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A Letter to Farmers: Adapting in the time of COVID-19

This is an edited version of a piece created by Kristen Muehlhauser, a farmer and registered nurse in Washtenaw County. Learn more about Kristen, her farm, and her suggestions for action during this time at www.RaindanceOrganic.com

By now, you have likely read numerous reports and graphs about the coronavirus’ spread in Michigan. The good news is that recent data shows the Stay Home order is working! The percentage of new positive cases in Michigan is dropping (we still have many new infected cases, but the rate of growth is slowing). This is giving our hospitals a better chance at saving the lives of infected people who can’t breath.

The slower spread is good for all of us– our families, our friends, and our customers. It is good that the virus is spreading slowly, but it is going slowly. From other pandemics in history, we know that when a region opens its economy back up, viral spread quickens. This means we will likely need to practice physical distancing all summer long and there may be repeat waves of peak spread and public shutdowns. This will have a big impact on the number of customers who feel safe to come to farmers markets for the 2020 season. 

The outbreak will end when either 1) a vaccine or treatment is widely available or 2) most people have had the virus and recovered. Either of these will take longer than three months. It may take as long as one year. But, either course will give us herd immunity that will give us freedom to move around in society. It will end! But the time frame is longer than we hoped. 

It is important that we understand this now so we can adjust our businesses, curb this year’s losses, and stay afloat for the future. (For consumers, check out these action steps for supporting small businesses here)

Actionable Steps You Can Take Now

Get Online! If you sell food, soap, or pet food, enroll in some sort of online sales platform now. Create your own online sales site or partner with other local farms who have online ordering already in place. 

Seek Financial Aid! Take advantage of stimulus act programs. Consider applying under the expanded guidelines for unemployment and/or if you have employees, consider the PPP loan program.

Sell Gift Cards!: Sell gift cards online for your farm or business. Square is a nice system because it will allow your customers to swipe a card at your market booth and it will automatically deduct from their balance so you don’t have to do as much bookkeeping. 

Tell your story. If you don’t have an online presence, beginning a website, a Facebook page, or an Instagram account. Collect email addresses of customers, friends, and family so you can tell your story and communicate about what you grow, raise, or produce and how you are selling it. Having a community around your business will be protective beyond the pandemic. The more connection people have with you and the services you are providing the community, the more mutually supportive you can be. 

Take a deep breath! Actively build a mindset of personal resilience and business resilience. If you are a small business owner, you are already very strong. You have done many difficult things in your life and made it through them. Research shows that focusing on the things you can do each day and working toward those goals will help you feel better in this out-of-control time.

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Need help deciding on a platform to use or connecting to other farmers with online sites? Want help telling your story or suggestions for how to build your online presence? Just want to talk? The TLD team is here to help you! Reach out at info@localdifference.org to be connected to your regional Local Food Coordinator.

Kelly Wilson, RDN is TLD’s Director of Community Partners. She is supporting farmers during this pandemic by buying their products and helping them connect to online sales tools. Connect with her at kelly@localdifference.org.

Find more great stories here.

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  in Agriculture, CoVID-19, Eat Local, Farmers Markets, Find Local Food