Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve heard a lot about those who’ve lost a lot, but not so much about those who made the most of the situation.
Scott Thuman reports.
Just outside of Frederick, Maryland, as the dawn has yet to break and most are still asleep, there’s a flurry of activity at Moon Valley Farm. The demand, just like their crops, growing fast, but it came as a bit of a surprise for founder and first-generation farmer, Emma Jagoz.
Scott Thuman: How would you describe life for you all here, or business for you here, pre-COVID versus what it is now?
Emma Jagoz: So pre COVID, we sold 100% of our business to restaurants from January to May.
Then came a pandemic. Almost overnight, restaurants closed and those supplying them, faced a crisis.
Scott: Like many Americans, especially farmers, Emma and her team couldn’t just wait for things to get, quote-unquote “back to normal,” they had to make changes, and they did.”
Jagoz: Since COVID happened in the middle of March, we decided to launch our CSA program seven weeks early.
CSA is community supported agriculture, farmers selling directly to local customers who buy a subscription or share in the farm and it’s harvest. Members get these boxes each week, packed with fresh produce that changes with the growing season.
Jagoz: Now let's hope that Joe can fit this all in a van.
Here sales came flooding in. Customers doubled from 250 to 530, with another 200 now on a waiting list.
Scott: Why is everyone suddenly lining up to get personal direct service?
Jagoz: In the beginning, the grocery stores were scant and scary places. I think people were starting to realize how many germs go into, especially the produce aisle, where it's an open market and a lot of hands are touching the same produce. You touch one and put it back down, and people started really thinking about that and opting out of that option. And they were searching for other options.
And as large scale producers, especially food processing facilities have had to cut back or close, small farms across the country, seeing a true rarity: what they’re growing, is actually sold, before it’s even picked.
Scott: What does that tell you?
Jagoz: Well, I think people trust local farms, that they wanted to decrease the chain from grower to eater, to themselves. I think they were thinking of how many hands does it travel before it gets to the grocery store? And then how many hands touch it there? And so people were really interested in just shortening that chain, knowing the farmer, and trusting the person behind their food.
Evan Arsenault was a chef pre-coronavirus, out of a job due to the pandemic, he’s now on the other end of seeing where ingredients are grown.
Evan Arsenault: I guess it's like the silver lining of COVID is that a lot of people had to make some serious changes to their life, and for me that was getting into farming.
Scott: Do you think we're seeing a shift that will last for years and years?
Arsenault: Oh, absolutely. I really do feel like it was kind of a wake-up call where we have heavily industrialized the food process where it's like all these centralized. It's just not really sustainable.
Scott: What do you see as the industry of small farming as a result of all this?
Jagoz: Well, I think small farms can and will change the food system. And I think that this is an opportunity, combined with educating our new customers, to really make that change happen faster.
Jagoz: So pretty much everything is ready for you.
Adding customers and employees, not just surviving, but thriving, in a time of covid.
Sharyl (on camera): Are people seeing more of this outside of Maryland too?
Scott (on camera): Well, we are seeing it, and now all across the country with some larger farms, they are seeing community-supported programs growing and with waiting lists too.
Sharyl (on camera): Thanks a lot. Very interesting.