Small Farms Step Up
The corona virus is looming in everyone’s mind like a giant dark cloud hanging over our heads. The past few weeks have brought many changes to our lives and we are finding ourselves adjusting how we do things, in many ways. We are what I call an instant society where everything is acquired on demand. That has changed.
I say that with good intentions, however I’m sure that some might take offence or get angry. My view of this time in our lives is not meant to anger anyone, rather it is a suggestion to take the time to reflect on how we lived just 3 short weeks ago and compare it to how differently we do things now. Always the curious one, I must go one step further and look at the how and why of happenings.
Early on, fighting over toilet paper broke out in stores. I found that to be humorous and said, “that’s so ridiculous” but again, the word in my mind was “why”. That one thing, fighting over toilet paper, just to stockpile it at home and ensure you have enough, because there won’t be any more available at a later time made me think that there are much more important things to worry about, such as the availability of food. We all need food to survive not toilet paper.
Will there be food available in the weeks to come? Can we rest easy in thinking the stores will have plenty through these dark times? Can we believe that the food we are purchasing isn’t carrying the virus? What about the people who’ve handled that food whether it be during packaging or loose produce in stores that customers have picked up and discarded? I’ve heard some say that they aren’t buying any meat or fresh produce until the pandemic is over. Others say they aren’t so sure that these items will be available in the weeks to come. As more and more people become infected with the virus, as predicted, who will be working in processing facilities? We’ve already seen meat and poultry cases in stores that are empty because of panic buying.
What I have seen is more people looking to their local farmers for food items. Independent farms that sell online as well as at the farm or farm store are seeing sales increases and increased demand for their products. Now might be a good time for small scale sustainable farms to look at their business plan and adjust the way they are doing business, looking to other avenues than Farmers Markets to sell their products. Farmers Markets are good for local sales but at a time of social distancing maybe not so good.
Online sales are through the roof. If you want to begin to sell your products online and aren’t sure how to do it, I’m sure that there are farm organizations out there that will assist you with learning. Check with the farm organization that you participate in and see if they are offering it. Even after the pandemic is over there is going to be a shift in the way consumers purchase. Mostly for convenience as well as finding out how easily it can be done from their own home.
Taking the step to open an online farm store will, of course, require a bit more work and cost than selling directly to consumers or grocery chains. There are many examples of virtual farmers markets and single farm websites to help get an idea of what a farm wants to do and how it will be done.
For the consumer, online farm stores or markets have become a “go to source” for food during the pandemic. Products not available in grocery stores can be had online. Again, there are many examples to choose from. If you are in an area where the farmers markets are located, such as a virtual farmers co-op, you would be purchasing from either local or regional farms. The second choice is what many individual farms participate in and feature that farms products. It is an individual farm website, if you will. Choices are more limited of what’s available and from what I’ve seen many offer meats and poultry as well as dairy products. These farm websites usually sell nationwide and ship products or they service an entire area such as the northeast or southwest as an example.
Both the farmer and consumer can benefit from online sales. The farmer expands his/her avenue of sales and the consumer is supporting local sustainable small-scale food production. There is assurance of where the food comes from, who has processed/packaged it, and who has brought it directly to you. The only thing missing from the mix is direct human contact between buyers and sellers. I guess we could take the virtual farmers markets and institute online meetings with the farmers where buyers can connect directly with the farmer and they can speak with one another, such as a Zoom meeting. This would have to be set up timewise but it’s not something that isn’t doable.
For years advocates have encouraged consumers to “buy local”, “know your farmer know your food”, “know where your food comes from”, and other such mantra’s. One could shout it from the rooftops, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will heed the advice. It takes a pandemic for consumers to realize that their own local farmers might be able to supply what they are looking for. Many farmers say that their online sales have significantly increased, in part, because of new customers. The new customers are people who can’t find what they are looking for at the local grocery store or they don’t trust what is being offered. One can only hope that the trend continues.