Doing the farmer’s pivot

Editorial: The Recorder, April 4, 2020

Imagine a farmer doing a dance step: It brings a smile to the face to picture a farmer executing a neat pivot on one foot. Yet, in the face of the coronavirus economic meltdown, few have been more nimble on their feet — figuratively speaking — than farmers and their supporters.

For instance, Franklin County Community Development Corp. Executive Director John Waite has been doing the pivot to keep the money flowing from the nonprofit’s 28,000-square-foot commercial kitchen and freezer. This multi-use storage area, completed in late 2017, boasts nearly 21,000 square feet divided equally between freezer and refrigerated space, with the remaining 7,250 square feet used for general food storage. It’s where farmers bring their freshly harvested vegetables to be processed and flash-frozen for bulk sale to schools for their lunch programs.

With schools and colleges closed, however, 15,000 pounds of produce remain. So Waite and his staff, while observing social distancing guidelines, are repackaging the 25-pound boxes into 1-pound bags for retail sale in local supermarkets. “We said, ‘Let’s try to do this,’” Waite recounted.

Another organization executing a neat pivot is Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture (CISA).

Executive Director Philip Korman has brought back the no-interest loans CISA has offered during earlier disasters, such as Hurricane Irene in 2012. The money comes from individuals, businesses and foundations that want to help. Farmers wouldn’t have to start repaying these loans for six months, and would then have monthly payments for up to 36 months.

“Farms and farmers have been affected in so many ways,” Korman explained. “Some were selling to colleges that are closed now, while others were selling at farmers markets and plan to sell at open markets in the spring, but we’re not even sure what’s going to happen there, yet.”

Because local restaurants have closed, farmers have also lost business there. “They need to start ordering seeds and getting ready for the season,” said Korman. The deadline to apply for the next round of no-interest loans of up to $25,000 from CISA’s Emergency Farm Fund is April 13.

Finally, Sunderland farmers themselves are doing the coronavirus pivot by teaming up to offer contactless home delivery to customers seeking local produce without compromising their health.

The newly formed Sunderland Farm Collaborative began accepting the first round of orders on March 23 for its first day of deliveries on March 28. Customers have the choice between home delivery in a dozen different towns or picking up their orders at one of four drop sites.

The process begins when customers place an order through sunderlandfarmcollaborative.localfoodmarketplace. com. Caroline Pam, owner of Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland, said the collaborative received so many orders during its first order period, it had to close the online order form a day early. “We didn’t know for a fact there was a huge demand, but we discovered it very quickly.”

Emily Landeck, who owns Riverland Farm in Sunderland, said, “I know home delivery is a service that is very much peaking right now. But it also shows our community has our back and wants to support small farms and eat locally.”

You can do the farmer’s pivot yourself by purchasing a farm share at a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, which gives farmers seed money now in return for ultra-fresh farm products for you. Visit localharvest. org/csa to find a CSA farm near you. And, when farmers markets resume, by making purchases direct from farmers.

“If we want our farmers to survive and thrive,” said Korman, “we need to be there for them when disasters strike.”