Georgia Farm Bureau Certified Farm Market (GFB CFM) owners adapted quickly when the call went out in mid-March to shelter in place and social distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19
As the pandemic situation remains fluid, three things are certain: CFM owners are #stillfarming; they’re prioritizing the safety of their customers and employees; they remain committed to getting food to their communities.
To find a CFM near you visit www.gfb.ag/cfm. Contact information for all farms in the program is provided. Get in touch with them to learn a farm’s current operating procedures and hours.
A new normal
Southern Belle Farms began selling strawberries April 6 – three days after Georgia’s shelter-in-place order went into effect - owner Jake Carter said. At the time, the farm was about 10-12 days from beginning its peak production. Pick-your-own strawberries usually account for 80% of farm sales from April to early June, Carter said.
In early April, Southern Belle only sold strawberries curbside and in its store, where the number of customers allowed in at one time was limited. The Carters frequently deep-cleaned the store and provided visitors hand sanitizer.
On April 17, the Carters began letting farm guests pick their own strawberries. Guests are encouraged to stay six feet apart and wash or sanitize their hands.
As of May 12, shoppers allowed inside are still limited and curbside pickup is still available.
“We are monitoring changes from the Centers for Disease Control and government daily and will continue to do this until we see it is safe for our customers and staff,” said Daniel Welliver, Southern Belle general manager.
With field trips for more than 15,000 students canceled due to the COVID-19 lockdown, Southern Belle had a surplus of strawberries.
One of the farm’s neighbors, Tony Carder, is a partial owner of Pretoria Fields, a craft brewery based in Albany. Pretoria Fields and Southern Belle are working together to donate strawberries to health care workers in Henry County and surrounding areas.
As of May 12, Welliver said the farm had been able to pick all of its strawberries this season.
Relying on local business
At Southern Grace Farms in Berrien County, the McMillan Family’s opinion of the virus changed in a matter of days before the weekend of March 21-22 along with how it operated its farm market and you-pick strawberry patches.
“There were positive cases of COVID-19 in the surrounding counties. We just didn't want to chance introducing the virus to our community,” said Jennifer McMillan, who handles food safety and agritourism for the farm. “We felt the safest way to protect our customers and community was to just shut everything down to the public.”
The farm only did about half the business it usually does in April, McMillan said. The farm also lost revenue from school field trips it had booked for every weekday from March when schools shut down through the first two weeks in May.
“Having no field trips, no big weekends really hurt us,” McMillan said.
After closing their you-pick strawberry fields for the season, the McMillans sold picked strawberries and novelty gift items curbside, relying on orders from their website and Facebook page.
Local customers were loyal and two posts on the farm’s Facebook page in April announced strawberries were sold out for the day.
The farm’s strawberries stopped producing by April 29 – one day before Georgia’s shelter-in-place order expired. On May 2, the farm began selling blueberries curbside. On May 7, the farm opened its you-pick blueberry patches to the public.
Southern Grace spent several days cleaning its store before reopening May 8. It allows 10 customers in the store at a time. Customers are encouraged to wear masks. The farm continues to offer curbside ordering and pickup.
“The best way the public can support local farms is to demand their grocery stores sell fruits and veggies grown in the U.S., especially Georgia when they’re in season,” McMillan said.
Country store relies on internet
Pittman Family Farms & Country Market in Toombs County, which specializes in a variety of farm-fresh produce, novelty craft sodas and gift items, has quickly adapted its operating procedures as COVID-19 recommendations shifted this spring.
“After cases of COVID-19 started to increase in the U.S., we knew we would have to adjust and adjust quickly,” said Jonathan Pittman, manager of his family’s farm market, which has relied heavily on online orders made via a new website Pittman was developing prior to COVID-19.
Before the Pittmans switched to online/phone orders with curbside pickup on March 21, they limited the number of people in their store to six at a time by having customers reserve 20-minute shopping appointments.
“It was easier for our high-risk customers to shop [curbside]. It made everyone more comfortable, and we were able to offer more items that we normally don’t, like sugar, flour, salt, eggs, and popular dairy items,” Pittman said.
The Pittmans reopened their store May 6 following recommended guidelines. Masks are optional for shoppers, but the Pittmans ask shoppers to stay six feet apart. The family encourages shoppers to use hand sanitizer provided at the entrance and asks customers to select produce by “shopping with their eyes” rather than handling the produce. They’ve also installed plexiglass at the checkout counters.
“It is definitely a different time, but like our customers all tell us, ‘Just keep going and keep faith in the Lord because he will guide us safely through any obstacle,” Pittman said.
No meat at grocery store? Visit a CFM
A lack of meat in grocery stores has sent more customers to Thompson Farms: All Natural Pork in Brooks County at a time when business is usually slow, Abby Thompson, the farm’s marketing manager, said.
“We are very thankful for the added business and the ability to work. Fresh, frozen items such as pork chops, link sausage, patty sausage and pork burgers have been moving quickly,” Thompson said. “Our smoked items aren’t far behind.”
Thompson said her family’s farm started offering curbside pickup March 19 for orders placed via the farm’s website or by phone after she noticed restaurants and stores in Thomasville and Valdosta offering this option. The farm continues to offer curbside pickup. As of May 12, the Thompsons were allowing one customer at a time to shop in their store while wearing a face mask.
The Thompsons are giving back through The Plentiful Pig - a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization they established to provide meat to food-insecure families. To make a secure on-line donation visit www.theplentifulpig.org or call 229-263-9074.