When talking about small businesses surviving the pandemic, resilience is a word often used to describe how they struggled, pivoted and ultimately succeeded. The story of Cherilyn Yazzie, co-owner of Coffee Pot Farms, showcases one example of such endurance and resilience.
It takes three hours for the average Navajo Nation resident to reach a grocery store. Across more than 27,000 square miles, there are only 13 grocery stores for the more than 150,000 Navajo citizens who live within the borders of the reservation. As a Navajo woman struggling with these challenges herself, Yazzie saw an urgent need to address the lack of access to fresh produce and sought to bring nutritious food to the reservation and surrounding communities.
“I spent 13 years on the reservation as a social worker focused on nutrition, but recommending people eat healthier doesn’t have much impact when fresh, whole foods aren’t available,” says Yazzie. “My goal with Coffee Pot Farms was to not only provide my own produce options for the community, but to also inspire others within the reservations to start farming so that future generations can live long, healthy lives and continue sharing their traditions and culture.”
Though Yazzie and her husband, Mike Hester, learned to farm and grow their own food only about six years ago, Coffee Pot Farms – a one-acre farm situated within 36 acres of completely off-the-grid land in Dilkon, Arizona – now grows over 20 different crops. Their journey, however, was not without its obstacles. Through unprecedented drought, financial challenges involving reservation land ownership restrictions and deeply personal hardships stemming from the pandemic, Yazzie remained positive and persevered, doing everything she could to pursue her mission. Her experience reflects the resilience of many small business owners across the U.S. who have been forced to adapt and overcome difficulties brought on by the pandemic.
“From the moment I met Cherilyn, I was captivated by her story, personality and vision for Coffee Pot Farms,” says Sophie Harris, the director of “Big Water Summer: A Creation Story.” “Cherilyn’s story shows that every small business can look different. She identified a problem, made an action plan and worked hard to make an impact on her community.”
Harris, a senior producer at GoDaddy, continues, “It’s rare to find a company, like GoDaddy, that will experiment with unscripted content, but this format has proven how important it is to put entrepreneurs at the center of our storytelling, showing us not just a polished or scripted version of business success, but the honest ups and downs, and all the amazing things that can be done when you believe in yourself and have someone to believe in you.”
GoDaddy first encountered Yazzie through Empower by GoDaddy, an initiative that provides underserved entrepreneurs with support to make their business goals a reality. Inspired by Yazzie’s journey, GoDaddy saw a unique opportunity to share her story with a broader audience – first as part of a branded docuseries, called “Made in America,” and later as an in-depth short film, “Big Water Summer: A Creation Story.” By showcasing stories like Yazzie’s and highlighting an entrepreneurial journey in real time, the company believes it can help inspire others to follow suit and fulfill their dreams.
“With all our creative content, it’s about seeing success through the eyes of our audience,” says Adam Palmer, director of creative production at GoDaddy. “Thinking about GoDaddy’s vision – being able to radically shift the global economy toward the entrepreneurial venture – it’s a massive takeaway. But how we look at spurring on that revelation is by celebrating entrepreneurial stories. It gives others purpose and drive to achieve their own goals.”
“GoDaddy’s ability to profile real people and the everyday issues they face helps audiences connect with these stories authentically, offering valuable insight into how others are overcoming obstacles,” adds Harris.
“From drought and global warming, health disparities and COVID-19, to various economic and financial challenges – these are real problems affecting people’s livelihood,” says Palmer. “This type of long-form storytelling, and commitment to our customers to make opportunity more inclusive for all – it’s what makes GoDaddy unique. I would encourage other brands to trust their customers, advocate for them and tell their stories the way we do. Support them in being resilient.”
Behind the scenes of “Big Water Summer,” driving was an integral part of both the film’s narrative and logistics, as Coffee Pot Farms is located more than an hour away from the border town hosting the closest hotel.
“Narratively, those long-distance drives play a huge role in Cherilyn’s life, her business and the economy of the reservation,” says Harris. “The challenge of accessing commerce, the long timelines of rural life and the quiet, dusty drives to meet her customers informed the film’s tone and provide an undercurrent to the pacing and presentation of information throughout the piece.”
Now, Yazzie’s story will have the chance to be witnessed by thousands at this year’s SXSW Film Festival.
“It’s really validating to have your work accepted onto a massive stage like SXSW, especially one that is positioned at the intersection of tech and creativity, which is exactly where GoDaddy sees its current programs and brand initiatives,” says Palmer.
As for what’s next for Coffee Pot Farms, Yazzie is continuing to grow her business. From the beginning, she had a strong community-oriented goal in mind – one that has grown beyond anything she could have imagined. And, Yazzie’s continuing to think bigger, working on infrastructure and fundraising to build a well on her property, which in turn will help to increase her output. Given her track record, Yazzie will likely achieve whatever she sets out to do.
Watch the premiere of “Big Water Summer: A Creation Story” at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.