Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
A few weeks ago, home delivery was just a quirky, throwback way for Zen Donkey Farms to reach customers in need of fresh juice — now, it’s a sudden necessity in the world of food and beverage, said Kate Barker.
“I couldn’t be more grateful to be a delivery business right now,” added Barker, founder of Zen Donkey Farms — a Greenwood, Missouri-based health and wellness company, which specializes in organic juice.
As Coronavirus (COVID-19) stifles small businesses across Kansas City, the distribution model puts Zen Donkey Farms in a unique position for growth, as more people turn to online ordering and seek out products that are good for them, Barker explained.
“[We’re] working around the clock to make healthy, nourishing juice for the community. … People need it now more than ever,” she said, noting the company’s seen an uptick in sales of its juices — which include such blends as Wild Burro, Bray of Sunshine, and Greener Pastures — since the onslaught of the world health crisis nearly a month ago.
Click here to shop Zen Donkey Farms juices — which are delivered straight to customers’ doors in reusable, glass bottles.
“I think there’s this new-found hope in the ability of the body to heal itself. But in order to do that, you need to feed it the right things and build your immune system,” Barker said. “It’s just really awesome, [to provide this product] at a time like this when there’s so much darkness going on. There’s a lot of light here for sure.”
A boost for the healers
Such an air of positivity deserves to be shared with the city’s most vulnerable — medical workers fighting COVID-19, she said.
The company recently launched its “Healer for a Healer” campaign, which allows customers to donate a Zen Donkey Farms “Healer” wellness shot — a pineapple, black pepper, tumeric and ginger blend with natural anti-nausea, anti-bacterial, and rapid healing properties — to all frontline workers on COVID floors at Liberty North Kansas City Hospital.
“We hit our goal within 90 minutes of putting that on the website,” Barker said, adding internal goals for the charitable project have since been increased due to community response.
The first round of wellness shots were delivered Monday, much to the surprise of a grateful hospital staff, she noted.
“It’s been absolutely incredible. I feel like we are having some good traction right now and I’d love to just get the word out to more people,” Barker said. “We partnered with the doctor who is working on the COVID floors and he delivered them to the staff and has been sending me pictures. It’s bringing a lot of light into the dark COVID floors.”
Barker is hopeful Zen Donkey Farms can partner with doctors at other area hospitals, to ensure safe delivery and continue to spread the company’s message of hope, she said.
Click here to donate a nourishing Healer shot to a COVID-19 frontline worker.
“[The doctor we work with] was telling me that all they had access to — I mean, no offense to donuts and cookies — but that’s kind of all they had access to at the hospital,” Barker said. “They just don’t have any nourishing veggies and fruits at their disposal and they need it now more than ever to build their immunity.”
A rarely herd global cause
Although timely, Barker’s philosophy of giving back isn’t new for Zen Donkey Farms.
The company’s name is indicative of its mission as a social entrepreneurship endeavor — with each purchase directly supporting donkey rescue, donkey-facilitated therapy, and the fight against the global donkey skin trade, Barker said.
“We don’t really advertise that all the funds go back into the donkeys,” she revealed, explaining the company’s giveback stance, which has so far provided a home for five donkeys — Olive, Pickle, Earl, Elliot, and Pico.
While donkeys and juice perhaps don’t naturally flow together, both provide wellness in their own unique ways, which first caught Barker’s attention after she left a corporate job amid longtime volunteer work.
“I had about 20 years of experience just volunteering in equine-assisted therapy with the use of horses and it’s always been a passion of mine,” she said.
“It’s wonderful alternative therapy and I witnessed a lot of healing through that and interacted with donkeys for the first time probably five years ago,” Barker said. “I was just immediately drawn to their therapeutic qualities, their intelligence, their ability to connect with you. They kind of mirror your emotions.”
As with any passion, curiosity drew Barker to the internet where she learned of threats endangering the animals, she recalled.
“They kill about a thousand donkeys a day in Africa alone and ship the skin to China to be boiled down into a luxury skincare cream,” Barker said. “Nobody knows about this issue. In the U.S., there are no organizations working on this, no animal welfare groups that are really even aware of it, quite frankly.”
The discovery came as Barker was working to launch the juice operation, which provided an unexpected outlet to establish a cause, she said.
‘It’s just a crazy ride. It has its highs and its lows, but I have never been more fulfilled or happier in my life,” Barker said. “It’s been, probably, the best decision I’ve made in my life.”
And as a storm brews overhead for small business owners across the globe, Barker’s eager passions and pivots will be enough to keep Zen Donkey Farms going, she said, noting the company is working to launch plant-based milk in the weeks ahead.
“Our launch date got a bit pushed back with all the craziness going on. … I’m hoping that happens in the next couple of weeks,” Barker said. “[This business] definitely has not come without its challenges. We’re self funded, so it’s a daily grind, but it’s been really wonderful.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.