Brassys Award is a contest presented by Square. It is recognition of small business which have proven themselves to be ‘brassy’. We would like to win this award and we think we are wildly eligible to do so. Send this working man to their fancy finals and I will wear overalls and work cloths. I will represent hard working rural folk who build their business with blood, sweat and tears.
Brassy – ‘shamelessly bold’ – Per the Brassy Awards
According to the Brassy Awards – “You have to be bold to start a business. An entrepreneur is “one who undertakes significant financial risk.” So, really, all sellers are brave. You’re all bold. You’re all crazy enough to ignore the odds and tough enough to stick it out.“
A ‘significant financial’ risk was certainly part of my original entrance into entrepreneurship. But my reentry has literally risked life and limb. Yes, I am ‘crazy enough to ignore the odds and tough enough to stick it out’. Many thanks to the Brassys Award for recognizing insanity in a positive light.
Square is one of the credit card processors which have propelled independent merchants with the ability to process credit cards right from a smart phone. Now they present the Brassys Award which could propel this independent farmer and merchant with $10,000.00 in cash, a business package worth $2,500.00 and mentorship from business leaders.
Although the Brassys Award cash prize would go a long way to improving our business, the other benefits are all very useful
If I understand the list of Brassys Award prizes, one is equipment. I think that is point of sale hardware. We could certainly use such equipment at farmers markets and other venues. But it is that last part that we would really appreciate receiving. I have always been a working man. At 14, I had my first job detasseling corn for the Pioneer Seed company in rural Indiana. Upon returning from military service, I created my first business at 22. That business lasted nearly a decade and a half, ending with the end of my former self.
In June of 2006, my store was flooded when the floor above my shop began leaking water into the space I had leased. The event destroyed not only my store, but the workshop below my store, and my career as speaker and author. During my efforts to save merchandise, I was electrocuted, suffered a moderate traumatic brain injury, and was left with stoke like symptoms. For a decade, I tried to return to self employment but every effort failed horribly. Hoping to contribute somewhat to my family, I took to sustenance farming. As I became better at organic farming, we started to sell some of our produce at local farmers market type venues.
By 2014, our small organic farm was vital to our families income. It was that year that desperation brought my return to meaningful employment. Lying in a hospital bed, terrified about my family’s financial future, my daughter suggested an online store. I did not believe a person could sell organic produce online, but I thought to give it a try. Chili peppers were the only thing I could imagine selling through the mail, so Peppers By Mail (dot com) was born, built there in my hospital bed. Our second season’s gross sales were eight (8) times the first and we continue to grow.
Today, Peppers by Mail grows some of the rarest, hottest, and most exotic peppers from around the world. Pictured above left are farmer’s jalapeno. Also known as the potato jalapeno, they remain almost unheard of. The farmer’s jalapeno is just one of the many truly rare peppers we have added this year.
Our business plan is simple and has worked well thus far. We offer a good product at a fair price. Using organic methods, we produce the finest gourmet peppers and offer those peppers at a fair price. Already, we sell just about everything we grow. But expanded production will mean expanding our customer base. The Brassys Award mentoring could greatly improve our ability to reach new customers.
Above and to the left is pictured an ‘I Scream’ scorpion pepper. It is new to our lineup this year because the seed stock is new to the world this year. It was isolated and produced by Mr. Butch Taylor, creator of one the Trinidad Butch T Scorpion, once recognized as the hottest pepper in the world.
We try to expand our selection and production each year. We have constructed our first high tunnel to extend the Kentucky season and are planning five more. We sell what you simply can not purchase at your local grocery store. Landrace peppers from India, Trinidad, Mexico, and other locations. Hybrids from the US, Europe, and other nations. Peppers the average person has never heard of. Peppers dedicated chili heads crave. Peppers of differing colors, sizes, shapes and heat levels. An ever growing list which is starting to include our own creations.
Early 2016: Life Hit Again
Before the 2016 season started, it became clear that the lingering effects of the traumatic brain injury continued. Due to a damaged pituitary gland, I’d become insulin dependent. Due to lack of income, I’d gone a year without insulin. Tremendously high blood sugar had taken its toll. I escaped that first hospital stay without the loss of any body parts. The hospital stays that followed resulted in various amputations to my left foot and serious damage to the bones in my right foot. At the start of the 2016 season my surgeon was very clear: Have surgery and spend a season in a wheel chair or loose more of each foot while risking sepsis and potential death. When it became clear that I would not listen to his advice, he fired me.
I can not give up. I can not give in. I must provide for my family. I believe that is what the Brassys Award is all about. When the growing half of our 2016 season ends, I will contact my surgeon to say I can now do as he wants. I will bring my lap top to the hospital and work on our seed catalog while recovering there. When released, I will sit and process seeds for the 2017 season. If they remove so much that I need a prosthetic or two, I will adjust to a prosthetic or two…I will bend and conform, but i will not break or quit.
Perseverance, Vision, and Boldness
“To participate in the competition, business owners must submit their stories of perseverance, vision, and boldness, by October 9, 2016.” – From Yahoo News article on the Brassys Award
Perseverance – I have literally risked life and limb for the business which provides for my family. That which is riddling the bones in my feet is infection, infection which could go septic at any time. Each day that I put off surgery and IV antibiotics, I risk again becoming septic. During the first hospital visit, my wife was told I had a 40% chance of returning home. During the last hospital visit, she asked to consider “making arrangements”. That if anyone might want to see me, they should do it soon. I am still alive after being hospitalized for sepsis four times. When told working this season might cost my feet or even legs, I worked this season. This after having part of my brain left useless after a traumatic brain injury. If the Brassys Award is based on perseverance, I think Peppers by Mail has a shot.
Vision – Credit for the vision behind Peppers by Mail goes to my daughter Aurbeyahna. At the age of ten (10) she saw our tiny homestead farm selling produce online. She saw hope when I saw only despair. Today, her vision has proven 20/20. A small family farm really can grow gourmet organic food and deliver it fresh to our patrons across the country. If the Brassys Award is based on vision, I think Peppers by Mail has a shot.
Boldness – Peppers by Mail now sells the hottest peppers in the world. I could end it with that play on the word ‘boldness’, but there is so much more about how we address our business. Calling this award the ‘brassy’ award is a clever politically correct way of rewarding small business for having brass balls. Our business motto has become: ‘Give us ten bucks and we will set your ass on fire’. We are nothing if not bold. We are a family who has faced a horrific series of events and said we will overcome over and over again. If the Brassys Award is based on being bold, I think Peppers by Mail has a shot.
Vision, Innovation, Community Involvement, & Customer Delight
Reading threw the official rules of the Brassy Award, I see finalists are chosen with slightly different criteria. Finalists are judged on vision, innovation, community involvement, and customer delight. I think we will do very well at the Brassy Award finals.
Vision – While recovering in his hospital bed, a daughter assured a father that he could move a farmers market business into an online store.
Innovation – A father moved that farmers market business online successfully. He continues to expand and refine our organic methods, improving on the rain catchment system, the rain shed from the fields, redesigning high tunnel plans from the Kentucky State University.
Community Involvement – A family who gifts food from its farm. A family in the process of building an honor farm stand where the price is ‘Take what you need. Leave what you can’. A business that shares its methods, designs, and innovations with a growing community of folk interested in sustainable organic farming.
Customer Delight – A business with excellent report on line and in person. Our reviews speak for themselves. When patrons shop with Peppers by Mail, they feel they have received a good product at better than a fair price.
More than Just Business
One of the rules for the Brassys Award is that contestants be for profit businesses. Peppers by Mail meets that criteria but we are more than a for profit business. We are an experiment in both sustainable farming and living. Our pest control is handled by ducks and chicken. Our weed control relies on manually removing weeds and heavy mulching with organic yard waste. We are community minded and hope to one day offer tours and presentations explaining our methods. As we develop plans for high tunnels and other approaches to negotiating with Mother Nature, we make those plans freely available online.
Are we deserving of the Brassys Award? If this award were based only on its name. If it were based on what entrants are truly ‘brassy’ and willing to risk it all for their business, yes I think we are worthy. I risked not only money, but my feet, legs, and life to make it this far.
Peppers by Mail is more than just brassy. Peppers are our business. Produce is our life. In addition to putting food on our own table, we provide care packages for friends and neighbors in need. One of our goals is to provide a full featured ‘honor farm’ where the price is hoped to always be: “Take what you need. Leave what you can.”
I know what it is like to have to choose between medication and feeding your children. I made my choice, am proud of the current scars, and will be proud of the new scars. However, I do not want other parents to have to do the same. A vote for Peppers by Mail is a vote for the honor farm and for perpetuating the ideology I have developed as I navigated more than just a business venture. If that too is what the Brassys Award wishes to empower, I do believe Peppers by Mail should be considered.
Part of the definition of the word brassy includes the word shameless. After the last amputation, it became clear I needed help from family, friends, and patrons. It took a great deal of effort to swallow the pride I’d built for years, but I created a Go Fund Me campaign. Truth be known, most small business start with help from family and friends. I decided I could not afford to be proud anymore. Many friends and even patrons gifted time, labor, and money to make sure our 2016 season would get off to a good start.
Our business plan remains the same as it has been for some time, to keep expanding production year by year. Much due to hard work. Some due to the generosity of friends and patrons that believe in us. And maybe, just maybe in part due to the recognition and cash award that the Brassy Award could bring to us. Besides, I would very much like it if someone recognized the size of my brass.
What Am I Asking?
If you think I deserve a bit of recognition for not sitting down and giving up, then please click the link and vote for Peppers by Mail. If you think I deserve the break that $10,000.00 would grant, then please click the link. If you have an opportunity to say why, let them know why you think Peppers by Mail should win. Please, feel free to comment on this post. I am sure the judges will be reading it. Let your voice be heard.
Read more about the Brassys Award: