Farmers Selling Direct

Updated: May 8, 2020

These US farmers are prospering during lockdown by delivering straight to homes.

With restaurants shut and grocery stores posing a coronavirus risk, some Americans are ordering food directly from the farm - a trend small-scale producers hope will outlast the pandemic. It could be one of the few economic upsides to a crisis that has emptied high streets and felled business as Americans lockdown.


In northern Wisconsin, a farmers' collective said they are making thousands of dollars a week in a season when sales are normally zero. By selling to people instead of restaurants, Illinois farmers said revenues are close to an all-time high.


Many farmers are adopting online ordering and home delivery, transforming old-fashioned farms into consumer-friendly outlets. "In two or three weeks we accelerated like five to ten years of growth and change in the industry," said Simon Huntley, founder of Harvie, a company based in Pittsburgh that helps farmers market and sell their products online.


"I think we are getting a lot of new people into local food that have never tried buying from their local farmer before."


Eating local is lauded as a way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of transporting food long distances. Shorter supply chains boost resilience in a crisis and help small-scale sustainable farms, said Jayce Hafner, co-founder of FarmRaise, which helps farmers get grants and loans.


Growers across the country are vulnerable to economic shocks right now because of labour shortages, supply chain disruptions and fluctuating prices linked to the pandemic, she said.

"The beauty of the direct-to-consumer app is it allows a farmer to capture the value of their product at a near-to-retail price, and so it's a really attractive option economically for a farmer," Hafner said.


New expectations


Chris Duke, who owns a farm in Wisconsin, has managed a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program for years. The CSA model gained popularity in the United States more than a decade ago. Typically customers pay a subscription fee to a farm then receive regular boxes of whatever is grown.


But with the spread of online shopping, shoppers are now used to getting what they want, when they want it, said Duke.


Using Harvie's platform, his farm and 17 others in the area can offer customers 95 products, from vegetables to honey to meat, and their clients choose just what they want each week.

They had been thinking of doing this for a while, he said, but were only spurred to make the change when coronavirus hit.


"I love the CSA model, but the CSA model by itself is 30 years old, and a lot has changed in the food marketplace, in technology, in customer expectations," Duke said. "It's a totally different world now."


He plans to keep the new model after the pandemic wanes.


Lisa Duff, the owner of a small family farm in Maryland, started offering customized, at-home deliveries last year and said it saved her when the restaurants and farmers' markets she served closed in March.


Without a delivery person, she does most of the driving herself - which has been tough.

But she has also seen her customers nearly double.


"I'm hopeful that this will really truly help us find that local food is here to stay."