With spring and summer farmers markets in limbo due to the COVID-19 crisis, farmers who sell directly to consumers are in for some hard times. But as most of these farmers will tell you, they are not ready to give up on their livelihood.
While farmers who rely a great deal on farmers markets and direct sales to schools and restaurants are losing significant business, some are making up for it in other ways.
Beef producers who market directly to consumers have seen a jump in local and online sales from new customers who have decided to give home-raised beef a try. Many people like the idea of beef coming directly to their door, especially in times like these. They also like the idea of having a freezer full of meat in uncertain times.
Unfortunately, not all beef producers have done so well with their home-based sales. When people are laid off they are more inclined to cancel orders. However, adding in perks such as free local delivery sometimes helps.
Additional hope comes in the stimulus bill recently passed by Congress. The bill includes provisions requiring the USDA to help farmers who sell into local or regional markets. In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, farm groups projected that direct aid needs could exceed $1 billion. Details are still to be worked out on how producers should be compensated.
Farmers and ranch groups are coming to the aid of their members, as well. Websites connecting farmers and ranchers to consumers who want their products are one way they are trying to help.
Even if farmers markets do go forward in the U.S. in the coming months, they are likely to look much different than they have in the past. At least for now, the once bustling and social events will have to take into account COVID-19 regulations such as social distancing.
If the worst case scenario occurs and farmers markets are canceled this year, alternatives are already being considered. These alternatives include things like online orders, pop-up stands, coordinating drop-off points and direct delivery. Extension officials across the country are advising farmers that if they do offer such alternatives they need to do all that they can to keep themselves and their customers healthy. This includes packing boxes so customers only touch the ones they are picking up, staggering pickup times to reduce crowds, and having handwashing stations available.
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