From the Farm: Adapting During COVID-19

Many of us are facing what seems like an endless list of unknowns during the COVID-19 outbreak, and the same is true with farmers.

Snoqualmie Valley farms are having to take unprecedented steps to stay in business when many of their income sources are limited or effectively gone. Because of these reduced sale outlets, as well as increased concern over sanitation and food safety, farmers are having to pivot to ensure that not only does their community continue to have access to fresh, locally grown foods, but also to keep their livelihoods and farms afloat. We spoke with several Snoqualmie Valley farmers to learn more about what they are experiencing right now and what we can all do to help.

In a time with so much uncertainty, farmers need us more than ever! Luckily, there are a handful of easy ways you can support the small farms of the Snoqualmie Valley so they can be around not just for our generation, but for generations to come.

 

What farms are experiencing during COVID-19

Spring is typically a crazy busy time for farmers, getting all the fields prepared and seeds sown for the upcoming growing season. But this year the bottom fell out on their plans, as orders for their produce dried up overnight, they had to restructure operations to keep employees and customers safe, and they hit roadblocks with securing supplies.

For many local farms, wholesale to restaurants, schools, and other institutions is a primary source of revenue, but these orders have plummeted. With schools and institutions closed and restaurants operating on limited capacity, it means farms have piles of fresh, healthy vegetables, meat, and dairy products, but no one to buy it. The same is true for farms that sold at local farmers markets–with the markets closed, they are running out of ways to sell their produce before it spoils.

Many farmers are finding new creative ways to sell directly to neighbors, Valley visitors, and the Seattle region by implementing online ordering systems, opening new farm stands, and offering delivery services (see list below for more details).

These changes aren’t easy. “No farmer wants to change up their entire business model right as spring comes into full swing,” said Lauren Tyner from Carnation Farms, adding “if they are offering new outlets and ways to support them, it’s because they need to.” With these alternative sales strategies comes the potential for not just added costs, but also time spent adjusting to these new efforts.

At Carnation Farms, COVID-19 closures have forced them to cancel or postpone their upcoming events and adjust to these new circumstances. “It has forced us to be creative and use online channels to create virtual events and tours, as well as reshape our plant sale, and reconsider revenue streams if farmers markets and restaurant sales will be either nonexistent, or limited.” said Lauren.

Procurement of necessary supplies is another concern among farmers right now. Some farms may experience a delay in access to needed materials, including seeds. Sanitation supplies are also in high demand nationwide and are challenging to obtain. To keep employees and customers safe, farms are restructuring their operations to incorporate the new sanitation and social distancing protocols. In the summers, smaller farms typically will hire interns and additional employees to help during the busy season. With three new interns starting in May at Frisky Girl Farm in North Bend, Ashley Wilson and Ellen Scheffer explained that they will have to start figuring out what sanitation protocols they need to make as many farmers are trying to ensure their own safety as well as their employees, families, and customers.

 

How can we support farmers?

Interest in local food has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 closure as our community bands together to support Snoqualmie Valley farms and enjoy unmatched flavor and ripeness. CSAs, farm stands, online orders, farmers markets, and digital resources can all help to keep you connected with farms and enjoying their bounty.

Farmers need our support right now, but also into the future. So as you try out different options this spring, please also consider how best to incorporate them into your regular routine beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Local foods (and flowers) are fresh, nutrient rich, seasonal, and offer more variety because they are harvested at their peak and not shipped long distances for long periods of time. By purchasing locally grown products, you not only support your community and economy, you’re also helping maintain farmland and open space around where you live. Supporting local farms means supporting resilience in your community.

 

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Signing up for a CSA is one of the best ways to support your local farms right now. When you join a CSA, you purchase a “subscription” for your share of weekly boxes of food over the course of several weeks, starting in the summer and ending in the fall. Oftentimes, these subscriptions will offer add-ons, such as eggs or fresh flowers. Paying upfront provides much of the needed funding to cover expenses such as paying staff, making seed purchases, and preparing for the busy summer and future growing seasons. Check out our list of 2020 CSAs in the Snoqualmie Valley for more information.

 

Farm Stands

Farm stands are an easy way to purchase goods from our local growers, including produce, meat, eggs, flowers, and more. Many farm stands are open across the Valley and more will continue to open as we near the summer season. Larger farm stand markets in the area often source products from other local farms as well. During this time, many farm stands are implementing sanitation and distancing procedures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Please check for instructional signage at each location, and stay home if you are feeling unwell. Check out our list of 2020 Farm Stands in the Snoqualmie Valley for more information.

 

Order Online

Several farms are getting creative with online ordering, providing many of the products you would find in-person at a farm stand, and even collaborating with other farms to offer more variety. Especially when options like Amazon have become inundated with orders and long wait times, ordering from local businesses is becoming a more appealing and time-friendly option. During this time of year, some farms offer spring plant sales and are shifting to online platforms for these events as well. Check with each farm to see if they offer delivery or pick-up locations in your area.

 

Farmer’s Markets

It’s unclear at this time what the status of farmers markets will be this year. However, this past weekend, Seattle’s University District and Ballard Farmers Markets reopened with limited capacity, fewer vendors, and social distancing guidelines. Though this is a good first step toward helping farmers regain an important sales outlet, it’s important that those who attend are mindful of the new rules in order to ensure these markets can continue. Attending a farmers market is not a social gathering in the way it has been in the past, but rather is an important way to purchase local goods and support our communities.

 

Take a Virtual Tour & Use Online Resources

Farms that offer summer programming such as camps, educational classes, and tours are making the tough decisions to cancel or postpone these events. For farms that offer these programs, check their website for virtual events and tours of their farmlands and facilities, as well as online educational resources and activities.

 

Lastly, it’s important that we remember these are trying times for everyone. Farmers are under an immense amount of stress right now and could be under the pressure of losing their livelihoods. So please, be flexible, be understanding, and be kind if it takes them a little longer to get back to you or there are hiccups in these new ordering systems.

Thanks for supporting Valley farms!