They say extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. This phrase perfectly encapsulates the local food industry during COVID.
At the very beginning of the pandemic almost one year ago (feels longer than that, doesn’t it?!?), good farmer friends Kelly Perrin of Quarry Brook Farms in Sherburne and Jennifer Rankin of Slate Creek Farm in Remsen were inundated with orders for meats and eggs from their customers. You may recall grocery meat counters were near empty and there was general panic since so much was unknown about the spread of this novel coronavirus. Long-time customers and new buyers alike were keeping Kelly and Jennifer busier than ever, driving all over the Mohawk Valley and beyond, to put their wholesome products in the hands of eager buyers. It was a little crazy and definitely stressful!
Thankfully, the two ladies put their heads together and devised a plan: Why not take orders from their customers and schedule regular pick-ups together, at centrally located sites outdoors where goods could quickly and safely change hands? Parking lots became their locale of choice, and customers were happy to pop over for a quick pick-up. Kelly and Jennifer both created their own farm websites where buyers could place their orders and pay at any time of the day or night.
We had a similar experience here at Jones Family Farm. Customers were calling, emailing, and sometimes showing up on our doorstep, looking for foods they couldn’t find in the grocery store. We opened a small farm store in our new cheese plant and created a farm website to take orders. We bought a delivery van and hired a driver to do home deliveries. But something about Kelly and Jennifer’s elegant and efficient approach had me hooked. I joined them this past fall and we officially dubbed our little venture the “Farmer’s Park-It.”
The response from all of our customers has been nothing short of wonderful. As much as we appreciate their support and purchases, customers seem to equally appreciate our efforts to not only feed them, but keep them safe until the pandemic is under control. “Please tell me you’re going to keep doing this!” “I love what you gals are doing, I can’t thank you enough!” and “I’m so grateful to you all; this is the only time I leave my house!” are phrases we hear each and every week.
The cooperation between us farmers is revealing untold possibilities when we work together to solve problems in an elegant and meaningful way. By promoting one another, we’ve all seen an increase in sales. Because we know each other’s strengths and high quality, we are comfortable recommending each other’s products and are more responsive to customer needs. Customer word of mouth is bringing us new buyers. We have invited a wonderful vegetable farm to join us (Kingfisher Farm in Sauqoit) and another farmer offering a wider range of proteins (Plumb Rocky Farm in West Winfield) to better serve our customers.
Although this venture was born out of response to a pandemic, we are beginning to wonder where we will go from here. In this strange new world of ordering everything from Amazon, how will local food carve out a space to survive once COVID is defeated?
In April of 2020, I wrote a piece for Mohawk Valley Living entitled, “Resiliency and Interdependence”. It was still very early in the pandemic, and we were all reeling from shortages and supply chain disruptions. I wrote something in that piece that I believe even more strongly today, “…diversity in farm size may have saved the day. Saving small farms is more than just maintaining open spaces and uplifting livelihoods of local families; it is a safeguard against the collapse of our food system” in periods of major upheaval.
Local food producers, including all of us at the Farmer’s Park-It, have to face the fact that investors are pouring money into the likes of Amazon, Kroger, and Tyson. As much as each of us has pivoted to face the challenges of this past year, we have many more challenges ahead of us. Extraordinary times will continue to call for extraordinary measures and I cannot wait to tell you what we do next!
**The Farmer’s Park-It takes place every other Thursday, 3-3:30pm in the New Hartford Shopping Center parking lot, across from Peter’s Cornucopia. Orders must be placed and paid for ahead of time via each of the participating farmer’s websites: