Coronavirus prompts growth for small farms offering direct-to-consumer sales

Smaller farms are experiencing a surge of customers amid COVID-19

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While some large farms are hurting from not being able to sell food to restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic, a few smaller-scale direct-to-consumer farms are flourishing under shelter-in-place conditions.

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In Idaho, several farmers are supplying fresh produce to their local community – and many of their customers have upped their spending to stockpile food staples.

Kraay’s Market and Garden sells food to about 60 small farms, ranches and bakeries in Idaho’s Wood River Valley, and offers both online ordering and home delivery services to its customers.

So far, the company has tripled its customer base and quadrupled its product distribution, according to Kraay’s Market’s owner Sherry Kraay, who shared these details in an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express.

Before the pandemic, the market’s largest individual order amounted to about $600 but now orders are as high as $1,900.

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“Who we deal with are smaller mom-and-pop family-owned farms that do not depend on [contracts with large companies] for their livelihood,” Kraay explained. “They’re probably losing a bit of money not selling to local restaurants and whatnot, but it’s not like they have thousands of dollars’ worth of contracts with big corporations.”

“I think our farmers are doing good and they’re geared up,” she added. “I know some who have decided to plant more than they would have had this not happened.”

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Over in Maryland, smaller farms are trying to make up where larger poultry plants on the Eastern Shore have left off.

The Ritter Farm, which focuses on “Patapsco Valley Pastured Meats” in Howard County has seen significant growth in the last several weeks. The small organic farm that is only five-years-old receives around at least one new customer a week, according to co-owner Michael Ritter.

“… And most of those become repeat customers coming back every week, buying eggs or meat," Ritter told WBAL-TV.

However, the sudden increase in demand during the virus has created processing challenges. One local USDA-certified butcher the Ritter Farm has reached out to won’t be available until November.

"That's presenting challenges for us smaller farms being able to actually have the product available for folks," Ritter said.

To remedy this hiccup, the Ritter Farm is moving to expand its operations in a way that will allow the farm to process chickens on-site. Other pasture-raised, non-GMO meat products are available for purchase at this time though.

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In the city of Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County-based, 400-acre Triple B Farms has recently implemented direct-to-consumer online ordering and socially-distanced grocery pickup.

For a month now, customers have been able to order a variety of food staples, including fruit, produce, dairy, meats, baked goods, honey, pantry items and gifts. After checkout, these customers have picked up their selections curbside at a designated time.

“I don’t foresee us being able to take any of this [new service] back,” said Suzanne Beinlich, a co-owner of Triple B Farms, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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Currently, the farm is looking into ways it can ship products to customers as the coronavirus pandemic continues. In fact, Beinlich says their clientele have been asking for an at-home shipping option for at least a decade. Though, she remarked, “We’re taking it kind of baby steps.”