May 27 We made it through the holiday
Week 11 of Covid 19
Putney General Store: making a statement before memorial weekend traffic
What we are hearing from the
front line at stores
Memorial Day weekend has come and gone. Many small independent stores & coops were closed, giving staff a well-needed day off. Other stores were full tilt busy managing social distance shopping. Every store is different with shoppers having to navigate unique procedures. Managers are beginning to see a higher level of shopper patience with nice weather & perhaps adjusting to every store they shop in has protocols to adhere to. In general we are still in a transition period with the re-opening of non-essential businesses. Many are ready to resume shopping, yet the process is odious with safety measures still front & center. Adjusting to tourists is yet another transition for the essential food stores.

  • Putney General Store was well stocked with wonderful food & a great system to get folks in and out as expeditiously (& safely) as possible. In a community intent on safety, it was clear that masks & being distance-aware were in order & "Stronger Together" is a message to abide by
  • Vista Foods in Richford will change hands on June 26th from its current ownership by AGNE. Renaming to Main Street Market LLC it will be operated by a community based health-focused organization aimed at keeping this store operating. A new focus on health & local economy aims to meet the needs of all its shoppers & introduce new relocalization efforts with new local products
  • Cashless/touch-less transactions are strongly requested by stores
  • Curbside pickup remains the preferred method of operation at many small stores for safety. It can be taxing on staff but some great systems are in place offering impeccable service to their communities
  • Keep staff & customers safe: masks for customer use
  • Now that we have experienced HOT, it's an opportunity to promote fun out of the box ideas for families including: Breakfast for Dinner as a comfort food promotion: feature your maple syrup & local pancake brands along with small batch breads for delicious French toast; up the ante with ice cream & maple drizzle from local producers. (It is too hot dang to turn on the oven on & families need new ideas!)
  • Flour sales will likely go down as the temperature rises outside allowing restocking in time for strawberry pie season!
Choose local maple producers, like Robb Family Farm in Brattleboro to feature in your "Breakfast for Dinner" promotions!
Mountain Energy: filling orders is a mess, but a good mess with great sales results
Since Covid-19 Mountain Energy Market a small specialized store in Londonderry has had huge sales over last year. This is partly attributed to ski families that locked down & remain in their second home. Personalized service is key to returning customers.

Donna now runs her business on an even more individualized, person-to- person basis service exclusively offering curbside pick up. Yes, this is time consuming, yes her methods of online ordering, phone orders & email have been evolving & still challenging; yet sales are well over last year, at a rate of roughly 200%.

Local meat, produce, & "comfort food" have all been big sellers. With trust built into Mountain Energy's operating ethos, all her recommended products sell out in a day. The hours are long, the days are "organized chaos" & Donna is fulfilled by her customers & offering the highest possible experience in these tough times.
"It's hard, this is stressful; putting on & taking off disposable gloves, it's uncomfortable to have so much waste, but I understand we need it, it's just tough to see"- cashier on the realities of working the register on a busy holiday weekend
Safety measures for locals & out of staters at the Putney General Store
With Governor Scott's statewide emphasis on supporting local businesses-across all sectors- VT's local farms & food producers are busy raising meat, turning beds, reorganizing for different sales & ag tourism on-farm experiences this summer. Uncertainty rules the day.

Consumer shopping patterns are changing yet, it is unknown if folks will resort to former shopping patterns or continue to robustly support local businesses at farmstands, PYO & local stores.

Knoll Farm in Waitsfield is a great example of all the new processing & decision-making farmers are engaged in. They are shifting their on-farm experiences to ensure safety while generating a new vision for their retail farm store for continued exemplary shopper/visitor engagement. With a robust blueberry crop with July harvests, they are seeking new wholesale accounts, as restaurants & other sales channels have been lost. Response to the changes brought on by Covid-19 are continuing across all their endeavors.

For fun, c heck out the great work from the new hire at Knoll Farm.
In the past two months, the VT Food Bank has seen an 83 % increase in use; 1 in 4 Vermonters are now food insecure. The Farmers to Family food box program with delivery dates across the state & the school lunch programs are here to help our communities where your store cannot meet needs. Please share these food resources within your community.
If you have created any programs supporting food security efforts-such as community coupons, "round-up for change" or partnerships please share your ideas & effort with me to pass along. Many Vermonters are in need.
Specialty Food Association
VSFA June 3rd from 1:00-3:00 for a Virtual Spring Meeting
Presentations focused on business resiliency, strategy, & adaptation through the current crisis. Geared to Vermont’s specialty food & beverage producers & supportive industries. Open to all businesses, with a $10 non-member fee. To learn more & register
By Request! Re-posting hot links

A rare moment when the Food Connects is not rolling down the road!
What we are hearing from the distribution & supply side
Local food is on the move through Food Connects . The pandemic has had some very positive impacts on the sale of local food as regards distribution & increasing sales to new markets. Their April 2020 sales saw a 263% increase over April 2019, largely thanks to small & non-traditional retailers that include farm stands, CSAs, & pop-up buying clubs. This has helped step up to service local communities providing access to more NE-grown food. Across the region many farm CSAs have expanded product selections by introducing new vendors, like Food Connects or Green Mountain Farm Direct .

This rapid increase in sales has the team at FC working on infrastructure expansion including improving coolers & freezer capacity, multi-temperature & relative humidity zones for a wide range of vegetable & optimal dry storage.

To meet existing customer demands they are on-boarding a number of new regional producers from MA, NH, NY. New hires include a sales manager & several part-time drivers & operations positions to keep up with demand.
The impact of Covid-19 has been deleterious on producers selling to restaurants but as Food Connects has seen, opening up new accounts to CSAs & farmstands has been an unexpected positive turn for this growing business.
Sanitizing for Safety:
It Takes a Village
In collaboration with Rural Vermont, NOFA Vermont, Healthy Roots program of the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, & the Vermont Agency of Agriculture & Farm Markets, the High Meadows Fund & the Vermont Community Foundation have provided extra support to help farmers’ markets open this summer. Rural Vermont offered a small grant program to help markets with signage, hand-washing stations and more; NOFA offered coaching, advice and marketing support, & the High Meadows Fund provided hand sanitizer & face masks , which are challenging to find and often expensive. 

The ingredients for hand sanitizer are hard to find but so are the containers! Rather than have each market spend time locating these scarce supplies, High Meadows coordinated the sourcing & delivery effort.
Here's the way it went
  1. High Meadows purchased sanitizer from Smugglers Notch Distillery
  2. Sweet Rowen Farmstead donated half-gallon containers
  3. Farm Connex delivered the containers to Vermont Soy, which then bottled it up hand.
  4. Vermont Teddy Bear donated masks & High Meadows purchased more from Vermont Glove.
  5. The High Meadows team delivered about 750 face masks and 155 half gallons of hand sanitizer to market managers for Newport & Jeffersonville, Putney & Townsend, Rutland & Manchester, Grand Isle & Fairfax, & many more.
Safe, happy shopping all because they used the online appointment booking at GRF
What we are hearing from the farmer / producer side

  • Pick you own operations are under a lot of pressure to create a safe revenue generating operation & each farm has unique variables
  • Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham, utilized an online reservation platform Signupgenius for greenhouse appointments. This may be useful for other types of on farm activities such as PYO
  • Masks for PYO & to have on hand as stores, farmstands & staff seek to keep up safety standards
  • Hand washing stations for PYO & at farmstands
  • Info for Farms Preparing for PYO: including PYO risk reduction
  • Huge demand for local meat through CSAs, farmstands & localized direct-to-store deliveries. Meat slaughtering & processing is getting tighter with increased demand. Slaughter facilities are already booked until into 2021. There is concern about future potential backlogs for small producers
  • Uncertainly remains for farmers who lost sales when restaurants closed, expanding direct to consumer sales through CSAs. What impact will reopening have on farm business plans now?
  • Concern is high for out of state folks not subscribing to state orders for social distancing & safety
  • Full Belly Farm retail stand is expanding product selection to include more staple items including Sweet Rowan milk & cheese
  • Online direct to customer shopping helps producers increase sales through social distance in place & is still highly encouraged
  • Coupon codes are being used by producers to encourage weekly repeat sales & loyal customers; do you have an example to share?
  • Farmers Market Guidance is in place to help prepare for safety concerns. Please note NOFA offers support services for farmers market managers, (a correction from last week where we said that farmers can receive advice directly from NOFA)
Hartshorn Farm is preparing their farm-stand for retail operations & PYO strawberries.

Since Covid-19 forced them to forgo other revenue generating aspects of their farm business they are putting in place safety measures for the many tourists that come to the Mad River Valley.

The strawberry crop is beautiful & is coming on fast with the sun & now heat. After months of decreased sales, this is a welcome revenue generator. Retailers too will have an opportunity to provide well needed seasonal cheer to their shoppers! Yay strawberries!
Available for all businesses: hand sanitizer through Lesser Distribution
FinAllie Ferments a popular item at farmstands, CSAs, & retail stores available through Black River Produce & Food Connects
the law & agriculture is not exempt from
these orders. Questions? 800-287-2765 
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 connects & shares your valued work. Farm to Plate knows producers, distributors & stores are front & center in helping keep communities safely connected to meet immediate, pressing & ever changing needs.
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.

~Wear Your Mask, Limit Your Contact~

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

Funding support provided by USDA & VAAFM & High Meadows Fund