Week 8: Stress, Strain & Safety May 6
Signs of the times: Middlebury Coop closed down its food service operation
What we are hearing from the
front line at stores
Farm to Plate through Small Bites , has helped steer new ideas & distribution/supply-side updates. We appreciate all the input from our readers to help keep our stores operating safely.

Two months into resilient retailing , how are food stores doing? Independent stores are flexing, reflexing, relying on owner & staff creative ingenuity to keep open. Coops have the Neighboring Food Coop Network to help promote new policies & practicums while also utilizing staff ideas to streamline safe shopping.

Healthy Living Market & Cafe posts updates on their blog & owner Katy shares the voice of many owners when she says they are fast, creative learners & proud of it! Owning a large independent supermarket, in Vermont's urban area & servicing at the highest level is a hard task. They recently posted that all the changes were evening out & things were flowing more smoothly-always with safety front & center. They are still offering well-received sales fliers & a new promotion: themed produce boxes for curbside pick up

What are we hearing from stores? Information, products, systems & safety measures remain in flux. Stores that have closed their food service operations want to resume. Marketing folks have been redirected to help navigate quick-response curbside operations.
Resiliency Defined: MNFC Merchandising of VT cheese producers: Champlain Valley Creamery
" We have done everything we can to prioritize staff safety above all else. Still, it is mentally and physically exhausting to continue to work in a store that is intermittently extremely busy or extremely empty, dealing with working in facial coverings all day, adhering to social distancing, and changes in roles can all be morale-crushing. " -Karin Mott Middlebury Natural Foods Coop
As retail shops & restaurants have cut back on sales or closed their doors for the unforeseen future, animals that produce milk just keep on producing.
Our dairy farmers & cheese makers still need to sell their cheese to keep their doors open.
The VT Cheese Council has created an online store with plenty of options to help move cheese out of their aging space & onto your table. Use the online Sales Directory. Many farms will ship direct; Vermonters are encouraged to buy from retail stores while shipping to friends & family. Remember to buy local- like Ice House Farm grass fed goat dairy products.

Let's all help moooove the cheese, no kidding , I feel sheepish writing that.
Meeting community needs:
it takes a village. The Northshire Grown distribution program has sold over 400 boxes investing more than $30,000 in the local food economy. Merck Forest & Farmland Center , co-launched “Northshire Neighbors in Need” customer-powered donations for neighbors. Over 75 households have been served through this food-access project.
Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA) required training
All employees, including those already working ( except healthcare workers, first responders, and others already trained in infection control, personal protection & universal precautions) must complete, and employers must document, this training on mandatory health & safety requirements, or another training program that meets or exceeds this VOSHA-provided training.  These guidelines are the law and agriculture is not exempt from these orders.  Questions? 800-287-2765. 
Are you a fan of retail or distribution data & stats? Scott Sanders, an industry analyst puts together an occasional blog Shelf Talk truly worth following
Producers are working with our regional distributors to access retail & expanding farmstands. Despite uncertainty across the board, increased access to VT products help retailers fill their shelves.
Upper Valley Produce is rapidly expanding their local products to meet increased demand at stores & farmstands. It is great that they have recently increased their selection of VT cheese. Both Champlain Valley Creamery & Blue Ledge Farm are now more readily available. UVP continues to source locally while safely servicing our local economy.
Retail Grocer Association: upcoming webinar on growth & resiliency in the age of Covid Wednesday May 6 sign up
Specialty Food Association & VAAFM has a Wednesday webinar series for businesses.
By Request! Re-posting hot links:
Signs of the times: long distance truckers still facing issues , photo courtesy of The Counter.
What we are hearing from the distribution & supply side
Again meat safety rises in the national dialogue. Headlines across all media are focused on industrial scale agriculture & processing. Employees in chicken, pork & beef facilities are infected at high rates . Projections abound this week of future supply issues. Some large national supermarkets are limiting purchases.

Locally our thirteen slaughter houses are busy keeping up with distribution-buyer & consumer increased demand. Green Mountain Farm Direct (GMFD) a regional food hub & its distribution partner Farm Connex are seeing an uptick in meat sales & Spring-grown produce along with diminishing root crops-as expected this time of year.
  • Some larger distributors have run out of product which results in stores & school lunch programs coming back to GMFD to service them.
  • This has been super helpful for Kingdom Creamery which had lost sales to institutions in the northeast. The dairy has also established the ol' Milkman Route . This service sells local meat, cheese, eggs from other producers direct to families
  • Rise & Shine in Charlotte, selling VT products direct to consumer with the "milkman model" has seen sales sky rocket & is buying in products from Lesser Distribution
  • Nothin' But Curd, a small batch cheese curd producer has lost a number of accounts; they are now selling direct to through online store sales. This family friendly product is perfect for snacking and salads. Best of all they include recipes like deep fried curds ready in only two minutes!
Nothin' But Curds: recipe for deep fried curds
Bear Roots Farm cool-weather seedlings, a harbinger of Spring which customers are loving!
Roots Market Farm in Middlesex are just shy of a year old. Who knew they would have to respond to a global pandemic in year 1.

Long known as exemplary large scale organic growers they are fast becoming equally known for their support & allegiance to local producers across ALL categories. In less than a year, they have become a key account for GMFD buying many Vermont products. As farmers- & now as retailers - they are well versed in unexpected variables. They are responding to our unprecedented turn of events at their farm & in their store.

Most of the vegetables sold are from their own Bear Roots Farm in Williamstown. All of vegetables are grown, harvested, washed, packed & merchandised with love & care.   
What we are hearing from the farmer / producer side

Just like at stores & distributors farmers are making quick, creative decisions to serve current & future sales with attention to safety.
  • VT Cheese makers are still seeking outlets. As a consumer, consider sending a gift for Mother's Day -or as a pick me up-isolation gift. Cheese, it's what Vermont does
  • Check out the new USDA CARES Act Program Farmer to Families Food Boxes FAQ
  • Many farms are planning for pre-bagged product. Just like in retailing, farmers are quick to adapt to the unpredictable
  • Farms are turning to online sales at a high rate. Unknown are the associated costs to the sales. PA Dept of Ag resources are helpful for on-farm retail. toher resources available through Working Lands & VHCB
  • UVM Extension Covid farmer webinar series, be better a farmer/retailer: May 6 Retailing for Farmers in the Age of Covid Sign up Now
  • Across the state H2A workers have arrived & are wrapping up two weeks in quarantine to work in greenhouses & fields
  • Bedding plant sales usually are a cash-cow in spring. This year has challenges; social distancing will be the norm for selling. Bunker Farm in Brattleboro will be ready with safety-first practices.
  • Farm Preparing for PYO: including PYO risk reduction; Please become a member of VVBGA to support Vern & the entire Ext team's work!
  • Farmers' markets opened May 1, because of excellent adherence to the guidelines, in only 1 week the state is relaxing the rules to include non-edible farm-based products like goat milk soap, fiber, homemade sanitizer (among other products). Cheers & shout-outs to all the farmers, market managers & shoppers. This is great news!
  • Many farms are purchasing portable hand-washing stations rather than subscribing to hand sanitizer stay tuned for more info on types
  • For optimal safety, farmers are deep cleaning their coolers using this UVM Ext checklist
  • Links & enormous support from a great team at VAAFM
  • Is your Upper Valley business listed int the Vital communities local farm & food guide?
  • People are taking on gardening for the first time-as the season progresses, will it showcase all the knowledge farmers hold?
Equinox Food Brokers of Vermont works with a number of VT food producers & distributors throughout the northeast. They have seen food companies pivot quickly to try to maintain sales outlets. Businesses that already had online capacity are capturing greater market share with direct to consumer relations.

They recommend producers focus on their tops sellers to reduce costs of production & labor by limiting SKU's. Distributors want top sellers at this time because they too are looking to cost-save.

Across the board, the impact of C-19 on cash flow is unknown. With cash tight & labor expenses shifting, it is important to watch & record the financial impacts on your business.
Farm to Plate hosts meetings of technical advisers, non-profits, government & businesses to help us address current issues. Topics change but all are associated with supporting our economic viability. The meetings are recorded & in the Covid-collection
Small Bites is intended to connect & share your valued work. We at Farm to Plate know producers, distributors & stores are front & center in helping keep communities safely connected to meet immediate, pressing & ever changing needs in this uncertain time.
Thank you to all the farmers, producers, distributors & suppliers who spoke with us providing first hand information for this update. Your insider-view has been so helpful in this uncertain time.

Stay Home, Stay Safe, Wear Your Mask

Contact Annie H Harlow to share your Covid 19 insights & info


Funding support provided by USDA & VAAFM & High Meadows Fund