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Purdue Extension: Expert Resources for COVID-19
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AGRICULTURE: A Guide for Local Producers to Navigate the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 18, 2020
Cherry Tomatoes at Farmer's Market

ARTICLE UPDATED: 05/12/2020

 

COVID-19 has created unprecedented disruption to Indiana's local production cycles that bring food, fiber, flowers and more to our restaurants, farmers’ markets and communities.

Now is the time to determine the best methods for you to find and connect with your customers during a time of confusion and challenge. You can play an important role in improving this connectivity along the supply chain and ensuring continued access to fresh produce and products in our local economies, and it is imperative to establish and implement plans before any additional drastic measure occurs that could affect your bottom line.

Farmers' markets across Indiana are considered "essential" under the executive order issued by Governor Eric J. Holcomb. However, they are subject to changes in infrastructure and best practices. Additionally, many of your businesses may derive income from sales to Indiana restaurants — which shifted to takeout or delivery orders only by government mandate in the early stages of the pandemic. In line with criteria posted at Indiana's Back on Track website, some of these restaurants may begin to open with reduced-capacity seating and other restrictions.

Any further restrictions, cancellations, closings and/or policy changes related to COVID-19 also could have a major impact on demand for your products. This means you must become proactive in connecting with your customers.

People will still want to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, animal proteins such as meat, eggs, and dairy, and value-added food products, and they will still want to purchase flowers and vegetable seedlings.

This guide can help you navigate these uncertain times by offering ideas on:

Please consult the links throughout the article for more information and consult the Resource and Contact Information at the bottom of the article.

 

Online / Phone Sales

As more people choose to stay at home rather than venture out for goods, you could capitalize through online sales that allow them to purchase your products from their residence. (If insufficient broadband limits your capacity for online orders or marketing, you can set up service through telephone or text.)

Make sure you have a form for payment set up, and then explore online sales by:

As you adapt to potential farmers’ market closings, a CSA may be your best answer. A box of goods — often called a “share” — that you pack for your customer can reduce the number of people handling products and can eliminate possible cross-contamination.

CSA options include:

No matter what option you choose for online sales, you must follow all food safety standards and take appropriate measures to reduce possible product contamination.

You also must establish a delivery system for orders — either through a coordinated drop-off point or pick-up at your farm.

It is also important to keep customers aware of what is coming in their order so they can best utilize its contents. Providing recipes and produce storage tips is a great way to help customers fully use what they receive and feel good about their purchase.

Indiana has existing online-sales platforms to help you more easily connect with customers, manage orders and coordinate delivery locations. However, they primarily serve producers in the state’s urban areas. 

Market Wagon is an online grocery store / farmers’ market that sells hundreds of locally produced goods — including meats, vegetables, fruits and value-added products — from hubs of local producers across the Midwest. Their delivery system reaches a number of different Indiana communities. You can sign up as a vendor to sell in this space.

Hoosier Harvest Market (HHM) is a farmer-owned online farmer cooperative that features locally grown and produced goods. They deliver primarily to central Indiana. Producers in the state’s northern or southern regions may want to contact them to gauge how to start your own cooperative with multiple farms or coordinate new areas of operation for the HHM cooperative.

A shift to online sales may not be easy, and there are no hard or fast rules about what works and what does not. However, online sales can help you stay connected with existing customers and perhaps gain new customers, and continue the safe, timely and profitable delivery of your farm products.

 

Delivery Systems

In such a public setting, the Centers for Disease Control now recommend wearing cloth face coverings. For a guide on how to create your own cloth face coverings, visit the CDC website.

Delivery may be the trickiest part of changing your current business model and processes, but several options exist if you sell directly to customers:

Considering a pop-up stand? Consult your local zoning department. Some communities do not allow stands unless an area is zoned for commercial use or has a variance under consideration. People may also express concern about increased traffic if your stand is in a residential area.

It is also critical to remember that any home-based vendor must involve a physical venue of a farmers’ market or a roadside stand — and that their products can only be those described in Section 29 of Chapter 5 of the Indiana Code.

Having customers come to your farm? Your stand or retail space must protect your products from weather and minimize potential to spread COVID-19. These steps include:

 

Managing Inventory

You may need to account for inventory challenges, including larger amounts or longer periods of product storage. What options do you have to accommodate those needs? Now is the time to review best practices and storage conditions.

Selling to distributors or processors that are able to take on more local produce can allow you to preserve an early-season harvest when markets may be closed. However, you will need to search for such outlets and determine whether you meet their criteria for quantity and / or quality.

If you are a meat or poultry producer, animal production cycles may already be underway — particularly with beef, lamb and goat production — and must continue regardless of COVID-19’s spread.

With shorter animal-production cycles — such as poultry or broiler production — explore modifying future orders with hatcheries to reduce production. But you can neither slow or delay animal growth in any meaningful way nor delay scheduled slaughter dates at inspected slaughter facilities. If sales decline despite your best efforts, you may need to explore options for additional freezer storage capacity.

Additional freezer storage options include:

If multiple farmers in your community face similar challenges, it may benefit you to pool your resources toward cost reduction.

 

Adjust Crop Scheduling

You have options to adjust crop scheduling based on when you plant, how you harvest and, for some crops, how you manage growth.

Now is the time to generate realistic estimates of what you expect to sell in the coming weeks, as well as your options to adjust harvest timing and quantity.

Many short-season spring crops can also be grown in late summer and fall. Properly stored seeds can remain viable for a year or more, depending on the crop. For fruiting-vegetable crops, removing early-set fruit can allow more energy for vegetative growth and later yield.

 

Use Social Media

If you aren’t already on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you can establish a presence that helps you connect with consumers and stay up-to-date on the latest developments in your local foods system.

Purdue University and Purdue Extension cultivate regular content and engagement through Purdue Extension’s Diversified Farming and Food Systems social media channels:

 

Authors:

Tamara Benjamin, Assistant Program Leader and Diversified Agriculture Specialist – Purdue Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources

Miranda Edge, County Extension Director and Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Harrison County

Richard Kremer, Purdue Extension Small Farm Committee (Little Prairie Farms)

Elizabeth Maynard, Clinical Engagement Associate Professor of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue University and Purdue Extension Commercial Vegetable Production Specialist

Michael O’Donnell, Purdue Extension Educator in Organic and Diversified Agriculture

Nathan Shoaf, Purdue Extension Urban Agriculture State Coordinator

Heather Tallman, Indiana Grown Program Director, Indiana State Department of Agriculture

James Wolff, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Allen County

 

Useful Links: 

Purdue University – Extension

Tamara Benjamin, Assistant Program Leader and Diversified Agriculture Specialist – Purdue Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources, tamara17@purdue.edu

Purdue University – College of Agriculture 

Purdue Extension – Diversified Farming and Food Systems

Indiana State Department of Agriculture

Indiana State Department of Health

Indiana Grown

            Heather Tallman, Indiana Grown Program Director (htallman@isda.in.gov; 317-697-5863)

Community Supported Agriculture

Market Wagon

            Ryan Thomas, Market Wagon Director of Business Development, ryan.thomas@marketwagon.com

Hoosier Harvest Market

            Amy Surburg, Hoosier Harvest Market President, amsurburg@gmail.com

Indiana Code Title 16. Health

Feeding America 

Wholesaler Lists  

List of County Health Departments in Indiana

List of Purdue Extension County Offices

 

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