The HVADC Cultivator
Farmers in Their Own Words: COVID-19's Impact
COVID-19 has changed the way every farmer does business, but each farm faces unique challenges, and many been coming up with unique solutions to meet the challenges of the pandemic. HVADC has been reaching out to our community of farmers to see how they are adapting to the pandemic. Here are what some of the farmers told us, in their own words:
“Where we’ve been hurt the most is sales to the food service industry and schools. That’s a big percentage of our business. There’s not a huge margin in what we do so if we lose 25% of our business, our income is down 25%. We’ve been hurt but we are not dumping milk.
The thing that has kept us going is that we were able to secure PPP (Payroll Protection Plan) funds and have been able to cover salaries for a few weeks. But I’m very anxious about when that runs out. It scares the heck out of me that PPP is going to end. I don’t know what we are going to do in a month.”
We have been selling quite a bit of milk directly to customers off the back dock at the dairy, which is nice to see.”
We’ve been fighting all the current anti-dairy issues for years and the pandemic hasn’t changed any of that. This is a struggle but that’s what farming is. You have to diversify.”
Farmer and Owner
“We are mostly a CSA farm and have a farm store on site as well. Normally this time of year (end of winter, early spring) is a bit of a pause. We’ve sold through our winter stock and are getting ready for planting. When the pandemic started in March, there was this huge spike in interest. All of a sudden we had all these people coming to the store. To keep things safe we switched and set up the online store. We never sold more than CSA shares online before but we were able to scale that up. All that takes time and it has been a challenge to balance that with the work we were already doing.
CSA shares are selling out faster than ever. Some of our New York City drop-off locations were canceled but other locations are way up. So I’m not worried about sales right now but there are a lot of logistical issues with getting things safely to market.
One of the trickiest logistical issues has been getting seeds on time to get in the ground. Our main seed supplier has been underwater with orders. Delays have been a huge wrench in the works. There have been a few things and varieties we haven’t been able to get at all.
The pandemic is creating a lot of new customers but we don’t know… maybe a lot of the interest is temporary.”
Owner and Founder
“When the pandemic first hit we were very unsure how it would affect our market. We go to three Farmers markets in the city and the Hudson Market. No one was really sure what would happen and all my staff dropped out. It left me in a very scary position.
Then something incredible happened. When we were short staffed, some very talented people who were out of work came to help me. A writer who needed work came on and now she’s my operations manager and is growing my business, working from home. And an antique dealer friend has taken control of my market operations, staffing them and has been really incredible.
I had goat farms calling me that were dumping milk. I thought, ‘I’ll buy the milk and see.’ I bought enough to increase production and business is up. We’ve been selling a lot more to food hubs ad food hubs with delivery.
“It’s also been great to see the way farmers are helping each other right now. People have been very thoughtful. We have very strict sanitation protocols that produce farms don’t and have been doing what we can to share details. This would not have gone this way without Grow NYC and the Green Market. They have managed this so well. It’s been hard but our customers are coming out and we’ve seen so much good in people.”
Marketing Communications and Events Manager
“When it all started we were doing the farm store and a brunch program. We didn’t have a way to handle everything and shut down the store. We went to a grocery pickup method and it was clear there was an immediate need for produce. We started carrying stuff grown by other farms, which we hadn’t really done before. We brought in more pantry and refrigerated goods that people were asking for and we could order through our suppliers.
We heard from a lot of people who were very concerned and wanted to stay out of the grocery store. Our CSA starts in June and we’ve had a record number of signups, to the point where we had to put people on a waiting list, which we’ve never done before. We have a menu of products online and take orders over the phone. In early April we were getting 70 calls a day. We added more phone lines.
Something we were worried about is that we hire a number of H-2A workers. Some have been coming back here for ten years. They were delayed by a month, which was a problem for us but we are so glad to see them now.
Our next challenge is in June, when our pick-your-own program starts. It’s our main source of income so it’s been a lot of work coming up with new plans and designing a lot of new signs so people can do it safely.”