Farmers markets get help switching to online ordering

The Oregon Farmers Market Association is helping its members establish online ordering systems to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

As more farmers markets seek to move transactions online, managers can consult the association for technical assistance and software recommendations.

“We’re here to help them understand their choices and support them in implementing the choices they make,” said the association’s executive director, Kelly Crane.

So far, the association has assisted 27 farmers markets — about a quarter of the state’s total.

“Farmers markets are really nimble, creative entities,” Crane said. “They’ll be the first to tell you, every market is different” with unique needs and challenges.

Some farmers markets can’t operate on site because of local regulations. Others don’t have space to accommodate social distancing guidelines. Several are waiting on delayed permits. Many have concerned customers opting out of on-site visits.

To limit interactions, more farmers markets are letting customers order and purchase goods such as berries, fruits and vegetables on the internet before pick-up.

“(Customers) don’t have to exchange money, pick things out and have it weighed — it’s all ready to go,” Crane said.

Some farmers markets offer it as an option, while others have opted to have all customers pre-order online.

For example, in Florence, Ore., the farmers market is online-only since many of its customers are retirees, who have a higher risk of becoming serious ill from COVID-19.

“It’s like we’ve totally reinvented our market,” said Mary Shaw, the market president. “The customers are very grateful to have access to local food.”

Tourist revenue is much lower, but Shaw’s priority is to offer high-quality food to the local community. So far, revenue resembles the market’s first season, three years ago.

Shaw is still working to reach customers who use SNAP benefits with the Oregon Trail card to purchase food. “They are the cornerstone of our market,” Shaw said. Many don’t use computers or relied on computers at the library, which is still closed.

Online platforms can’t process the Oregon Trail card, so SNAP customers pay at the information booth when they pick up their orders.

While Shaw misses community members congregating at the market, there are no plans to open as a walk-in market.

“The market is doing well,” she said. “Sales are trending upwards,” thanks to the online adjustments, which will be a permanent option beyond the pandemic.

Crane, the head of the state farmers market association, believes the online adjustments will help farmers markets in the long run.

“Industry leaders have been really interested in this topic,” she said. “We see the customer trends and we’ve wanted to get our farmers markets interested for long-term viability.”

Before the pandemic, there was little reason to move business online since the state’s farmers markets are so popular.

“One silver lining of this crisis is that it’s created an incentive to make a behavioral shift,” Crane said. “Once those habits are built, it will be normal for farmers markets to have online vendors keeping their product up-to-date.”

In 2019, Oregon’s farmers markets sold $63 million worth of products from 6,700 vendors.

“That’s 6,700 small businesses” that rely on farmers markets to operate, Crane said. “People think of farmers markets as cute, but collectively, they are also a significant cornerstone in Oregon’s agriculture industry.”


Cooperating small farms may make some COVID-19 changes permanent

Debi Engelhardt-Vogel recently expanded the meat subscriptions and by-the-piece selection she offers at her on-farm store near Kuna, Idaho.

Demand for Vogel Farms meats, eggs, milk and canned items substantially increased with the COVID-19 closures — which prompted some on-farm changes — and remains strong.

Engelhardt-Vogel, who also will introduce beef, pork and chicken bundles this fall, moved to increase her beef supply without expanding her mother herd.

She partnered with Arlington, Ore.-based Weatherford Ranches to bring calves to her small farm for finishing. The first four arrived Memorial Day weekend.

“I’m trying to fill a demand without going big,” Engelhardt-Vogel said. “They have the additional supply needed, so I will be able to monitor supply and go with supply and demand.”

Vogel Farms will also increase on-site pork production, she said. Grandsons Mike and Matt Lester lead the project.

“We’re going to probably triple the number of hogs we produce” to about 30 a year eventually, Engelhardt-Vogel said.

That decision, and plans to soon sell increasingly popular half and whole packaged hogs and cows, reflect strong interest in local food as well as greater awareness of the food supply chain, she said. “The meat supply was disrupted and it had a huge impact on supply. And people didn’t realize how fragile that is.”

Vogel Farms now must schedule meat processing with small-scale local providers farther in advance.

The farm’s meat and eggs are available on-site or through a separate company, Boise Milk, which offers home delivery. Engelhardt-Vogel expects food delivery and curbside pickup to stay popular.

Each August, she begins offering public U-pick harvest of tomatoes, peppers, flowers and herbs. She plans this year to seat customers and offer them breakfast before they form small, well-distanced groups for picking. She has canceled summer and fall hay rides traditionally offered on weekends.

Engelhardt-Vogel and Cathy Cabalo, of nearby Cabalo’s Orchard & Gardens, cooperate on projects through the year. They canceled the 12th annual Corn and Pickle Festival, which is typically on the second Saturday of August at Vogel Farms and draws up to 900 people.

This year, they will instead offer online video versions of the event’s popular classes on topics such as pickling. They plan to resume the festival in 2021, with a lavender garden among the new features.

“So much planning goes into these things,” Cabalo said. “You have to make the call early in the season. There are going to be some sad people, but we will survive it.”

Engelhardt-Vogel and Cabalo also may rework seasonal pumpkin picking and turkey pickup events that draw many customers at once. They are considering offering turkeys at a station reconfigured to encourage distancing, or by curbside pickup.

They may use prepaid sales to reduce wait times. Pumpkin-patch runs likely will see fewer people farther apart.

“I can foresee a great deal of the changes we’ve seen in the past few months continuing,” Cabalo said. Customer pickup of pre-packaged, prepaid orders is an example.

“It’s easier, and people are enjoying it,” Engelhardt-Vogel said of food pickup. “For people who feel at risk or continue to want to maintain a distance, it is a perfect option.”


Business booming at small meat plants, but some producers are in trouble

EUGENE, Ore. — At Mohawk Valley Meats, a small USDA slaughterhouse here, workers in  blood-splattered white smocks raced to package meats on a recent Friday.

Business is booming for small meat processors across the U.S. because of soaring demand for locally raised and processed meat and a glut of slaughter-ready livestock created when big slaughterhouses became hotspots for coronavirus outbreaks and had to shut down.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. In two days, we booked all of 2020. We have kill dates for September of 2021 for pigs that haven’t even been conceived yet,” said Denise Pohrman, the plant manager.

Many small processors say they are “thriving.” But some plant managers, including Pohrman of the Mohawk plant, say despite their gratefulness for increased business, they are concerned that their smaller-scale, already-existing customers have been swept aside by larger producers.

With some bigger slaughterhouses closed or slowing their production because of COVID-19 problems, many ranchers have turned to smaller processors. Rebecca Thistlethwaite, director of the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network, said even ranchers from the Midwest have sent truckloads of hogs to Oregon slaughterhouses.

Faced with new customers, processors say they have had to make tough decisions.

Some processors have dropped small-scale producers and accepted new, larger-scale customers — to make extra income, prevent wasteful livestock deaths and satisfy the nation’s demand for meat.

Other processors have remained loyal to their small producers, hoping to maintain long-term customers and keep them afloat.

“I don’t know who is right and who is wrong, but we have created victims in the aftermath,” said Pohrman of Mohawk Valley Meats.

Pohrman said she packed her calendar with new customers when calls flooded in and now regrets it because 20 to 40 regular customers call daily begging her to harvest their livestock. She said she will no longer accept new customers.

Many small-scale producers, she said, have already paid for slots at farmers markets for the year but will run out of meat before their next butcher dates.

Deck Family Farm in Junction City, Ore., which produces pasture-raised pork, lamb, beef and chicken, has worked with Mohawk Valley Meats 15 years but had its slaughter schedule “totally disrupted,” according to the farm’s poultry manager.

“I lay awake at night and don’t sleep,” said Pohrman. “I’ve apologized more than 10 times this week for allowing myself to become overbooked.”

Pohrman said her new customers, who are reacting to the crisis, are likely just temporary, while her existing customers will likely be with her long-term.

Bill Hoyt, a cattle rancher near Cottage Grove, Ore., and board member of the Oregon Beef Council, said he sympathizes with Pohrman’s dilemma but wonders if she’s making a mistake by turning away other producers.

“Denise (Pohrman) wants to help everyone and can’t say no to the little guy,” he said. “She’s got a heart as big as the plant. But the world has bigger needs right now.”

Thistlethwaite, of the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network, said if small producers didn’t have slaughter dates lined up months in advance, that’s their problem.

“If you haven’t figured out by now when your animals are ready for harvest, then you have no business trying to be a midscale producer until you professionalize your relationships,” she said.

One Oregon meat plant owner who chose to remain anonymous agreed, saying many small growers call a week ahead expecting to get a slaughter spot.

Thistlethwaite said many small producers don’t know they have other options.

She encourages small producers to consider custom-exempt slaughter, enabling them to sell animal portions directly to consumers.

The USDA labels many small processors as “custom exempt,” meaning they are exempt from continuous federal inspections. Producers can sell portions of an animal — usually quarter, half or whole to customers. This is called selling live animals “on the hoof” as “locker meat.”

The other option, said Thistlethwaite, is “retail-exempt processing.” Retail establishments, such as grocery stores, may process and sell meat at the store. Limited meat can also be sold wholesale to hotels, restaurants or institutions. The animals must be slaughtered under USDA inspection but can be processed under Oregon Department of Agriculture inspection.

The catch is the producer must have a relationship with a butcher or know how to butcher. For that reason, said Thistlethwaite, this may not be an immediate solution.

Pohrman of the Mohawk plant said these exemptions fail to help producers selling to farmers markets, which require meat be both harvested and processed under USDA inspection.

In the past week, Pohrman has sent letters to the ODA, Gov. Kate Brown and others requesting an emergency exemption to help these producers.

Thistlethwaite said although big plant closures have caused disruptions, that’s not the driving force behind small processors’ sudden popularity. The bigger driver, she said, is demand. Consumers are eager for local food during the pandemic.

This craving comes after a long period of decline. Big meatpacking facilities have made meat relatively cheap in the U.S. and pushed smaller slaughterhouses out of business.

From 1990 to 2016, the U.S. meatpacking industry lost more than 1,800 slaughterhouses. The “Big Four” companies — Tyson, Cargill, JBS and National Beef — came to dominate 85% of the industry.

Hoyt of the Oregon Beef Council said the nation’s meat infrastructure resembles an hourglass: on one end, producers and feedlots, on the other, consumers, with processors in the slender neck. Now, the neck is jammed.

“I think there’s a real need for more small processors,” he said.

But creating a local meat system isn’t simple. Industry experts say building and running a meat plant is expensive, regulations are complex and competition is tough.

Even so, Thistlethwaite said she hopes the pandemic will result in more consumers supporting local producers and processors.

“I suspect after this initial hoarding phase, the demand is going to slack off considerably, especially since we’re about to enter a massive recession,” she said. “But if people want local meat to last, I hope nobody expects any quick fixes. Consumer interest can’t just be a blip on the screen. That’s not the kind of long-term commitment farmers need.”


U-pick farms reopening with safety features

HARRISBURG, Ore. — Customers flocked to Detering Orchards’ U-pick strawberry patch Saturday for the season’s opening.

Sunday, dozens more people picked until plants were bare and the farm was forced to temporarily close its patch, said Detering Orchards’ retail manager Cindy Dixon.

“I think we may see more people this year than ever. It seems like people are becoming a little more aware of where their food is coming from during this time,” said Ella Jones, office manager for Detering Orchards, near Harrisburg, Ore.

Across Oregon, farmers featuring on-farm picking, known as U-pick, are welcoming or gearing up to welcome visitors. Strawberry patches began opening in late May.

Blueberry patches and cherry orchards are set to open mid-to-late June. Experts predict 2020 will be a successful year for U-pick farms, but because of COVID-19, farms are changing safety practices.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture, or ODA, has issued guidance for U-pick farms. Experts at the Oregon State University Extension Service say the additional practices will look different on each farm.

To limit fruit handling, some farms, such as Kiger Island Blues, a Corvallis blueberry farm, plan to sell by the bucket instead of weighing picked fruit. Many farm owners say they plan disinfect tables, gate handles and other surfaces.

Some farms will discourage cash in favor of debit or credit cards, but that is not feasible for some smaller-scale producers. Most U-pick operations will allow customers to bring their own pre-sanitized containers, but some farms will offer optional buckets for purchase rolled into the overall price.

Andrea Davis, co-owner of Kings Valley Gardens, a small blueberry U-pick farm in Benton County, Ore., said she will offer containers for $1 to $1.50.

Most farms will encourage, but not require, guests to wear masks.

Christina Fordyce of Fordyce Farm in Marion County said the farm will assign customers to pick two rows apart, offer a handwashing station, encourage people to pick what they touch and discourage eating while picking.

Keeping pickers spaced apart may be harder on smaller farms, which may choose to do reservation-only, said Melissa Fery, a small farms coordinator for OSU Extension.

Davis of Kings Valley Gardens, the small-scale grower, said she will do a reservation system only if necessary because many of her customers have traditionally been drop-ins. She plans to use flags and signs to promote social distancing.

Because each operation will vary in hours and policies, Fery said she encourages customers to call in advance.

Some industry experts predict 2020 may be a big year for U-pick farms because more consumers during COVID-19 are seeking food security and local sources.

“I speculate the U-pick model will be really popular this year,” said Fery.

Audrey Comerford, agritourism coordinator at OSU, said she also expects to see more U-pick customers statewide this year.

“People are still uncomfortable about how many people touched or washed their food. This is the shortest possible supply chain,” said Comerford.

U-pick farms, she said, also offer an outdoor activity for people feeling cooped up.

“I’m happy I’ll be able to provide a fun outing,” said Davis, the blueberry grower.

Dixon of Detering Orchards said customers were “so happy” to pick strawberries this weekend.

“This is a crazy time, but when people were picking, they looked really peaceful,” she said.


Who USDA’s farm aid package leaves behind

USDA began taking applications for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, known as CFAP, May 26, which will deliver $16 billion in direct payments to farms hurt by the pandemic.

Farm Service Agency branches will handle applications.

“It’s been a collective breath of relief. Things will continue to be tight, but this will mitigate those first quarter losses,” said Shelby Myers, an economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Many industry leaders have expressed excitement about how the relief package will help agribusinesses. But some say CFAP’s structure is flawed and excludes thousands of farmers and ranchers in crisis.

CFAP outlines some exclusions clearly. Ineligible commodities include sheep more than two years old, eggs and layers, soft red winter wheat, hard red winter wheat, white wheat, rice, flax, rye, peanuts, feed barley, Extra Long Staple cotton, alfalfa, forage crops, hemp and tobacco.

Northwest wheat growers say they are concerned because hard and soft red winter wheat, along with soft white wheat, account for the majority of wheat grown in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. State and national wheat associations are calling on USDA to make all wheat classes eligible for CFAP aid.

“We are struggling with cash flow like all other farmers and ranchers throughout the nation,” Clint Carlson, Oregon Wheat Growers League president, said in a statement.

Some major agricultural sectors, like poultry growers, went unmentioned.

“Poultry is the big one on our minds and the minds of our members,” said Myers.

The American Farm Bureau, she said, is talking with USDA to understand why poultry producers are not eligible for aid.

Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Association, told the Capital Press his members will not submit comments yet requesting inclusion, but will seek aid in a possible phase four relief package.

Other sectors, including aquaculture, cut flowers and nursery products, were also excluded.

“For the moment, nursery and greenhouse growers find themselves in a no-man’s land, on one hand described in the rule as ‘other eligible crops,’ but on the other hand, not actually yet eligible to apply for relief at this time,” Craig Regelbrugge, senior vice president of AmericanHort, said in a statement.

A USDA spokesman said the agency encourages ineligible producers who believe they’ve suffered a 5% or greater price decline from January to April 2020 to submit comments.

The Federal Register, which allows people to comment on proposed rules and plans, opened last week for public comment on CFAP. Critics say this leaves little time for farmers to demonstrate need.

But even after applications open, said Myers of the Farm Bureau, USDA and FSA branches are eager for input and will be “receptive to any information.”

Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries, or OAN, said his organization is seeking an easier way for members to comment instead of using the Federal Register, but said this is “far from a criticism of USDA.”

Stone told the Capital Press that OAN leaders had a “great conversation” with one of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s senior staff members this week about industry needs.

Whether cut flower growers will get financial help is still uncertain, experts say.

Erin McMullen, board member for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, told the Capital Press the board is meeting Friday to decide what to do during these “unprecedented times.”

“I’m really worried about flower farmers right now,” said Sophie Ackoff, co-executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition.

Highly specialized industries, such as bison and beefalo, are also not currently eligible.

CFAP’s critics say direct exclusion is not the only problem. Even eligible farmers face other barriers.

Although small-scale and organic farms are eligible, trade association leaders say CFAP may not serve these groups well because payments are based on national average prices and not actual losses. While payments based on price may work for conventional and large farms, farmers with premium markets say the money won’t cover losses.

Ackoff said a small-scale grower lost $20,000 on premium-market potatoes, but calculated CFAP would reimburse him only $800. He decided his time would be better spent farming than applying.

Ackoff said young farmers, especially first-generation and minority farmers, are likely to miss out on aid. She said they are more likely to be unfamiliar with FSA operations, to grow for premium or niche markets that won’t show price changes even though losses were great and tend to have limited or no support staff.

“We’ve been advocating for USDA to set aside funds for some of these disadvantaged farmers. I’m really disappointed that hasn’t happened,” said Ackoff.

According to USDA statements, CFAP will operate on a first-come, first-serve basis similar to the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program loans.

Eric Deeble, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said this gives an advantage to businesses with accounting infrastructure and simple production systems.

Myers of the American Farm Bureau encourages farmers to track every price and purchase date, keep inventory and familiarize themselves with required documents in advance at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap.

Myers said she understands the fear and frustration some farmers feel with CFAP’s structure, but she said this program overall is a big win for agriculture.

“My advice is, as always with programs this complicated, be patient with the people trying to put this together at USDA,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll all get through this together.”


Four small farms on West Coast receive grants

JUNCTION CITY, Ore. — Four West Coast farms in California, Oregon and Washington were selected Wednesday among 15 recipients nationwide for a 2020 grant supporting small, independent farms.

The FruitGuys Community Fund awarded more than $51,000 to small farms and agricultural nonprofits in 14 states to support environmental and sustainability projects.

This year’s grantees include Rancho Charanda in Redlands, Calif., a farm that grows citrus, chile peppers and native foods; Shao Shan Farm in Bolinas, Calif., which grows Asian heritage vegetables; Thompson Creek Farm in Newman Lake, Wash., which produces organic vegetables, berries and fruit; and Hollyaire Farm in Junction City, Ore., which produces holly, sour cherries, hazelnuts and other crops.

“We’re really excited about getting this grant,” said Ladonna Avakian, 32, co-owner of 80-acre Hollyaire Farm. “Taking care of the land is a passion for me.”

It was raining. Avakian let hazelnut leaves slip through her fingers as she threaded through the muddy orchard.

Avakian co-owns and runs the farm with her twin sister, Heather Paterson. Avakian brings her environmental science background to the farm, and Paterson brings business knowledge.

Together, they run a no-spray operation with vegetables, herbs, eggs, apples, hazelnuts, sour cherries, pumpkins, holly and more.

“It’s so important to us to grow things naturally,” said Paterson, “not just for the communities we feed, but also for our own kids.”

Hollyaire Farm sells produce at its farmstand in Harrisburg, Ore., and wholesales to other local farms and businesses like Junction City-based Hentze Farms.

With $3,650 in funding from The FruitGuys, Hollyaire Farm is investing in bat and owl boxes to encourage natural pest control, building beehives and constructing high tunnels, similar to greenhouses, to extend the growing season.

The farm is also planting 50 fruit trees, and the sisters have committed to donate a portion of the fruit to low-income families.

As disabled veterans — Paterson was exposed to chemical warfare and Avakian suffered a traumatic head injury — the women say they also bring a commitment to service.

“What better way to serve people than to grow food for them and…,” Paterson started, “…to make sure they have enough to eat,” Avakian added.

The sisters often finished each other’s sentences.

Founded in 2012, the FruitGuys Community Fund provides micro-grants of up to $5,000 to small farms with fewer than 300 acres that already have a big positive impact on local food systems, the environment and farm diversity and that plan to use the grant to further those goals.

To date, the fund has awarded $326,000 to 84 small farms in 30 states.

“The grant is all about preserving and enhancing farmland with sustainable management practices,” said Sheila Cassani, the project’s director. “We’ve funded pest management projects, alternative energy sources, water catchment systems, pollination, soil health, so many things.”

The FruitGuys is a fruit delivery company that works with local farms across the U.S., and this grant program, Cassani said, is the company’s way of giving back.

Of the 2020 grantees, 80% are owned or managed by women or people of color.

Cassani said many farms were selected based on their community engagement.

For example, Rebecca Woollett, who co-owns Thompson Creek Farm with her partner, Marcus Intinarelli, said they will use a portion of the grant to teach community workshops at a local Grange hall about how to save and package seeds.

Woollett said the remainder of the grant will go toward advancing seed production, building owl and bat boxes and installing “caterpillar tunnels” to protect crops from rain and hail.

Out of the 15 grantees, 14 are focused on increasing food access for low-income communities.

Hollyaire Farm, in addition to its seasonal farmstand, sells fruits and nuts at a gas station and truck stop, works with local food banks including FOOD for Lane County and is working to fill the salad bar for students in Junction City School District when schools reopen this fall.

“These projects are all things we would’ve done either way, with or without the grant funds,” said Paterson. “But having the support makes such a difference and lets us do even more to be sustainable and feed our community.”


OSU has COVID-19 resources for small farmers

The Oregon State University Small Farms Program has a website devoted to resources to help small farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Access to credible information is important during any public health crisis,” according to the site. “Faculty in the OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food systems are working with community partners to provide current information that is relevant for small farms and local food systems.”

The site provides information about the virus itself — how it’s spread, safety practices and how to deal with employees during the outbreak. It also provides information about financial resources and ways farmers can change their businesses to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by the outbreak.


Farms, ranches face unknown futures with COVID-19

BEND, Ore. — Central Oregon farmers have crops to sell, but the COVID-19 pandemic has left them unsure who will buy the produce.

Farmers markets are postponed and restaurants are closed or only serving takeout orders due to the virus.

For now, the only outlets for many local farmers is Central Oregon Locavore, an indoor farmers market on Third Street in Bend, or community-supported agriculture programs where people invest in a farm and receive a portion of the produce.

“The major thing that will affect them is the farmers markets opening later or not opening at all,” said Nicolle Timm-Branch, founder and president of Locavore. “They have been bringing everything to us because a lot of the restaurants they would normally deliver to are not open.”

Timm-Branch said her nonprofit market is also giving the farmers a place to meet their community-supported agriculture members. The farmers can deliver their produce to Locavore, where members can pick it up.

In addition, Locavore is processing food stamps for the farmers to help them maintain customers through the pandemic.

“They can use our space instead of the farmers markets until the markets start opening,” Timm-Branch said.

The Downtown Bend Farmers Market and Bend’s NorthWest Crossing Farmers Market are delaying their openings until June. The Sisters Farmers Market hopes to open at its regular time in June. And the Redmond Saturday Market does not yet have a target date for opening.

The uncertainty around the local markets is especially affecting small farmers.

Amanda Benkert, who owns Dome Grown Produce in Redmond, relies on the Redmond Saturday Market each year to sell her fresh vegetables and herbs.

While she waits, Benkert is producing her usual amount of produce in her five greenhouses to be ready for when the market opens.

“By the time the farmers market starts this year, I should have a pretty good selection,” she said.

Benkert is getting creative in the meantime. She is starting a gift card system for her customers she is calling Harvest Bucks.

Benkert is also a part of a CSA program and delivers produce to Locavore.

“This is the year to support all the little and local farms,” Benkert said. “We are going all out to try to produce as much food as we can.”

Katrina Van Dis, executive director of the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance, said there is a silver lining for Central Oregon farmers this year.

The region’s farmers are better suited for a late farmers market season since the growing season is later than in the Willamette Valley, Van Dis said.

“In terms of farming, this may be a blessing in disguise and crops will start growing and get to market in mid-May and June,” Van Dis said.

But many crops are already planted and supposed to go to restaurants or farmers markets, Van Dis said. Without CSA programs and Locavore, the farmers have nowhere to sell their crops, she said.

“CSA programs become more important,” she said. “Because farms don’t know about their other markets.”

Linda Anspach, owner of the DD Ranch in Terrebonne, said the ranch is seeing mixed results for the pandemic. Meat sales are increasing as people are stocking up, but the event space is losing reservations this summer, Anspach said.

“The fear over food storage has fielded some demand for our meat and honey, but on the other side our weddings are canceled and I’m having to refund money,” Anspach said.

Anspach worries the demand for meat will diminish and the summer weddings will still be canceled, leaving her ranch with little income for the year.

The DD Ranch, like other farms and ranches in Central Oregon, is counting on Locavore and CSA members more than ever.

Locavore already makes up 25% to 50% of the revenue for the DD Ranch, Anspach said. “I would not really exist without them,” Anspach said. “It’s a huge thing for us local farms and ranches to have them.”

Anspach is staying positive and hopes her ranch will weather the next couple of months until farmers markets open and people are able to return to the ranch.

“I don’t know what lies ahead,” Anspach said, “but it’s definitely daunting.”


Searchable directory locates locally grown ag products

Oregon’s Bounty, at OregonFB.org/oregonsbounty, is a searchable directory of nearly 300 family farms and ranches that sell food, foliage, and other ag products directly to the public.

“Oregon’s Bounty includes farm stands and CSAs from across the entire state, and the directory includes contact information,” said Anne Marie Moss, Oregon Farm Bureau communications director.

Oregon’s Bounty allows visitors to do keyword searches for specific ag products, such as blueberries, cucumbers, honey, or eggs, and/or search for farms and ranches within a specific region of the state.

“While so much of society has come to a standstill, Farm Bureau members are #StillFarming and #StillRanching, and for that, we are all very grateful,” said Moss. “A lot has changed, but the love Oregonians have for locally sourced food has not. We encourage everyone to support their local farms and ranches and to continue enjoying Oregon’s incredible agricultural bounty.”


When crisis strikes, Americans buy chicks

EUGENE, Ore. — The weeks leading up to Easter are always the busiest for chicken hatcheries, but this spring, chicks are nearly impossible to find as sales spike during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Sales went up — a lot,” said Tom Watkins, vice president of Murray McMurray Hatchery in Webster City, Iowa, one of the country’s oldest and largest hatcheries that ships nationwide.

Watkins said chick sales at McMurray are up about 400% from 2019. Most orders are for broilers, or meat birds, said Watkins, with the best egg-laying breeds a close second. The hatchery is sold out for the spring, and people are already placing summer orders.

Across the U.S., people are buying record numbers of chicks. Industry leaders say people fearing food shortages are raising chickens to produce their own meat and eggs in the months to come. Experts say people are also buying chicks to have a backyard activity while they’re quarantined at home.

“People don’t know what’s going to happen,” said John Monaco, president of the American Poultry Association. “I think there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty about food. But stressed-out people are also buying chicks so there’s something fun to watch running around their backyards.”

He chuckled.

Americans have a habit of raising chickens during times of crisis and confusion. Industry records show chick sales spike during presidential election years and stock market downturns. The last leap in chick sales near this scale happened when the avian influenza killed more than 60 million U.S. chickens between 2014 and 2015, raising the price of eggs.

But the 2020 wave of chicken owners aren’t all newbies. In fact, Watkins said the majority of his buyers this spring are previous customers either returning to raising chickens or buying more than usual.

Across the West, hatcheries and farm supply stores are seeing similar trends and rushing to keep up with orders.

Pete’s Hatchery in Gervais, Ore., which ships nationwide, is experiencing “an unusually high volume of orders.”

Jenks Hatchery in Tangent, Ore., founded in 1910, is sold out until the end of April.

Leslie Pierce, who manages chick sales at Naomi’s Organic Garden Supply in Portland, Ore., said chick sales are up significantly and the waitlist grows every day.

Jen Maxwell-Muir, a customer of Naomi’s Organic Garden Supply, has kept backyard chickens for more than 20 years.

“Right now, we’re getting two eggs a day,” she said. “When you’re limiting your trips to the grocery store, they’re like gold.”

Sam Bugarsky, CEO of Wilco, a farm supply cooperative, said this spring’s in-store “chick days,” or clinics on raising chicks, had record numbers of participants in mid-March just before the lockdown. He said sales of meat bird chicks such as Cornish crosses are up 12% at Wilco stores, with future egg-layers close behind.

“Murray McMurray founded our hatchery in 1917,” said Watkins. “He saw world wars and the Great Depression, and he used to say, ‘In times of hardship, people turn to chickens.’ I think that’s still true.”