Play of the Week #7
By Carmen Ng
Farmers in the Pandemic: Self deliveries, Increased Product Offerings, and Online Ordering
It has been one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, sending many food retail businesses into a frenzy. With many employers scrambling to redesign their ordering methods, reorganize their employees, and adapt their businesses, farmers were one part of the food chain that were hit hard.
When CERB came out last year, many employees chose to drop out of their work because it would be safer to stay at home and still have a consistent income. Losing employees is always hard on businesses, especially in places of increased demand for food products and reliability on physical labour, such as farms, restaurants, and grocery stores. Many had to make tough decisions on what aspect of their business that they had enough resources to support. A commercial farmer in Ayton, Ontario initially decided to open for curbside pick-up for those willing to visit the farm. However, later in the year, they ultimately adopted a strategy to close down visitation into the farm and reuse the money that they would need for PPE and cleaning routines, to other priorities such as putting together a cohesive website, social media, and an efficient delivery service.
“In the winters we could, and did, have individuals or family bubbles come out and do farm visitations. But there is costs for when we book in somebody to come out for an hour and a half… we need to pay for that (referencing PPE and increased staff). Instead, we could be doing other stuff with that time and resources like putting it towards gas for deliveries or website design.” – Farmer in Ayton, Ontario
In person deliveries have increased during the pandemic, with farm owners and their employees often willing to drive to people’s homes for personal delivery. This has increased farm-to-customer relationships and helped boost morale during isolation periods, especially amongst rural communities. Since the closing of farmers markets, local farmers are able to stay connected to their regular customers during the pandemic through this way. In addition, farmers have increased product offerings ever since starting in-person delivery services. This has increased interest and online orders but does come with added costs and time for the often labour-strapped farm businesses.
“We also had to increase our product offering greatly. When we were doing markets, it was just our dairy, lamb and wool products. For online we said, if they’re going to spend money and take the time to come on the website, we may as well offer them something else. Plus, if we’re going to be driving in and using valuable gas resources, better to make it worth everybody’s time. Just delivering one thing is silly, we may as well try and offer what other people are offering. It also kept people coming back. This week they might want some fish, so because we’re lucky enough to have a local stable fish farm right up the road from us, it is fine, we’ll go offer their fish and help them out too.” – Farmer in Ayton, Ontario
Agri-Food Open for E-Business Program http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/cap/ebusiness.htm
Guide to Operating your Essential Farm Business during COVID-19 https://ofa.on.ca/resources/guide-to-operating-your-essential-farm-business-during-covid-19/