Social distancing has meant closer connections for farmers selling direct to consumers.
Farmers selling direct or through online networks are scrambling to keep up to surging demand from new customers, all the while adhering to safety protocols to protect their families and workers.
Why it matters: COVID-19 has changed consumer attitudes towards food in unexpected ways.
Sales have jumped 400 per cent for the Kitchen family of Walter’s Falls, Ont., which operates an on-farm store selling organic vegetables, flowers and artisanal chicken. They’ve had to approach other area farmers to source meat and produce.
Amy Kitchen told Farmtario that the surge in sales comes at what is usually a quiet time in their year.
Emma and Josh Butler, who farm in northern Chatham-Kent, have temporarily sold out of the meat they market through their on-farm store.
“Our business has exploded. There’s no other word for it,” she says.
They recently took another beef animal to the abattoir for processing, but that animal has to be aged for 25 days and then cut and wrapped. That means a month before they have more meat to sell. They also raise and sell lamb.
With their markets closed indefinitely, sheep producers Andreas Buschbeck and his partner Nicole Heber in Grey County, near Markdale turned to online purchasing and direct deliveries into Toronto. They’ve so far recouped 50 per cent of their previous sales volume.
Many farmers are turning to companies like Local Line, an Ontario online marketplace for farmers and farmers markets.
Local Line’s Cole Jones says that they are moving thousands of farmers and hundreds of markets online.
“In most cases, online sales are the only remaining sales channel for a farmer to sell their products,” he said. “It’s a necessity if they want to make sales.”
The long-term question is whether this is a short-term trend, or a long-time change to the way consumers look at their food.
“People are looking at things a bit deeper. They are changing the way they shop and think. I don’t think it will be a fad,” says Butler.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has created a resource for farmers who have to suddenly market direct.
(For the full story, check out the next Farmtario print edition.)