Megan and Tyrone Brannon

Growing our Generation: Farming amid COVID-19

Megan and Tyrone Brannon from Tuscarawas County are the editors of the May 2020 Growing our Generation enewsletter, featuring insights and ideas directly from Ohio’s young farmers and food and agricultural professionals.

Hello! We are Megan and Tyrone Brannon of Stone Creek in Tuscarawas County. Megan grew up raising beef cattle and hogs on her parents’ farm and was a 10-year member of 4-H. Tyrone was involved in 4-H and FFA and grew up raising dairy cows, hogs and horses. We were married in 2015, and our love of agriculture is what brought us together. Off the farm, Tyrone works for TMK Bakersville as a mechanic and commercial applicator. Megan is a PhD student and adjunct professor at Kent State University. We are currently serving as first-year committee members on the Young Agricultural Professionals State Committee. We have taken many opportunities given to us in Farm Bureau, but the State YAP committee has been the best one yet!

About our farm

Olde Tyme Farms is a small, 20 acre direct-to-consumer farm that began in 2018. We grow pastured poultry (turkeys, broilers, and laying hens), nursery plants and produBrannon market productsce. We specialize in microgreens, herbs, and unique produce (novel heirloom tomatoes, antique varieties of sweet corn, super hot peppers, etc.). We also have a small apiary operation. Finding our own niche in the market was difficult at first, but our emphasis on sustainability helped us ensure that no efforts ever went to waste on the farm. We even began vermicomposting to help reuse and add value to our leftover microgreen soil. Vermicomposting is starting with regular compost (decomposing vegetables, food waste and animal bedding materials) and adding worms to speed up the composting process a little while adding beneficial fertilizer to the compost (worm castings).

Biggest challenge during pandemic

Brannon consumer demandThe biggest challenge we have faced since the beginning of the coronavirus was the demand placed on us by consumers. We were pleasantly surprised when our local community members started shopping more with us and less with the big box stores. While we have utmost respect for all members in agriculture and all sizes of farms, we were happy to see that people were shopping more locally with small farms. The challenge came in when we first had too much supply and then later not enough. At first no one went out and so we had an overabundance of eggs and meat. Then, when people realized that grocery stores were becoming limited on items, consumers were messaging at all hours of the day asking for our farm products. We also had elderly neighbors who were struggling, so we ended up trying to split our farm products between donations and sales, which was difficult financially. 

Additionally, within about two weeks, we had to double our poultry and nursery operations. Ordering chicks (broilers and layers) became difficult and supply was very limited. Luckily, we were able to order before the big rush hit the market. Increasing housing for the added livestock was another issue we faced. Additionally, trends like Victory Gardens meant a higher demand for nursery plants. This placed added stress on our small nursery operation, and we continue to start new plants and vegetables as fast as we can sell other plants. We just don’t have enough supply to meet the demand.

Changes implemented

greenhouse plantsSince the coronavirus began, we have been trying to grow our operation as rapidly as we can, but it has been difficult. Adding more chickens to our operation meant we needed larger chicken tractors to pasture them. Also, to protect ourselves from the virus, we have been making less trips to town for supplies, which means more planning and added expense in some cases. We buy more feed in bulk than we did previously. 

The high demand for produce meant we needed to produce more than we were able to in the space we have. We had to think outside of the box, or above the box in some cases, growing herbs in hanging baskets so that we could maximize both our vertical and horizontal space in the greenhouse. 

As others have, we have also adapted to life during COVID-19 by delivering more to consumers. We had to develop a contactless delivery system with use of PPE and refine our online payment methods. We were fortunate that Megan is tech savvy, so we were already equipped with online payment tools like Square, and a great website/social media presence, but we ventured further into the Square online sales capability and also added PayPal and others to our list of payment methods. Developing online advertising and marketing are also important in times like this.

Day-to-day impacts

We have seen some supply chain issues. While we don’t ship products, making deliveries has become a large part of our business. We have been lucky to both keep working full time during this, but that also presents an issue since we are doing extra around the farm and still putting in 40+ hours a week. 

Megan BrannonOne main impact that we will continue to see over summer is that all on-farm events have been canceled. As a teacher, Megan enjoys teaching others about agriculture through classes on the farm. We teach people important life skills like cooking, gardening and homesteading. Our first class of the year, “Beginner Seed Saving” has already been canceled. This is a loss of additional revenue for the farm as well. Plus, we really miss getting to talk with our customers. Customer service is looking different these days!

Remaining hopeful

Tyrone BrannonWe know that we have each other and we have the farm and that’s what’s important in life. A person’s attitude determines their success and we have chosen to keep a positive attitude in all of this. While our business may ebb and flow over the years, we trust that God is looking over us and our farm. We are still planting and planning for the future.

 

Life after COVID-19

One practice that we really want to keep is the availability of delivery of our products. Not only is delivery the future of all food, but it also helps us to reach out to populations that we may not have been able to before like the elderly. Another practice is collaborating with other farms. When supply chain issues happened, we were able to provide or sell products from other farms. Farmers have really leaned on each other in these times, and we think that is one of the best things to come out of this crisis. Also, despite our current aim of sustainability, there is always more that can be done. Because of the supply chain issues we had buying chicks thBrannon poultryis year, we have chosen to breed/grow all of our laying hens on the farm from now on. This will ensure that we keep strong bloodlines in our laying hens, continue to raise heritage breeds, and have less issues adding to our flock in the future. Plus, there are added benefits of lowering overhead costs when we raise our own chickens. Finally, we have developed a mindset of resilience in all of this. We have been through a lot as have others, and we are confident that we can make it through anything life throws at us.

Farm Bureau’s impact

If Farm Bureau hadn’t stepped in when it did to ensure that agriculture was considered an essential business, we would be living in a far different world. Times are tough for everyone, but they would be much worse without agriculture. Farm Bureau has also given us collaboration and sense of community in agriculture. Collaboration in agriculture only strengthens us in times like this. Finally, Farm Bureau has provided us with invaluable resources during this pandemic, with emails and mailings like the Buckeye Farm News that inform farmers of what is going on in the world and how it impacts us. Farm Bureau has ensured through all of this that the farmer is able to keep doing what she or he does best: work hard and feed America. 

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This e-newsletter is brought to you by Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Ag Professionals. Learn more about Farm Bureau membership, including a discounted category for those 18-24 years old.

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