During the pandemic, some consumers turned to local farmers and ranchers as a point of purchase, so businesses had to diversify quickly
On a cold Sunday afternoon, Colby Townsend feeds 3,000 Rhode Island Red hens that lay 14,700 brown eggs each week at Hayden Fresh Farm, south of the small town of Hayden, in northwest Colorado.
Small business co-owners Townsend and his wife Michelle haven’t been able to take a day off since mid-March last year when pandemic-related restaurant restrictions hit their wholesale accounts hard. In a commercial roller coaster year, the couple worked 12 hours a day to react to the changes needed to keep the farm aloft.
“The pandemic has been the best / worst thing that has happened to us,” Townsend said in December, with chickens chuckling softly in the background. “It definitely stressed us out. But we have diversified so much that we think we can survive further closures. “
During the pandemic, some consumers turned to local farmers and ranchers as a point of purchase, so businesses like Hayden Fresh Farm had to diversify quickly. The Townsends set up two roadside farm stalls, quintupled the eggs sold locally through the nonprofit Community Agriculture Alliance Market, and prepared to sell weekly at the local Saturday Farmers’ Market. . Their egg sales have increased from 10% direct to consumers and from 90% to restaurants and stores to 70% direct to consumers.
“Diversity has allowed us to stay in business, and while it’s more work in the short term, it will allow us to have increases and still have the ability to hit our long-term breakeven point,” Townsend said.
The increases in staff time were offset by a 20% higher profit margin for direct sales, Townsend said. However, owners also had to step up their equipment by purchasing a delivery van, acquiring mobile credit card vending technology, upgrading their e-commerce website, and making an effort to buy more boxes of individual eggs instead of reusable bulk crates.
Townsend believes that some of the reasons the farm has been successful with direct sales are customers who wanted to know where their food was coming from, to have fewer layers of people handling their food, and to stay away from the crowds in grocery stores. .
At the Community Agriculture Alliance storefront in Steamboat Springs, local food sales and customers quadrupled in the first pandemic week in March 2020, said CAA CEO Michele Meyer, who then added refrigerators. , freezers, hours of operation and part-time staff.
“When people couldn’t find eggs and meat at the grocery store, they found us,” Meyer said.
Becca Jablonski, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Colorado State University, said an additional 7 million US households have turned directly to producers in 2020. Experts say the growth in direct agricultural sales to across the state could benefit the industry in the long run due to increased consumer awareness and appreciation of local food production.
“Based on a national survey of 5,000 households, at least 6% said they bought directly from farmers and ranchers for the first time during the pandemic,” Jablonski said.
Resources connect farmers, ranchers directly to consumers
State agencies, nonprofits and support volunteers have stepped up during the pandemic to help local farmers and ranchers reach more consumers directly. Some online resources include:
ColoradoProud.com – Colorado Department of Agriculture staff created an updated, categorized directory to more easily connect consumers with small businesses. The site lists 184 suppliers. “Meat, Poultry and Eggs” is the most visited category.
Facebook.com/ShopColoradoFarms –A digital marketer from Loveland created this Facebook group in May, modeled on Shop Kansas Farms, as a community service effort and an educational and networking forum. In the first eight months, the group added 11,743 members.
CoFarmersMarkets.org – The Fort Collins-based Colorado Farmers Market Association nonprofit lists 60 member markets, including summer, winter, year-round, and online markets across the state. Experts say more than 100 markets are held in Colorado.
ColoradoProduce.org/colorado-grown – The Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers nonprofit is linked to a variety of commodity resources across the state.
Colorado Farm Fresh Produce Directory (found on https://ag.colorado.gov/publications) – CDA updates this annual consumer guide to farmers markets, farms, ranches, U-pick and roadside stalls.