I keep a document on my desktop, entitled simply “Running Timeline.” Since I joined Cowgirl nearly two and a half years ago, I have used it as a marker of time and memory as I have passed through a whirlwind of meeting our teams and learning our business.
It has been especially helpful over this past year, a whirlwind in its own right, for all the obvious reasons. But beyond reflecting on how, exactly, we survived 2020, it has also served as a reminder: this running list of steps taken and moves made is an artifact of resilience.
Early winter, the dawn of a new year and our annual gathering of makers and friends in food from across the world. I wore a dark green skirt (remember dressing up?!) that swished around my calves as I strode from small groupings of cheesemakers, distributors, retailers, colleagues old and new, all gathered under the vaulted ceiling of the Ferry Building. We were so hopeful!
In March and April, this sudden, cataclysmic change. We found ourselves, like the world, reeling to keep up with the news, making quick decisions daily to navigate the even quicker changes around us. Suddenly we were a partly remote workforce, a segregated team, small boxes on small screens in our living rooms and spare bedrooms.
I spent the spring on daily check-in’s with colleagues across the world, hit with COVID just a few weeks ahead of us and able to share their wisdom; with our leadership team; with our newly-appointed local emergency task force. What supplies do you need? Is everyone healthy? What questions do you have? We brought in cases of bulk sanitizer and bleach, dutifully portioned out into family-size containers, and cases of toilet paper and paper towels; the least we could do as a company with access to wholesale suppliers to ease the daily struggles of our team members at home.
In May and June, we began to look towards our future; out of the worst woods, we thought, or at least more accustomed to the darkness. We planned for new launches, starting dreaming up new cheeses (more to come on that front soon enough!). We set long-term goals, looking at the forest beyond the trees. In June, we reeled, watching injustices spark anger around long-standing, unspoken inequities, and we had to examine our own company’s stance on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. We are still learning, but we are grateful to do so.
July and August brought some sense of relief, the notion of summer ahead of us, our restaurant, brewery and winery partners open on patios and sidewalks around the Bay. And then, lightning struck and our world burst into flame. Once again, the agility of our teams and our ability to navigate such a rapidly changing environment reminded me how we have had to learn how to survive.
And so on into the fall, this push-me-pull-you of wins—we launched our new website! We shipped record boxes of cheese to customers across America!—and challenges—smoke points and AQI and COVID and our business partners struggling, going out of business. And then a holiday season unlike any other, without the friends and family we hold so dear, without the cheer of those bustling retail days and counters jam-packed with cheesemongers.
But when I look back on this document, this ledger I keep, I feel nothing but immense pride and immense gratitude. We have struggled, yes, but we have been so lucky in many ways. Many have not been so lucky, and for that I hold space for deep, deep sorrow. But here, our team has prioritized the safety of our customers and of our communities. We have kept on keeping on, making cheese and (safely!) tasting cheese and sharing cheese. And though I venture a guess that none of us is sad to see 2020 go, we remain strong, resilient and hopeful, all at once.
With 2021 comes a symbolic new chapter, and a new one for Cowgirl: the retirement of our iconic, pioneering founders, Peg and Sue. I am humbled and honored to carry forth their legacy, and to lead us into the next phase of our business—with such a strong foundation, even the tumultuous last year cannot shake us from our commitments to our values, our partners and our communities.
May we forge ahead with spirit and heart—this is the Cowgirl way!
- Amanda Parker, Cowgirl Creamery Managing Director