Local farmers are adapting how they get their goods to consumers during the current coronavirus pandemic. With restaurants and food services across the country shut down or under heavy restrictions, the agriculture industry is taking a big hit.
At Woodland Valley Farm in Jackson, South Carolina, Chase Renninger and his fiance Allyssa Ferguson, operate as Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA. Consumers become CSA members by paying an agreed amount at the beginning of the growing season, either in one lump sum or in installments. Woodland Valley Farm still sells some of their goods to restaurants, but they have shifted the majority of their business to direct home delivery to families.
“We’ve had to pivot our sales model to families, and getting our products directly into their hands every week through a delivery based service,” said Renninger. “Before, we were doing a farmers market, and this direct delivery service is really working for us.” he added. They deliver to customers in Aiken, Augusta and Columbia.
On 200 acres, they farm and raise everything from pigs, cows, chickens and sheep, to 30 different seasonal types of produce. Once a week they deliver meats, vegetables and eggs directly to their customers. With an initial deposit of $225, families can sign up to receive $75 or $100 boxes each week.
With some grocery stores running out of certain meats and produce, Ferguson says their customers are grateful for the regular deliveries.
“I think that they really appreciate the consistency in which we are able to provide,” said Ferguson.
Five years ago, Renninger bough what was an old dairy farm and began his dream of owning and operating a regenerative permaculture farm. Permaculture is a term first coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison. He defines it as “the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”
Because of the methods they use, and the high quality of their products, including grass-fed beef, Ferguson admits their prices are higher than what customers will usually find in grocery stores. But since the pandemic started, she says customers have come to appreciate having quality food delivered consistently.
“And so now, people don’t complain about our price per pound for pork being a little more,” she says. “But, A, it’s delicious, and B, it’s really good for you, and we can have it consistently on our customer’s tables,” she added.
“You want to have real fat, real protein, real nutrients in your food, and the best thing to do is to start cooking right now,” says Renninger.
The Aiken Farmer’s Market and Augusta Farmer’s Market are both currently closed due to the pandemic.
However, many of the regular vendor’s are still open. The Aiken Farmer’s Market has a list of vendors on their website you can contact to arrange pick-up or delivery. The Augusta Farmer’s Market is hoping to offer their list online in the near future.
Consumer Supported Agriculture offers an alternative option for people who can’t get products they would usually prefer to purchase from a farmer’s market or butcher shop instead of a grocery store.
Renninger hopes it’s a model that will become more common in the agriculture industry.
“I recommend this to other farmers, start producing more goods and start marketing to your neighbors,” says Renninger.
You can search for and browse local CSA farms with help from websites like localharvest.org.