As our county begins the process of slowly reopening, our independent farms, farmers markets, restaurants and other producers are gearing up to supply the essential food that our community needs. Now more than ever, we are relying on them to provide us with vital sustenance. At the same time, they face major hurdles, including the need to suddenly redesign their business models in a time of rapid change.

We talked to some of our local producers about how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted them. Keep reading to read about their experiences: 

“Our weekly sales have doubled.” 
Pork producer

Josh Hale, Elkhorn Ranch South

“Since COVID-19 pandemic started,  we have encountered rapidly increasing demand in direct-to-consumer sales. Our weekly sales have actually doubled. One of the challenges that we’re facing is difficulty getting our meat processed. Industrial farms and ranches that typically sell commercial meat into large markets are now seeking smaller-scale processing options to do direct sales.

As things normalize, commercial markets come back and large meat processing plants go back to full production, our local processors won’t be so overloaded. Fortunately, it’s a short-term issue. But COVID-19 has given us a lot of proof of the need for more local small- and medium-sized USDA-inspected processing facilities. 

As we look forward to more of 2020, I believe we will continue to grow our customer base with the added attention to local products. Consumers during COVID-19 have started to really care where their food comes from, and I feel this will help all local producers grow and develop.”

"The situation is forcing us to adapt." 
New restaurant owner

Liza Green, Cafe Della 

“We have effectively lost 4 out of 5 customers, and we didn’t have a large base to begin with since we’re so new. For the last month, we’ve been operating an online store with prepared dinners, house-made provisions, and groceries, doing weekly no-contact pick up and deliveries throughout the valley. While we originally envisioned incorporating this 'market' piece into our business, it is now our entire business.

Our supply chains have been constrained, with inconsistent availability of key ingredients. This has created additional challenges and the need to make last-minute menu adjustments. We are operating with a 'skeleton crew' that is adhering to heightened safety measures.

Current guidance allows restaurants to open again on May 16, but it is going to look very different than before. Tables must be spaced out 10 feet apart, which for us means that our seating capacity will be reduced by two-thirds. While we are incredibly supportive of this safety measure, it is hard to make the numbers work. For most restaurants to adapt and survive, take-out volumes must grow substantially. 

For the foreseeable future, it will be incredibly challenging for restaurants to stay in business. Of course, the optimist in me always wants to see a silver lining. The situation is forcing us to adapt. People still need to eat and still do not want to cook all the time, so we have to figure out how best to feed them in new and creative ways.”

“Getting creative to overcome the challenges.” 
Food service director

Julia Scarborough, Blaine County School District

“Our lunch ladies have been producing up to 1,600 meals (breakfast and lunch) a day. Blaine County School District's transportation department (bus drivers and volunteers) have delivered these meals to more than 800 children a day. We have gotten very creative to overcome any challenges to meal prep, supply chain disruptions and distribution issues.

All of our meals are prepared hot (example: chicken, mashed potatoes and carrots), then we plate up each of these meals and put them in our Sub-Zero Freezers overnight. The next morning, they go out with re-heating instructions for each meal. 

What’s next for 2020? I predict my vision of a food cart and grab-and-go lunch system will come to fruition! We will be exploring unchartered territory this year and accept the challenge. We plan to provide many new plant-forward meals in our Grab & Go setting with the use of food stations to serve both hot and cold meals in a socially distanced environment.

Our biggest challenge is reaching every child. We are putting forth a valiant effort to make sure our food-insecure children are fed, but in my heart, I know many are slipping through the cracks. I hope with this new knowledge that we gain each day that we can devise plans to tackle the problem of food insecurity on a community level. 

We must think outside the box and provide nutritious foods for all our children. I also hope to implement new programs that allow us to explore our valley’s resources and to let our children benefit from locally produced food options. I would love to bring in local growers to teach students about their foods and possibly help the children learn how to grow nourishing food themselves."

"With every challenge lies an opportunity." 
Restaurant manager & environmentalist

Matt Robinson, Konditorei Cafe & Bakery

COVID-19 has been devastating for restaurants. As a full-service cafe, our revenue is dependent on guests entering the restaurant. Without people being allowed in, our revenue stream completely dries up, but the bills don't.

That said, with every challenge lies an opportunity. Currently, we're working on developing a curbside delivery program which would allow us to keep serving as we navigate these ever-changing circumstances. In addition to keeping momentum during the tough times, I see it as a great revenue growth opportunity for years to come. The biggest challenge is going to be how to do it in a way that is the least impactful on the environment. It's going to take some creativity as reducing single-use packing is a must when working toward a greener future.

My prediction is a lot bolder than that of many local industry people. I think Konditorei will have a good summer, though probably about 20% down compared to last year. At first look, this might not seem optimistic, but it is. When you have to remove seats and tables from the dining room and operate at a reduced occupancy, that's a big loss month over month in revenue generation. The reason we'll be able to do better than most is because we have space to double our outdoor seating capacity by connecting two existing patios. 

I think all this bodes well for local food. It’s already resulted in a record number of individuals learning to grow their own food at home. If we can figure out a way as a community to help our local farmers through this, I believe there will be increased demand for local food in every community across the globe. We just need to figure out a better system to get the food from the farm to the consumer without cutting the costs too much so that the farmer can invest in their soil instead of buying the cheapest products and cutting corners in order to keep their farm afloat.”

"We've invested more in our CSA."
Vegetable farmer

Simon Neely, Lookout Farm

"One of our biggest challenges as a (new) small farm is to juggle the diversity of market channels that make our overall financial health possible. For us this year, it means, or was supposed to mean, farmers' markets, restaurants, and our CSA program. COVID-19 has made our projections completely unsure. The only, only sure bet for a local food producer is its direct-to-consumer capabilities, so we've invested more this spring in our CSA, which, truth be told, is really fun. Our goal as a business is to connect our local community to the fun and healthfulness of fresh produce, so we're grateful to the people who've reach out to us interested in being part of the farm. At the same time, we're super committed to providing vegetables to the restaurants of the valley—they are the life-blood of food culture. And you better believe we think the farmers' markets are its hub. So in a lot of ways, we're hedging that all will be well in the end if we all pull together and contribute how we can."

Stacy Whitman

Stacy Whitman co-founded Local Food Alliance in 2014 out of a desire to improve community food and health.