The food system in Western North Carolina has been fairly predictable for the past decade. Hundreds of farms in the region have found their niche—from vegetable growers selling at farmers markets, to roadside fruit stands, to meat and egg producers selling to restaurants.
The COVID-19 crisis caused many local farmers to rethink their business models. Now that North Carolina restaurants are doing take-out only or closed completely, farms that relied on restaurant sales are reaching customers in new ways.
Dry Ridge Farm typically sells pastured meat and eggs to customers at farmers markets and also many restaurants in Asheville. During a typical spring, when eggs are most abundant, Wendy Brugh would be selling eggs to 15 local restaurants, totalling 700 dozen eggs each week.
Wendy and her farming partner and husband Graham Brugh scaled up their egg production last year so they could supply Asheville’s booming restaurant community with pastured eggs. It was a popular venture, and Dry Ridge’s golden yolks topped many restaurant meals. When those restaurants closed or shifted to take-out, Wendy and Graham had to rethink how they’d sell their eggs.
It came with an unexpected hurdle. In the past, Dry Ridge sold flats of eggs to restaurants, but now that they’re selling more eggs directly to customers, just a dozen at a time, they need different packaging. Farmers across the country are pivoting in similar ways and also need additional cartons, causing Dry Ridge’s carton supplier to have a four-week backlog due to the increased demand.
Luckily, Wendy and Graham have experience connecting with customers. They asked people to bring their old egg cartons to the farmers market. They quarantined the cartons for several weeks before using them again, a plan that will tide them over until cartons are available to purchase again.
This plan hinges on a safe farmers market where they can meet customers while maintaining social distancing. Before ASAP’s new farmers market was established, Wendy tried delivering to customers’ homes, but it wasn’t the right fit for their business.
“Our farm is just me and Graham and a part time employee, and we just don’t actually have the hours to be able to deliver to everyone,” Wendy says.
When the new farmers market opened, Dry Ridge went back to selling eggs there. At that time, they also donated some of the extra eggs to restaurant workers and other people in need.
“I think we’ve all gone through being pretty depressed about the state of things and being sad for the people who were hit hardest, like restaurants and service industry folks and people who are getting their groceries week to week and aren’t able to stock up because they can’t financially,” Wendy says. “It’s also been really hopeful to see businesses reinvent themselves, to see how people are innovating and changing and addressing the current needs.”
All of this change can feel uncertain, but Wendy is optimistic that local farmers will find their niche in the food system again.
“Business owners are entrepreneurs, and so the challenge of changing our business models is kind of what we do and what makes any small business owner successful. So, yes, it’s hard, I don’t want to say I enjoy it, but there is an element of being excited about the challenge of getting our eggs out to people who want them, and also knowing that we have a product that people want right now, it’s just a matter of me finding the best way to get it to them,” Wendy says.
Dry Ridge is now selling eggs and pastured meats at the A-B Tech Community College farmers market most Saturdays, as well as other markets in the region later this spring.
A good way to keep up with local farms and to learn how they are selling their products is to subscribe to their newsletters and follow them on social media. ASAP’s online local food guide has also been updated to make it easier to find farms that offer online ordering, delivery, and pickup options. Search for hundreds of farms in the area at www.appalachiangrown.org
Aired: May 4, 2020