Restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 have caused major disruptions for farmers. The closure and delay of many farmers markets combined with restrictions on North Carolina restaurants have left farmers with many immediate needs, including where to sell crops that were already planted.
“All the marketing channels that we were used to had closed down. It just felt like everything was uncertain,” says Nicole DelCogliano from Green Toe Ground Farm.
Nicole grows vegetables with her husband, Gaelan Corozine, at their farm in Yancey County. She says their biggest challenges have been finding new ways to sell their produce, including building an online store in a matter of weeks.
An unseasonably cold and wet spring has slowed the growth of the crops they usually harvest in May, causing a lot of headache and worry. But it also gave them time to bolster their safety protocols, like purchasing new plastic totes to carry their vegetables to markets.
“We had already been considering getting them, then when this happened, we absolutely needed to get them because they’re just so much easier to wash. They never go in the field so they don’t get dirty. Then when they come back, we are able to wash them and sanitize them,” Nicole says.
They were able to purchase 20 plastic totes with the help of ASAP’s Appalachian Grown Farmer Immediate Needs Grants. These grants provide up to $500 to local farmers who face a significant loss or disruption of markets due to COVID-19.
The grants are also targeted to farmers who depend on the farm business for the majority of their household income, and who plan to use the grant to help shift their farm business to new models or adjust to new market requirements.
“We also used some of the funds to buy sanitizing fluid that’s pretty costly, so we have a good supply of that and more disposable gloves. It definitely felt good because we’re already spending a lot of money on more packaging materials right now because of the different protocol in place, so having that grant and not having to lay that money out when a lot of money is already going out right now felt really supportive,” Nicole says.
There are several farmers using the funds to improve and increase their packing materials, like Carl Evans from Mountain Harvest Organics. He grows produce with his wife Julie Mansfield at their farm in Madison County.
In response to COVID-19, they offered more CSA, or farm shares this year, which means they need additional waxed boxes to transport the vegetables from the farm to CSA members.
“When we get boxes back from people, we’re going to let them sit a week, whereas we would have just normally gotten them back and reused them right away,” Carl says.
They used the Appalachian Grown Farmer Immediate Needs Grant to purchase more boxes, and also a credit card reader to avoid cash transactions.
Mountain Harvest Organics still faces many challenges. They had to pause their vacation rental and agritourism offerings, and finding labor is difficult, too. They’re hesitant to bring apprentices or employees onto the farm, so they work 12 hours a day in the greenhouse and fields, which has been difficult on their bodies as they reach retirement age. Yet they’re encouraged by the support they’ve seen from the local community.
“If there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s that people have a renewed sense that they need to know their farmer and also maybe grow some of their own food. So maybe we move more of our production into plants and also maybe doing workshops and teaching people,” Carl says.
Nicole from Green Toe Ground Farm has seen this kind of resiliency from many farmers as they explore new business models. In addition to farming, Nicole is also the Farm Beginnings coordinator at Organic Growers School, so she’s been talking to a lot of local farmers about how they’re adapting.
“I’m seeing farmers that have pretty established reputations and customer bases—I think they have been able to pivot and adapt a little bit more easily than newer farmers. At the same time, I’ve seen [newer farmers] have some successes because they are networked with other farmers,” she says.
Nicole has also noticed farmers forging stronger bonds with customers who live near them. Green Toe Ground Farm is about an hour’s drive from Asheville, and for several years they brought most of their produce into the city to sell at farmers markets and restaurants. This year, Nicole reached out to her neighbors through a county email group to see if they’d like to pick up vegetables at the farm.
“I’m seeing an interesting resurgence of interest in supporting a specific farm right in your area. I’m excited about that, actually, because I’ve wanted to sell locally again for a long time, and so I think this is an opportunity for us to reconnect in that way,” Nicole says.
In the coming months, we’ll check in with more farmers who received Appalachian Grown Farmer Immediate Needs Grants. Learn more about how to contribute to the relief fund at https://asapconnections.org/covid-19-response/appalachian-grown-farmer-relief-fund/
Aired: June 1, 2020