Six months of covid shifts, impacts, uncertainty
Week 26 of Covid-19, September 10, 2020
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River Bend Market in Wilmington, former home of Blue Mountain Produce
Grocery Nibbles
What we are hearing from grocers:
Local food is still in high demand with meat sales holding strong. River Bend Market (s) are increasing local meat sales as demand increases. Other stores have increased their purchasing by incorporating local into their prepared meals program. Meat purchases direct from farmers have been a positive response to impacts of the national supply. In St Albans Rail City Market has been maintaining strong local meat sales this year with ample supply from new suppliers. Though their holiday turkeys may be in short supply.
Beyond grocery stores, retail farm stands are seasonal stores that have really expanded their local products. Buying from local distributors such as Food Connects & Farm Connex have made local meat much more available to stores of all types.
Localized purchases made direct to stores depend on our slaughter facilities having capacity. If you as a store buyer wish to help secure consistent supply, please read & act on the time sensitive Rural Vermont On Farm Slaughter initiative. We welcome all readers fill out the poll to increase allowances to alleviate bottlenecks making local meat more readily available at the retail level. By increasing slaughter at the farm level, local meat becomes more accessible to stores & farmstands. Local meat matters; there continues to be national production & supply uncertainty.

VT food producers are making great strides despite the pandemic. Our stores are increasing their purchases of our 2020 SOFI award winners. The National Specialty Food Assoc is hosting a 4 day virtual trade show September 21-24 where buyers meet producers. Grants are available for producers for upcoming virtual events.
5 Generations Creamery ships their single-source small-batch cheese curds widely through local distributor Farm Connex & regionally through Seacrest Foods, widely known for selling premium VT artisan cheese. The retail package is sold throughout the state- Where to your store listed?! The cheese also shipped through the Farm to Family boxes to assist in reaching our food insecure population.
Here is an excellent promotional opportunity for stores to highlight local farms in social media posts while helping their shoppers enjoy local beauty. The Farm Walk Trail is a collaboration of food, farming & agritourism organizations. It is a directory of walking trails on farms across the state. Walks listed on Dig In Vermont feature trails that are on or adjacent to working or historic farms.
Grateful Greens, producer of organic greens is based in Brattleboro. Their sunflower sprouts are a hot item selling & promoted through Food Connects. They are seeking new accounts for all their greens. The food hub network helps make them available to most areas of the state.
The Clemmons Farm in Charlotte is
one of just 17 that is Black-owned, according to the 2017 United States Census of Agriculture. It's also a landmark on the Vermont African American Heritage Trail. Recently a team of 18 educators & artists teamed up to develop a new K-12 remote learning platform called Windows to a Multicultural World under the leadership of farm president Dr. Lydia Clemmons. The program will include live-streamed & pre-recorded lesson plans, curated resources, arts programming intended to amplify African American & African diaspora history & culture. The team is targeting an October launch of the pilot program with a select group from Chittenden & Windham counties with whom the farm has prior relationships.
The ethnic studies bill, H.3, signed into law in March by Gov. Phil Scott requires schools have programs reflecting multiple histories & voices of those who historically under represented. It propelled the farm to apply for & receive a $100,000 grant from the Bay & Paul Foundations. The farm is hoping to raise additional funds for the program through grants, private donations & sponsorships from Vermont businesses. Clemmons Farm program details
VT Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets has a regular e-news that provides critical information on many topics including covid related grants & services. The current issue has important info for farmers & producers. Sign up here to receive it

Women farmers take note!
Personal coaching is available for your farm-based business through the Women's Ag Network. Mary Peabody offers three free sessions, to address anything that you would like to, careers, family, finances or anything in the world! sign up for the free coaching here
Below: Photo credit WAgN
We all know there has been significant impacts to farm & food producers due to the closing & delayed reopening of restaurants. Seven Days has written a great piece on the initiatives taken by Skinny Pancake to connect to its community, keep employees working, farmers engaged, & our local food network strong. In the early stage of covid, Skinny Pancake arranged free meals to lessen the impact on area restaurant staff. Recently they have embarked on new programs including Grow Team & the BIPOC Food Sovereignty Program with a six part webinar series A Force to be Reckoned With: Womxn in Vermont's Food System launching September 10th.
Happy pasture pigs at Agricola Farm, makers of premium salami (& pasta!) in the Italian tradition. Expanding to new stores is in their business plan, reach out to them to discuss details.
Dog River Farm shipping organic produce through regionally with Deep Root Cooperative
Distribution/Supply-side Nuggets
Some national impressions & insights through covid
In the past six months shoppers have increased their grocery purchases while honing their home-cooking skills. On average, purchases in March were $525 per household or 30% over last year; dropping in July to $455 which was 10% over last year.
Since March, manufacturers & distributors have focused on top selling products for cost savings. Shoppers have reached for more "store brands" partly out of availability gaps from national brands & for cost savings as overall prices have climbed in multiple categories. With the halting of food & trade shows, food manufacturers are resorting to virtual product showcases as a replacement for in-person engagements.
Online meal kits & grocery orders have climbed since March despite a narrow range of available products. Online product "auto-reordering" may become a new staple for shoppers though by its nature, there will be less selection available impacting lower income shoppers through the intersection on expanded SNAP use & platform algorithms. “A system is being unleashed to take advantage of those who have fewer choices. Lower-income neighborhoods are already targeted, & with e-commerce they will receive a flood of unhealthy products. No one is looking behind the digital curtain to see how it affects those most at risk.” Jeff Chester, director of Center for a Digital Democracy.
For the past six months, behavioral economists have been having a field day researching changes in shopping habits. Much study has been on the adjustments & decisions of those with strong economic positions. Safety has at times been a deciding factor, but streamlined shopping, pricing, desire for & availability of local product play roles too. Details in this NYT article.
“There are two different reactions to covid — a small number of shoppers who are getting health conscious & reacquainting themselves with real food, & a larger group that is going with comfort food that is cheap & shelf-stable,” -Dariush Mozaffarian, cardiologist & dean of Tufts University’s nutrition science school 

Farm Bites: Fruit Producers
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
-William Carlos Williams
(fresh plums picked this week at Yates Orchard)
What we are hearing from farmers...
A fantastic start to the fall season~apple orchards are now in full swing! Yates Orchard, a family operation in Monkton Ridge had a banner Labor Day weekend. Locals & tourists were on board with all the required safety measures. The retail farm stand had been retooled to adhere to the state covid guidelines so returning customers saw a new layout & even some new products. The apples are gorgeous, the cider still a wee bit early to press. Starting this weekend, the weekly press will be tailored to the most ripe & ready, making their ciders one of the best hand-crafted cider blends in the state. The September ciders are radically different in flavor & texture than the late October ciders, a true autumnal experience for regular shoppers.
Yates Orchard: doing it by the book & succeeding with high sales!
Dog River Farm in Berlin, is gearing up for a fantastic fall season. They are one of the PYO pumpkin farms geared up for small family gatherings. PYO strawberry season was strong & the farm stand had sales 3 times last year due to increases in shoppers wanting to spend their dollars locally while also engaging in safe family activities. They are prepared & excited for a robust pumpkin season! As with many on-farm retail operations, they sell products from Vermont farms & specialty food products through a number of regional distributors & direct delivery from Rogers Farmstead dairy, Red Hen Bakery & super local meat from their neighbors at Wicked Bines Farm also in Berlin.
Farmers take note!
CARES Act funding is available for many types of farm operations that are struggling due to covid. Deadlines are fast approaching; please check out the updates & consultation services from VHCB
This & That
Craft Foods: The White Lies of Craft culture is an interesting read for Vermonters, one of the least diverse states in the country & one that takes pride in its artisan food manufacturing.

Farm to Plate has a crowd sourced document to increase awareness of BIPOC businesses.

With a vote of 28-0 Vermont Senate approved a $19.5 million Covid-19 hazard pay program expansion making grocery & hardware store workers, employees at essential retail businesses eligible to receive compensation for continuing to work throughout the corona virus state of emergency. If it passes the House, the hazard pay grant program would grow to a $50 million fund covered by federal Covid relief dollars.

Sold out in 1 day! BuyLocalVermont

3 squares or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) paid out an extra $16M since covid to cover the increased need to feed families. This federal relief bill, pushed by Bernie, is not permanent but has been critical to provide eligible families with more food assistance.

Across the state, farms & restaurants are participating in the Everyone Eats program. Funded by $5M from CARES Act it is highly supported by our federal & state legislators.
VSFA Webinar an introduction for producers on trade spend/distributor promotions (the amount a company spends to increase demand for its products). Register here. Read up on how to account for trade spend.
Unless otherwise noted, photo credits are from company social media, websites or Annie Harlow,

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Funding support provided by High Meadows Fund