Jinger Howell puts her check into a bird house to pay for her produce on Friday at the Goranson Farm farm stand in Dresden. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

DRESDEN — In the past couple of weeks, Jan Goranson has seen more people from Dresden and area towns coming to her farm stand.

The owner of Goranson Farm opened her Dresden farm stand early this year for the first time in 20 years. She said bringing in locals is a “big reason” why she started farming.

“We just want our farm to be accessible to anybody and have food for our neighbors,” Goranson said. “It’s really meaningful to have more people coming to the farm.”

Central Maine farms have been adjusting to a changing marketplace in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. While restaurant accounts may have dried up with forced closures of dine-in eateries, there has been a growth in people seeking out locally-grown food.

Goranson said the state department of agriculture and University of Maine Cooperative Extension have been quick to move on the concerns of local farmers. She said she contacted the agricultural department to suggest clarifying legislation to include farmers markets as essential services, and it was done the next day.

“I think they’ve been trying so hard to meet the need,” she said.

Goranson, who said the state Department of Agriculture and University of Maine Cooperative Extension have been quick to respond to concerns of local farmers, lauded the creation of a large directory of farms by the extension and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Jason Lilley, a Cooperative Extension sustainable agriculture professional who helped craft the directory, said Thursday it has gotten more than 44,000 views since it launched a week ago.

“Many direct-to-consumer farmers are seeing increases in sales right now,” he said. “These farms are also creating new ways in which customers can pay for and pick-up food, including online orders, curbside pickup, or prepackaged bags of food to minimize time at the stand and handling of food.”

Dalziel Lewis, co-owner of Dig Deep Farm in South China, said her farm has already sold two Community Supported Agriculture shares from customers who were referred to the farm from the directory.

In addition to continuing to take part in farmers markets, which Lewis said have created social distancing measures, Dig Deep Farm is offering local delivery. Lewis said that cuts down on the need for trips to potentially-crowded grocery stores.

“We felt like home delivery is one small thing we could do,” she said. “It’s a good expression that there’s a need.”

A mixed bag of root vegetables for sale on Friday at the Goranson Farm’s farm stand in Dresden. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Goranson, who had previously worked to eliminate plastic packaging for her produce, has returned to that method to reduce potential virus transmission. Additionally, she has priced the produce so change can be easily made, and is offering grab-and-go bags of vegetables and greens to make produce easier to get on the table.

“We’ve spent a lot of time putting things out on social media telling folks that the farm is open for them to stop by,” Goranson said. “People seem amazingly grateful.”

Kelby Young, owner of Olde Haven Farm in Chelsea, said he had lost about 30% to 40% of his business due to restaurant account stoppages. While he doesn’t know how that lost revenue will ultimately affect the farm, Olde Haven isn’t raising its prices.

“I don’t want people to … look at us like we manipulated this for our profit or benefit,” he said. “I would rather have people feel like we provided a service for them.

“In the near term, we have to work on finding retail outlets for that,” Young added about the lost revenue. “It’s too early to make any type of determination as to whether or not the restaurant accounts are going to hurt us (long-term).”

What he is doing, however, is offering a free delivery service and keeping his on-site farm stand open.

“I knew there were some customers that would have to self-quarantine,” Young said. “We knew, if we wanted to serve them at all, we would have to deliver.”

He is also director of the Mill Park Farmer’s Market in Augusta. Young said it was important to keep that market open for customers who rely on it. He said the market, which takes place on Tuesday, has transitioned outside earlier than usual due to the outbreak.

“A lot of the people … shop with us because they feel safe,” Young said. “It’s important to those customers that they know where their food comes from and they know how it’s handled.”‘

 

FUTURE CONCERNS

Cooperative Extension Professor Donna Coffin leads a check-in with farmers, which offers a sense of community and allows them to collaborate on solutions. She said farmers are “apprehensive of what’s to come.”

“They are worried about the unknown,” Coffin said. “How much should they plant? How are they going to market? If they plan to use H2A visa workers, can they come to the U.S.? What about their own household income (and) their employees?”

Some farms are selling Community Supported Agriculture shares, Coffin said, to help fund their operation for the coming year in anticipation of a longer-lasting outbreak stifling their profits. She said livestock producers are particularly affected, as spring auctions may be postpone and will have to try a different marketing tactic.

“Right now some direct farm products marketers are doing well, but they don’t know if customers will still be looking to them for products this summer,” she said. “Farmers with wholesale contracts, especially with restaurants, are not doing well now and don’t know what the summer will bring.”

Carl Johanson sprays sanitizer on the handle of the a refrigerator Friday at the farm stand at his family’s business, Goranson Farm, in Dresden. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

In addition to worries about the future marketplace, a farmworker or owner contracting the coronavirus could have a severe impact on operations.

Caragh Fitzgerald, Cooperative Extension associate professor, said one sickness could derail operations for an extended period of time. The organization is exploring options for farms to generate written procedures a relief work could follow in the event of an extended illness so operations would not be halted.

Lewis said some of her winter employees were given some time off to gauge how the outbreak would move through Maine, but she was unsure on the long-term effects on the farm.

“I think the bonus is that we work outside from now until November and that’s supposed to help immunity,” she said.

Lewis also is worried about becoming sick because she has a child under the age of 1; she said she could work on the administrative side of the farm without coming into contact with the farm’s workers.

For now, Richard Brzozowski, Cooperative Extension food system program administrator, said they are relying on the state’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to continually post job opportunities on farms.

Jim Britt, spokesperson for the state Department of Agriculture, said the department’s website has a number of resources for farmers and the department will continue to monitor the outbreak and provide more guidance in the future.


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