was just a after holiday slump but, we will know soon. God bless you in all that you do. Your business is often in my prayers.

    • Debbie Laferla says:

      We have come to your farm for the last 14 years. We first met your wife at a CHEA (Christian Home Educators) convention. You were much smaller and had fewer offerings. We would drive for 2 hours to join your Sleepy Hollow dinners. We also drove out for various dinners and day trips. I would be sooooo sad if you made a “reservation only” policy. So many of our sweetest memories at Rileys Farm came from impromptu trips. There are days when the weather is right and everyone’s schedule aligns and we hop in the car for a day trip. We will walk the grounds, have lunch, buy pies….The majority of our visits have been like that. I hope that it doesn’t come to reservation only visits. Debbie LaFerla

  • Shelley Kresan says:

    I’d hate to see the walk-ins end, but I will support the farm which ever way you go. We plan on taking our new Grand-daughter to one of the Christmas shows for her very first Christmas. Her name is Eloise.

    I do believe a visit and a nice long walk is in order. See you soon!

  • Nancy Riker says:

    I would not like to see the Farm go to a reservation model. Every point you stated is spot on! I do believe families are struggling with the current high cost of everything. From groceries to gas prices and this does cause your numbers to drop. However, if that is what you need to do to survive, then you have my full support.

  • Sandra says:

    Maybe you could become a “reservation only” with a few slots open for walk ins that may not be aware of the reservation system? Or with a few slots open for same day reservations for those that plan a spontaneous visit?
    Maybe you could test it out for a pre planned period of time? I really appreciate what you have done. Thank you. I wish I lived closer so I could do more spontaneous visits.

  • Sandra says:

    Are your walking trails open for visitors?

  • Carolyn says:

    I do hope that it doesn’t become reservation only but I am only one person and sometimes cannot commit ahead of time to when I can come visit. I can usually come on the spur of the moment. That said you need to do what works best for you! Thanks for all you do!

  • FC says:

    Mr. Riley, have you considered a monthly membership fee? I don’t know how that all would look but I’d be willing to pay a monthly fee. Almost like with gyms that not most people go all the time but it helps the business stay afloat. Maybe something akin to theme park annual passes. I’m that lady with the giant wagon and too many kids . I’ve had physical issues that might not seem obvious at first glance but I’d be going more often if I were feeling better. I love your Family’s farm and would do what I could to support it. Maybe open not weekends for the public and weekdays for reservation only.

    • Jim Riley says:

      Thank you. We have considered a membership fee, along with what might constitute the benefits associated with that. I will probably put up another post clarifying what I mean by a “reservation farm.”

  • Jacqueline Melville says:

    It would work, most likely, with a trial run until the turn aways are building in numbers as things change in our world. Would you have to turn away folks? Or will they see that no one’s there? They’ll need to be instructed at that point, with a flyer or a noted temporary billboard of the required reservations or non-reservation months. Do you have a graph of the busier walk-in months, like stated with the 2nd Thursday in March? Maybe lift the required reservations on those previous noted busier months of walk-ins? People will need to know about those months, including open for business multiple tour days, if they want to come up serendipity and don’t read your broadcast email? Multiple tours = more employees.
    Hope you receive good ideas!
    Wow! Did you need to lose 40 pounds? Congratulations! Prayers for all the best of health, happiness and prosperity!

  • Tanya Elcock says:

    Mr. Riley,

    Thank you for providing such a wonderful experience for our family. We have enjoyed both reserved dinners and homeschool field trips. I thought that we could only attend with reservations or a ticketed sale. The best thing about homeschool is FREEDOM. So if you choose to continue to keep your farm open for walk-ins, now that I know, we will gladly take more trips with my household, instead of depending on our co-op to make reservations (which we continue to enjoy our trips with them). Please let us know if there are others ways in which we can support your farm and all of your wonderful employees. God bless you all!

    • Jim Riley says:

      Thank you very much. For the past few years, we’ve emphasized that individuals and families can buy tickets to any of our programs. What we’re talking about by “reservation farm” is that all of our programs would be open with tickets either purchased ahead of time for a discount or on site. For people who only wanted to buy lunch, or visit the general store, there would probably be some very low admission fee.

  • Robin L Beymer says:

    No, I don’t think Riley’s should become reservations only. We love being free and spontaneous. Ot is why we love Rileys!

  • Christi says:

    Only you can really make the call. I do think you failed to factor in the gas. I just live at the bottom of the hill and even I have cut back my drives your way to keep gas in my tank for work. I love the apple pies. But 16 dollars each makes them an infrequent treat along with a 20 dollar gallon of cider. I do know that God is on the move…Brandon and his handlers are about to feel the wrath of God. Hang in there. He promises to reward the faithful.

  • Steve Soukup says:

    I love eating lunch at the tavern, it’s an annual tradition for my friend and I every Fall. This year, even without table service, we bought what was available and ate inside. It was not the same as a full menu, full table service but at least you were open for us. I appreciate that and hope next season will be a more normal season. I live in Los Angeles, I can’t be a “regular” customer. I hope the Tavern can remain viable in the future. I have no issues with making a lunch reservation if it comes to that – I just hope it does not.

    • Jim Riley says:

      I love restaurants. I’ve even written that “heaven will be a restaurant.” Unfortunately..

      My sense is that the most successful food service operators are either “cheap and good” or “expensive and exclusive and destination-dependent.” We are somewhere between those extremes, even though our food is excellent. During the fall season, we had some ENORMOUS Saturdays, but without a golf course, or a casino, or a string of hotels, it’s difficult to woo people up here even on a Saturday.

      When you add the Covid “fearful consumer” weirdness, it’s even worse.

  • Sue McClanahan says:

    My first visit to Riley’s Farm was years ago as a chaperone for my children’s field trips. My youngest is now 29. After they grew up (4 out of 6 became history buffs) our visits became spontaneous popping in on the spur of the moment for breakfast or lunch, almost always to celebrate something or other, now bringing grandchildren along. I miss eating inside, I miss the ambiance, I miss the spontaneity, but daytime reservations would be fine and doable. If anything thanks for the memories.

  • Bruce Hargrave says:

    I hope you never have to go to a “reservation only” policy. I sometimes drive out and shop for apples, jams and cider on a whim. That being said, I understand you must do what makes the best business sense. Best wishes to you and the family – no matter which decision you make.

  • Irene Abbey says:

    How about a reservations-preferred system that would allow those with reservations first crack at entrance, but if walk-ins came and there was room, they would be admitted? We love your farm and support your philosophies. Our problem is we live in Ventura, and it’s just too far for us to come often. But if you switch to a reservation-only system, we will make it a point to plan a trip and come. God bless,and keep on keeping on.

  • Penny says:

    I live down the hill and regularly (spontaneously) drive up to Riley’s/Oak Glen. I would not want to see you become ‘reservation only’ but the costs, the expenses, the nonsense that has brought all of us to this point, I understand. I guess ‘be not afraid’ & ‘in God we trust’ has been eliminated from the feeble minds of our politicians & the general public. Hang in there. Will support whatever you decide.

  • Maureen Anderson says:

    Jim, whatever you need to do for the farm to survive is fine. It is unpredictable right now. Things tend to slow after the holidays plus you have the constant covid drum beat from the press and it doesn’t surprise me that many are staying home out of fear. I thought the vaccine was supposed to fix all that, by the way. Right now, the major theme parks require reservations to enter so if they need this system with their billions, it wouldn’t be a far cry for you to do the same.

  • Lilia Broguiere says:

    I love Riley’s and have been taking my kids for years when I homeschooled them. Now, my oldest loves to take his young family there. I also would hate to see reservations only but perhaps it could be done during the busiest times, such as the Apple Blossom festival, the Revolutionary War/Civil War events, and in October when it gets crazy there. My son lives in the OC, so reserving wouldn’t be a problem for him. For those of us locals, a small yearly membership fee may help. My husband is retired and so it would be tough to pay each time we went. Sometimes, we just want to go, buy a cup of cider or tea with a pastry and enjoy your beautiful and peaceful farm. God bless you Mr Riley for standing firm against the tide.

  • Bridget Honan says:

    Im not sure…impromptu visits are a thing…especially when you have children. We would come more often if you were closer…The kids loved your Summer Day Camp..but we had to stay up there all week…reservations work well for dinners and events,and could be ince in the fall as last year was INSANELY crowded for apple picking.Also theres turning away folks who just come up.Its not a Covid thing either as you have not been enforcing or requiring masks or being vaxxed to be a prerequisite for visiting…we really enjoyed our spring ramble through the orchard and lunch last year when the entire world was closed!…

  • Jennifer says:

    Personally, I like knowing that I can just drive up there anytime W—F at the spur of the moment. That said, do what you need to do for your business and employees.

    On the January slump…I think part of it is inflation and another part is depression over mask mandate extensions. In December and early January, lots of people in our city defied the return of the muzzle. But after the extension was announced, the weariness came on and instead of fighting with store managers and fellow customers about wearing it, a lot of people in our neighborhood just plain stopped going out. I even watched it happen to my husband. He stopped going out to stores with me because of the nagging and then he stopped going out entirely…to the point he fell into a deep depression that finally culminated in him taking 2 days off of work this week to force himself to get out during the day. We actually took today to grab some pie at the farm and were sad to see the main hiking trail closed off. But overall, the fresh air and change of scenery helped revive his spirits, so I’m grateful we didn’t need reservations. Maybe people are just tired and worn down by all the nonsense around them and it’s dulled the desire to get up and go anywhere beyond the basic necessities.

    • Jim Riley says:

      Thanks for coming up. The “closed off” trail was a mistake. Someone forgot to turn around a sign.

      I agree as to your assessment about fighting depression and the omnipresent fear our leaders seem dedicated to cultivating. We need to re-build the American spirit. That may be the greatest casualty of this whole idiotic affair.

  • Beverly says:

    Didn’t you receive $1.5 million in forgivable PPE loans from the government, funded by taxpayer dollars? What did you do with those funds? For someone who wants to keep government out of his business, you sure jumped to grab the cash. What a hypocrite. I’m sure you won’t post this, as you are as weak as you greedy.

    • Jim Riley says:

      The government, at every level, was so incompetent and reckless in handling the Commie virus chapter of our history, (including funding the very creation of the virus itself), that it OWES that money to small business people like me who have paid MILLIONS into the system and who employ 80% of America. You are an idiot.

  • Samantha Dalrymple says:

    I loved our Revolutionary Evening . I won a pie knowing the Magna Carta. We will be back! Fight Fight! I support the Truckers in Canada and America. Going to be scheduling more visits ! Please Lord Jesus watch over is all!

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