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Regional Resiliency: How Local Producers are Filling the Gap During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Lakota Ranch Farm Store

Farming and ranching have never been easy, and with today’s pandemic challenges and market volatility, producers are constantly looking for ways to stay afloat and continue the farming legacy while taking care of their families. This holds true for the livestock producers participating in AFT’s Sustainable Grazing Project. They are not only focusing their energy on improving grazing practices, they’re also focused on improving their bottom lines. Profitability is key with regard to operating a sustainable farm and food system in our country.

The American food system is complex and requires many pieces to align just right for food to arrive onto the plates of millions of consumers each day. During a pandemic, consumers stock up on supplies and food so that they can quarantine themselves to help keep them and their families safe. This is obviously a different purchasing pattern than normal, and logistics are stressed to the point of empty shelves.

The necessity of a thriving local food system has never been more obvious than now. Five of the seven pilot producers participating in the Sustainable Grazing Project in the Rappahannock Region of Virginia have diversified throughout the years and have established direct marketing avenues to capture more consistent value for the safe and high-quality meat products they produce. Having developed convenient avenues for their local products to be ordered, picked up, or delivered prior to the pandemic, Bean Hollow Grassfed, Lakota Ranch, Heaven’s Hollow Farm, Banks Mountain Beef, and Chancellor’s Rock Farm have all worked diligently to supply hungry consumers with local meats during this food shortage.

Mike Sands of Bean Hollow Grassfed inside his farm store.

Several of these producers had built extensive wholesale and restaurant books of business, but with restaurants closing their doors to limit the spread of COVID-19, they’ve had to quickly adapt their business models to place more emphasis on direct-to-consumer sales. Banks Mountain Beef is looking to revamp their online presence and develop an online platform for customer ordering to help offset their loss of restaurant business.

There is value in knowing who produces your food, knowing how it is produced, and having confidence that it will be available when needed. Several of the above listed producers had adequate supply of frozen meat on hand heading into this unprecedented health crisis and have seen drastic increases in sales. No one is price gauging, just charging what they have always charged, a fair and honest price that mirrors the value of the product produced. Whether consumers have taken advantage of the lower-density shopping experiences at Lakota Ranch and Bean Hollow Grassfed farm stores or ordered online through Heaven’s Hollow Farm’s online store for direct-to-home delivery, consumers have appreciated the abundance of local meats available. If you haven’t yet, please consider ordering your meat from a local farmer or rancher during this unprecedented time.

As a producer, there is a sincere sense of pride that comes with the responsibility to supply the community with safe, healthy, and delicious foods. In times of volatility, regional resilience reigns with flexible producers that diversify and adapt to include supplying direct to consumers. Direct marketing isn’t for the faint of heart and requires persistence, out-of-the-box thinking, and the ability to interact with varying consumers. Telling the farm’s story through social media accounts and a webpage is fruitful and provides a way for consumers to share their experiences. Developing an online store to showcase products and to create a convenient and safe in-home shopping experience can prove to be beneficial.

As logistics catch up, and meat counters are restocked at grocery stores, I hope customers for these pilot operations don’t revert back to their previous meat-sourcing habits, but rather continue to support the local producers that filled the gap during the times of empty meat shelves.

If you’re a producer wanting to learn more about valuing your products and marketing them through online platforms, I’d suggest checking out these two informative links.

GrazeCart https://grazecart.com/education

Meat Suite Calculator http://calculator.meatsuite.com/

About the Author
Jacob Gilley

Mid-Atlantic Sustainable Grazing Manager

jgilley@farmland.org

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