Flexibility, Diversity & Direct-to-Consumer Sales Winning Strategies

by Noah Cohen, Organic Farmers Association

Jul 14, 2020

Despite uncertainty at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020—as restaurants, schools, and other institutions shuttered to a close—many organic farms have been bright spots of the COVID-19 economy. Nearly every organic category has seen year-over-year sales gains since March, and, with the pandemic radically reshaping consumer behavior, that growth could continue. Steve Lutz, senior VP of strategic insights firm Category Partners, says consumers are prioritizing immune health more than ever before, and expects this newfound focus to have a “lasting impact” on their spending habits.

Meanwhile, safety-conscious consumers are more wary about who is touching their food, driving direct-to-consumer sales such as CSAs. Even while COVID-19 has presented many challenges, these shifting consumer priorities have created new opportunities for farmers—particularly organic farmers, who can market themselves as a healthy choice, and has benefited farmers that can sell direct-to-consumer or had diverse markets already established. Here’s how a handful of organic farmers (members of the Organic Farmers Association) from around the country have fared:

Laura Freeman, Mt. Folly Farm, Winchester, KY

Farm Facts: Mt. Folly Farm sells organic grains, hemp, pastured beef, chicken, and pork with “a local, shortened supply chain.”

Experience: “The biggest challenge we had was shutting down our farm-to-table restaurant” mid-March due to COVID restrictions, Freeman says. Immediately, she recouped by turning the restaurant into a “farm grocery store” for her farm-to-table market products. “We took out all the tables, put in coolers, and started selling beef and early spring crops.” Unlike many of her beef-farming neighbors, Freeman has “gone local,” which she says has made her relatively immune to processing chain disruptions. “We have a small USDA beef and lamb packer who is open, though now absolutely swamped,” she explains.

Takeaways: Freeman says going local has helped her “pivot” to meet COVID-era realities by “creating a food system we can watch and manage safely.” “We are small and committed, with a great team spirit,” she adds. Further buoying Mt. Folly, like many local organic farms, was its permanent staff of 25 employees, who “became cross-trained on all sorts of projects… from salesmen and saleswomen helping the distiller, to chefs working in the garden.”

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