Cancelled: The Sylvanaqua Farms Controversy

Chris Newman
30 min readMar 1, 2023

Lessons I Learned in Business and Life From My Character Assassination

via HBO

April 26, 2021 was the worst, and best, day of my life. I was about to break up with someone. Actually, closer to a dozen someones.

The previous 15 months had been some of the most bizarre in recent American history, kicking off with a pandemic, lurching into the most pronounced racial unrest in decades, and crescendoing with the January 6, 2021 attempt to overthrow the republic. These events had exerted a force on my state of mind that I couldn’t appreciate until the snows gave way to buds that Spring, and I found myself in a stunning predicament: I’d been hustled.

And to make no bones about it; I’d been hustled well. The people I was about to break up with? They were employees-turned-partners with whom I’d entwined my business finances, personal credit, and brand reputation to the point that if this thing was a tumor, most surgeons probably wouldn’t operate.

The previous day, April 25, 2021, I’d resolved to have the surgery anyway, and hope whatever balance of karma I had would cover the bill. So on the 26th — a day that I remember being warm, sunny, and beautiful — I met my soon-to-be-ex-partners at my workshop about 10 minutes away from the farm, and prepared for armageddon.

They took their time. I stood against one of the counters in the shop while the dozen or so of them dripped into the parking lot, coalescing into a circle under the shop’s road sign as each arrived. They were smiling, laughing, swapping stories, having a Desean Jackson moment of premature celebration. After a whole lot of waiting around, they filed into the shop so we could begin.

The first few minutes were beyond awkward. You see… they didn’t know the breakup was coming. In fact they thought the opposite, that we were about to renew our vows. To be fair, I thought that same thing less than 12 hours ago. Twelve hours ago I confidently believed that I was the worst and most toxic social entrepreneur in history, and was preparing to do my penance by raising a tidy fortune from our collective’s steadfast supporters to give these folks all the runway they could possibly want to build a food sovereignty organization their way.

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Chris Newman

Building a new, accessible, open, and democratic food economy in the Chesapeake Bay region @ Sylvanaqua Farms