Fields of Plenty: To Market, to Market

Truthful talk about farming through a tough year
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Story by Erin McMurrough

Driven by creativity and resilience, some local farmers experienced a bonanza year during the pandemic. Empty shelves in the fluorescent-lit megastores drove the public into the welcoming arms of the community farm store or local community-supported agriculture (CSA) harvest subscription membership, converting new faces into loyal customers. Three farmers opened up about how they fared during these roller-coaster times.

Tim Haws, co-owner of Autumn’s Harvest Farm in Romulus, a Certified Animal Welfare Approved Farm that specializes in grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, chicken and eggs.

Edible Finger Lakes: How has the pandemic affected you as a farmer?

Tim Haws: People began searching us out more and it changed how we sold our meat. We saw huge decreases in wholesale—our market in NYC dropped by 40%—but our retail has gone up 400%.

EFL: What changes did you make?

TH: We expanded the products that we carry in our farm store, becoming more of a one-stop shop. We brought in lamb, goat, milk, butter, cheeses, maple syrup from two miles away. We also offered outside pickup and outside shopping. One of the biggest changes is that we received a grant to start an online shop and that is run by Tina McCheyne. That has been huge.

EFL: How did the pandemic impact your relationship with your customers?

TH: It made it stronger. People got to know us and our products. Even though we sold out of certain things, we never sold out completely.

EFL: Biggest scare?

TH: Not knowing what to expect…and how to keep the staff safe. Also, when we opened the farm store we weren’t sure anyone was going to come. The first day we were open, no one came—so we got a little worried.

People began searching us out more and it changed how we sold our meat. We saw huge decreases in wholesale—our market in NYC dropped by 40%—but our retail has gone up 400%.

EFL: Silver lining?

TH: Everyone working together as a community. I also want to give a shout-out to our team: It’s the best team we’ve ever had. They continued to adapt and we learned that just because one revenue stream is ending, it doesn’t mean the farm is going to end.

Autumn’s Harvest Farm: 5170 Kings Corners Rd., Romulus

Erik Fellenz, co-owner of Fellenz Family Farms in Phelps with his partner Jenny Frederick, is a certified organic grower of vegetables, fruits, and herbs, whose produce is sold to CSA members and at the Brighton Farmers Market.

EFL: How has the pandemic affected you as a farmer?

Erik Fellenz: 2020 was likely our best year ever. The pandemic drove changes in our customer base and we officially sold out of our CSA and have grown our waiting list.

EFL: What changes did you make?

EF: We avoided sweeping changes. We thought about what we could do that would promote safety and also give some sense of normalcy. Instead of letting customers choose three or four tomatoes from a large bin, we would parcel out the tomatoes in pint or quart baskets.

EFL: How did the pandemic impact your relationship with your customers?

EF: We saw a massive influx of new customers. They saw the food supply chain breaking down, shortages in the market. We offered food security. Customers also appreciated the reasonable steps we took to keep everyone safe.

EFL: Biggest scare?

EF: When the Brighton Market shut down. We normally sell 20–30% of our goods there. We were able to pivot and move that product to the CSA. We also had a big fear of getting sick—my wife and I operate the farm, we both need to be healthy to keep it afloat.

EFL: Silver lining?

EF: The amount of new faces and the strong sudden interest in what we do. Without the pandemic, we would have never met many of these new customers.

Fellenz Family Farms: 1919 Lester Rd., Phelps

Carmella Hoffman, co-owner and cheesemaker at Sunset View Creamery, in Odessa, NY, which operates both a dairy farm and creamery.

 EFL: How has the pandemic affected you as a farmer?

Carmella Hoffman: On the dairy side, we were told by the DFA (Dairy Farmers of America) that we could only produce 85% of our milk. We decided the creamery would make more cheese and we opened the farm store seven days a week.

EFL: What changes, if any, did you make to your operation?

CH: We expanded what was available in our farm store. People were fearful of going to Top’s, Wegmans, and Walmart and we could provide milk, root vegetables from Silver Queen Farm, bread from Paradiso’s, hand sanitizer from Finger Lakes Distilling, and 5-EO soap from Finger Lakes Soap Co. The only thing we didn’t carry was toilet paper. If we could have found a supplier, we would have carried that as well.

EFL: How did the pandemic affect your relationship with your customers?

CH: It improved. People appreciated all of the steps we took to keep them safe. Before the pandemic, we had a large tourist base with few regular locals, and we picked up many new local customers.

EFL: Biggest scare?

CH: Fear of the unknown. We didn’t know if the FDA would keep accepting milk. On the creamery side, we weren’t sure that having someone work seven days a week would pay off.

EFL: Silver lining?

CH: The friendships that developed with new customers. Customers thanked us for being here. We made out better than most because of the creamery—it is probably what saved the farm.

 Sunset View Creamery: 4970 CountyRte. 14, Odessa

Erin McMurrough is the editor of Edible Finger Lakes magazine. She dreams in sparkling wine.

This article was first featured in our Spring 2021 issue.

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