Cherry Valley Organics

Cherry Valley Organics, Letting Loose on Their Tea Offerings

Sandra Yerges

Over the 24 years of being in operation, Cherry Valley Organics has experimented with the types of products they have grown and sold. From vegetables to herbs to flowers, there have been many iterations of what was available for customers to purchase. Even with the variety of offerings over time, each of them has shared one element: being grown in an environment free of pesticides and other chemicals.

“We’ve been certified organic from the beginning,” Founder Jodi Danyo stated. As someone who was always interested in finding a career away from an office and into the outdoors, this holistic farming path was a fitting venture for her. Coupled with her studies in biology and environmental science management, the origin of Cherry Valley Organics in 2001 was right up her repertoire of skills and interests.

Like many businesses in the start-up stage, Jodi expressed that the beginnings of this farm were quaint. For a short time, the organic products were grown in her backyard in Crafton, Pennsylvania. After recognizing the limited space of this area, however, she found a spread of land in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania that was suitable for her growing needs. It was then she picked up and moved her operation to the 36-acre plot of land that she and her small team continues to farm upon to this day.

Working alongside Jodi in her full-time managerial and farming role is a group of four other employees. To assist with all tasks related to growing, there is one full-time and two part-time team members. Additionally, because Cherry Valley Organics offers their products to customers across the United States through their website’s e-commerce platform, there is one delivery driver who helps in this process.

Although Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) was something this business offered to their customers for some time, their business plan needed to change to match the interests of their team members long-term. CSA requires long hours working in the fields, servicing customers, and planning distribution logistics, which was not sustainable for this farm's growers. To achieve a better work-life balance, Cherry Valley Organics narrowed their offerings to edible flowers and herbs and focuses now on e-commerce with nationwide shipping.

All of the processing of their harvested products, including the drying and packaging, occurs either on the same property as the growing or within a mile of the farm. This proximity makes it convenient to jump right into product creation, which is important when having to stock up goods for the busy winter months. A few years back, however, a realization set in of the time-intensive nature of this work, leading the company to revisit their way of operating.

In 2020, Jodi set out to simplify the manual labor of hand filling the company’s single-serving tea bags. Although it was a process to which the team became accustomed, there was an opportunity for it to be revolutionized with the help of grant funding. Ten years after applying for the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) for the first time, Jodi turned to this USDA funding opportunity again to make this change to the business.

After forecasting the customer’s on-the-go consumption needs, single-serving teas seemed to be the fitting route to take with this grant. Therefore, when writing the application, Jodi knew that a preliminary step before utilizing the funds would be to purchase machinery to make the process more efficient and less hands-on. In turn, this would set the company up to begin a packaging redesign that would drive the consumer to purchase this convenient product.

Marketing these single-serving products to individuals was not the only aim for Cherry Valley Organics’ original VAPG plan. Additionally, there was a focus on facilitating community awareness of their single-serving teas, specifically to businesses in the restaurant industry, through the construction of marketing messages.

These large plans were short-lived, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. It was not possible to ship the required machinery into the country to begin using the VAPG funding, and no target businesses in the area remained open. Instead of forgoing the grant process at this time, the business adjusted their plan to hone in on a new organic product altogether.

When discussing the new VAPG focus, Jodi explained, “We really didn’t have a loose-leaf product because we were convinced we couldn’t sell it.” Even though loose-leaf tea was contradictory to the less hands-on tea bag idea that was originally developed, it was a product that offered new and flexible packaging opportunities. With this in mind, the VAPG funding was placed directly toward supporting these changes, including container resizing, label redesigning, and the inclusion of self-serve tea bags for customers in select packages. Along with a website update, these adjustments were successfully implemented in a way that made this dynamic VAPG experience “worth it in the end.”

According to Jodi, this positive outcome would not have been possible without the help of Karen Kuhns, an instrumental Pennsylvania-based VAPG representative who was always available when questions arose. “I really do think it boils down to Karen who was extremely helpful and really did go above and beyond to support,” she said.

Even with the success of the VAPG and the organic loose-leaf product that stemmed from it, single serving teas are still not off the table for Cherry Valley Organics. Jodi noted, “I do think that at some point we will circle back and try to accomplish what we set out to in 2020.”

In times of change, it may be easy for producers to become discouraged. However, a persistent mindset, like the one employed by Cherry Valley Organics, is one that can transform a business in unexpected ways and open the door to rediscovering past ideas. Even though the future is not always predictable, trusting in grant funding can create a determination to make current changes for future possibilities.

Jodi shared a piece of advice for farmers interested in the VAPG, especially those who may be afraid of taking the first step into the application stage: “If you can work your way through the application process and really think through what you want to do and have the data and the numbers to support it, then the grants are absolutely beneficial and helpful to be able to take advantage of and grow your business.”