UF/IFAS Extension helps get food directly from farmers to customers during pandemic
By Brad Buck
As the novel coronavirus disrupts the usual methods to deliver food from farms to consumers, UF/IFAS Extension agents are helping connect growers with customers.
Two such specialists are Sarah Bostick, an agriculture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County and Lisa Hickey, a sustainability agent with UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County.
The two are now working together to encourage farmers to send information to the website of a local nonprofit called Transition Sarasota about direct-to-consumer opportunities. The data, which includes the farm’s location, contact information and types of produce it sells, will be compiled on the organization’s website, www.transitionsrq.org, for consumers to more easily review produce available from area farms.
Bostick came up with the idea in late March. Since then, she’s been sending emails to farmers detailing marketing opportunities and sharing with growers how to use the tools.
She’s also working with Sarasota County officials on a plan to move produce from farmers’ fields to places it needs to go in the emergency food system.
In addition to her work with Transition Sarasota, Hickey partners with the Bradenton Downtown Farmer’s Market, which operates as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model. The farmer’s market closed due to the current pandemic, and the CSA model enables consumers to order online and pick up their produce weekly from a downtown location near the closed farmer’s market.
Hickey is calling larger producers to see if the CSA model can work for them. If the large producers cannot sell their commodities, it is more cost effective to turn the crop under the soil than to hire labor to harvest, refrigerate the commodity and then worry about potential buyers.
In a traditional CSA model, a customer pays a farmer up front for a season or a year’s worth of produce, milk, eggs, etc. Customers who pre-pay are called “CSA members,” and they have effectively purchased a “share” of that season’s harvest. Every week for a pre-set number of weeks, the farmer provides each member with a weekly share of what is harvested that week.
During normal times, many customers pick up their weekly share on the farm or at a farmer’s market.
“But these are not normal times, and many farmers have created drop-off sites in centralized locations, where customers can come and pick up a pre-packed box while maintaining social distancing,” Bostick said. “Some farms that don’t normally offer CSA shares are adapting to their new circumstances by giving the CSA model a try.”
Take, for example, Honeyside Farm in Manatee County. The farm grows 10 crops, and the bulk of its sales ordinarily comes from restaurants and hotels.
“Home cooks quickly get bored with having the same 10 things over and over,” Bostick said, “so the owner of Honeyside has partnered with more diverse operations in the area – who have also lost their markets – to offer a diverse CSA share that changes every week.”
For more information on farmers selling directly to consumers in Florida, click on this link from the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association or on this from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.