Farmers who depend on direct marketing their produce appear to be having a tough time during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the demand for fresh produce has been strong in the grocery sector, the closure of restaurants has taken a toll on farms who depend on restaurant sales. The farmers markets that remain open are also seeing a dramatic decline in business.
“A lot of the farmers that we work with are direct marketing; so, they sell directly to farmers markets, or at farm stands, or to restaurants or retail. So, they are definitely being impacted,” said Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, Small Farms and Specialty Crops Advisor for Fresno and Tulare Counties. “Farmers who sell direct to restaurants are probably being hit the hardest as a lot of restaurants are closed, or even if they’re doing takeout, they might have fewer orders than usual.”
Farmers markets have been permitted to remain open and are classified as an essential service inline with grocery stores. However, several farmers markets have ceased operations and the ones that are still serving the community are experiencing significantly less foot traffic. “That’s what we’re hearing from farmers is that even if the farmers markets are open there’s not as many customers, or maybe they don’t spend as long at the tables; obviously for good reason with the social distancing rules, but that is affecting sales,” Dahlquist-Willard noted.
Some farmers who rely on direct marketing are attempting to diversify their approach by moving to an online platform to hopefully make up for some of the lost business. Several farmers markets have also noticed a decline in visitors and have begun to establish digital farmers markets as well. The move to online sales may help some farmers market their produce but there are several different challenges to getting that established.
“We have a lot of farmers that have some barriers to going online, maybe some cultural and language barriers that they’re not as used to being online and it might be a little bit more difficult for them,” Dahlquist-Willard explained. “So, we’re looking into ways to help them do that.”
There are ways in which community members can assist farmers that may be struggling to sell their produce. Purchasing groceries at farmers markets and roadside farm stands while adhering to social distancing parameters can be immensely helpful. “Visiting restaurants that are still doing farm-to-fork and buying from local farmers directly. If they’re still open and they’re doing takeout, that’s also a great way to support local farms,” said Dahlquist-Willard.
Listen to the interview below.