For Direct-Market Farmers, 2020 is Gearing Up to Be a Make or Break Year - American Farmland Trust

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March 31st, 2020

For Direct-Market Farmers, 2020 is Gearing Up to Be a Make or Break Year

(Disclaimer: The farmer profiled in this blog is the brother of the author and therefore not eligible for support from AFT’s Farmer Relief Fund.)

Across the country, small farmers are doing their best to cope with the uncertain future suddenly brought on by the coronavirus crisis. This rings true for my family, as I’m sure it does for many of you.

My brother Jay owns and operates Golden Acre Farm in Lakewood, Colorado. As he’s done for the past 10 years, this week Jay is hard at work preparing for the opening of Denver farmers markets later in the spring. On a total of two acres spread out across four different locations on Colorado’s front range, Golden Acre Farm grows more than 100 varieties of organic vegetables, fruit, herbs, and cut flowers.

However, this isn’t a normal year. The current coronavirus crisis is changing how Americans live. While some states have made special declarations to allow farmers markets to continue to operate as essential businesses during mandatory closures, the future of the farmers market season in many other states is still up in the air.

“We do about 90% of our sales at the farmers market. It’s really the only avenue we have as small farmers to make money selling food,” Jay tells me while out starting basil in the greenhouse. “Even if markets are open this summer, if social distancing guidelines are still in place, we’re worried we could lose as much as 50% of sales because of decreased foot traffic.

This is far from a normal year, so the only thing Jay and other small and mid-sized farmers across the nation can do is monitor their markets, adjust, innovate and move forward–this is the life of a farmer, after all. Every year is different; some crops succeed, some fail, weather patterns change, markets fluctuate, and you just keep moving. And once supplies are purchased, seeds are in the ground, and greenhouses are thriving, you are dealing with sunk costs.

“I leased two new properties this year in hopes of being able to expand our growing capacity,” Jay mentions almost a little too casually. “Those are expenses I’ve already laid out for, not to mention seeds, soil amendments, irrigation equipment, and other supplies. The only thing I can do is prepare as if the markets will be open, shoppers will come back, and my farm will survive. What other option is there?”

For farmers like Jay, the future–both immediate and long-term–appears murkier than ever. What can the public do to help? Take it straight from Jay:

“The one main thing I want the public to know right now is that our farm is still open for business. We’re taking on new CSA members and planning to provide the Denver community with the healthy, organic food they’ve become accustomed to getting from us. If you care about your local farmers, please support them as you’ve never done before. This year, they’re going to need it.”

To help farmers impacted by the current coronavirus crisis, AFT has launched a new Farmer Relief Fund that will provide grants of up to $1,000 to small and mid-sized direct market farmers. One hundred percent of public donations to this fund will flow directly to farmers. Give today!