Local Farms Step up to the Plate

Anne Parker
Issue Date: 
May, 2020
Article Body: 

While many businesses struggle to stay open and find ways to serve customers during the COVID-19 crisis, some are doing okay: local farms.
People are finding empty shelves at the grocery store and are challenged to search for other places to shop, such as local farms. Many farms are seeing more people come to buy eggs. At the same time, the customers are buying the farms’ vegetables and meat.
April is typically slow for farms in this area. But during this season of social distancing and food shortages, farms have been busy. Many have started online orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
White Barn Farm in Wrentham does not typically open until the first weekend of May. The market already had active online sales. But they have been much busier since the outbreak. “We sold one day a week and a good day would be 40 orders. Now we sell two days and we sell out at 175 orders,” co-owner Christy Kantlehner said.
Upswing Farm in Ashland set up their online store in March. “There’s definitely been an uptick for produce and plants,” said Kevin Overshiner, co-owner. “I think it’s a combination of people not wanting to go into stores to get their food and reduce their exposure. We take the same precautionary measures as grocery stores but there are a lot less hands. I think that gives people a certain comfort level.”
Upswing officially opens in May and their popular seedling sale is in mid-May. People can buy online and pick up their seedlings at Upswing or Holliston Community Farm.
This is new territory at Tangerini’s Farm in Millis too. The farm designed an online store in March because they knew people were having a hard time accessing food, said Linda Chiarizio, co-owner of Tangerini’s. Typically a slow time for her and husband Steve, they started with about 75 orders the first week in March. By their fourth week they had almost 300 orders.
Bacon and Eggs
Local farms are being noticed and valued so much more. At Elmhurst Farm in Norfolk, co-owner Colleen Axberg said they have loyal customers who buy their eggs, honey and naturally raised meats. But it has been busier than usual this spring.
It’s an unfortunate way to get business, but farmers agree the pandemic has been good for their sales.
“This has really kicked into high gear. Winter is usually a dry time. We get a few regular customers,” said Axburg. “I hope it continues after the fact and people remember we’re here.”
Customers can look online at a long list of fresh beef and pork at Elmhurst, and then call in their order. If business continues this way they will set up online purchasing, noted Axburg.
Elmhurst has almost sold out of their high-end steaks already. The farm started processing more fresh meat earlier than usual. They sell a variety of meat from bacon and country style ribs to sirloin tips, burgers and NY sirloin for grilling.
Most often, people just stop in to buy the food items at Elmhurst - which they still can. But at this time, many are placing their orders by phone, using a credit card. No cash is exchanged. Packages are left out front to be picked up.
Keeping it Safe while Keeping it Real
Farms take orders online or by phone. They prepare the bags and place them at their storefront or spaced apart in a neutral and open area with a customer’s name on their bags. Or, the owner will hand bags to their customers. Elmhurst Farm leaves meats in a cooler at their entrance.
The Pumpkin Farm in Medway runs on the honor system. People can buy eggs at the self service stand so there’s very little chance you’ll run into another person when you pick up your eggs. A lot of people pay with Venmo or check, said co-owner Nicole Lobisser.
Farm shares are sold online for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The season starts in late May or June. Upswing Farm usually has CSA four seasons. They grow many spring shares in their greenhouses. White Barn may set pick-up times to avoid too many people showing up at once.
As tech savvy as many farmers are becoming with online business, they still prefer the personal touch.
“I got into farming to avoid technology!” jokes Kantlehner. “We are all new to navigating e-commerce so please be patient.”
Axberg said she prefers to speak with customers to answer any questions during phone orders.
“The one thing we miss from online sales is the personal connection because we tend to get a lot of questions about specific varieties, growing methods, and spacing. We tend to lose that opportunity to speak with customers about that,” agrees Overshiner. He and his wife love talking and educating people about what they buy. Still, people can look on their website and get information that way.
Customers should check a farm’s website for updates on shopping procedures and what’s in season before they visit. Or call the farm directly for more information. Visit www.localharvest.org for links to farms near you.
People may be surprised at how many things they can get from a farm stand, CSA or farmers market. Besides vegetables, shoppers can find breads, honey, eggs, meats, sauces and jams, herbs, flowers, seedlings, and compost.
It’s a good choice in this unusual time. Farms are happy with the extra business and hope people value their importance in the community.
“It’s the silver lining,” said Overshiner. “I hope they do appreciate it. I hope once things normalize people don’t forget.”