This special June 2020 edition of Growing our Generation focuses on how four different businesses have faced and adapted to the challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and how Farm Bureau has been able to assist them. Growing our Generation features insights and ideas directly from Ohio’s young farmers and food and agricultural professionals.
Hello, my name is Maggie Mathews and my family operates New Horizon Farm, a dairy and grain operation in southern Ohio, where we raise and milk registered Holstein and Ayrshire cattle. My parents, sister, brother and I all work together in running the farm. My siblings and I will be the third generation to run the dairy, which has been in operation for 63 years. We farm 300 acres in hay, corn and soybeans, using most of our crops to feed our herd. In addition, we recently opened a small creamery and retail store on the farm, where we bottle our own milk in a variety of flavors and sell our own beef. You can find our farm on Facebook.
As a junior in high school, COVID-19 created many challenges for me in the areas of school, 4-H and FFA, with the most centering around the activities and events being cancelled and modified to meet the health requirements of the state. Although the status of the Clinton County Fair is still unknown, I get up every morning and care for my projects. I am dedicated to my part in agriculture. Unfortunately, our family farm was negatively impacted by the decrease in milk prices. However, we were fortunate enough to be members of a milk coop that continued to pick up our milk when other farms were forced to dump several day’s worth of milk.
It was because of the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 (watching local grocery stores run out of milk or limit purchases) that motivated my parents to open the creamery sooner than they had planned. We knew that we had plenty of milk and an opportunity to provide the community with the peace of mind that they could purchase an essential grocery item from a local food source. Happy Cows Creamery bottled its first gallon of milk mid-May, and we have had a steady stream of customers out to the farm since.
During this pandemic, the support from our community gave our family hope and optimism that there is still a future for dairy farmers and there still is a demand for food produced locally, especially after the dairy industry has seen so many farms sell out over the past few years. The creamery will definitely be a revenue source that will keep our dairy farm thriving in these uncertain times.
Being a part of a family that operates a dairy, health and safety has always been a priority, not only for the well-being of the humans, but also for the herd. Maintaining our Grade-A license requires us to incorporate health and safety into our daily routine. COVID-19 has made us even more aware of the importance to adhere to sanitary measures and to require our customers and visitors at the farm to do the same.
The biggest concern that I have, now, is the number of farmers and producers that are dealing with existing mental and emotional issues that have grown from the crisis that the ag industry was already in before the stress and problems from COVID-19 surfaced. I’ve watched my step dad try to deal with the good, bad and ugly operating the farm on his own, without support or asking for help. I am grateful to see Ohio Farm Bureau and members like Nathan Brown providing resources for farmers and enabling open conversations about a topic that few have wanted to tackle.
My name is Charlie Payne and along with my wife Kerissa, we own and operate Covey Rise Farms in Radnor, Ohio. We are first generation producers who have turned a hobby farm that raises pastured meats, into now one of the largest pastured poultry farms in Ohio. We annually raise around 15K broilers, pork, lamb, turkey, eggs, and honeybees. We direct market 100% of what we raise and have found success telling our farming story through social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. The customer relationships we have built through these platforms have evolved into direct sales, allowing our farm to ship nationwide and complement our other sale avenues like our local farmers market and restaurant sales.
We have seen several COVID-19 related impacts, opening up both blessings and struggles for our farm and family. Our largest struggle has been inventory management. We were initially concerned with our ability to move the excess product that we had previously allocated for restaurant sales. Historically we have relied heavily on restaurant sales to market approximately 50% of our poultry products and much of our odd cuts like offal. Yet, we have seen a tremendous increase in demand for our direct to consumer side, where many supply chains have shown a weakness. Although we love the increase in sales and have enjoyed sharing our product with many more Ohioans and families across the country, it has been a struggle to manage inventory and keep up with the demand.
Last year we would sell out of hot ticket items like chicken sausage from our first batch, but this year we sold our entire first batch before it even got to the consumer’s hand. Secondly, we are seeing an even greater demand in local protein processing and have now had to book our entire processing dates through January 2022. We had previously booked our processing dates six months to a year in advance, but we were never able to book any farther ahead. In the current processing environment we are now scheduling animals that won’t even be born for another year or more, to guarantee we have a slot to butcher. Switching butchers, even if you can find a slot has its own struggles. It takes time to know your butcher and get the right cuts, flavors, and products you and your customers want and there is a limit on USDA facilities farms like us can go to.
As COVID-19 has evolved, one of the largest changes our farm has made is implementing safer practices for us, our farm volunteers, and our customers. As sad as it is, during this time of year, Kerissa and I hardly ever got the opportunity to go out and about, unless it was for a farm-related event, so keeping our social distance hasn’t been an issue for us. We have eliminated farm pickups to avoid customers wanting to socialize on the farm, in addition to group pickup points moving to prearranged, noncontact home deliveries. We also have been very conscious of our surroundings and washing our hands frequently when we are off the farm. We both keep hand sanitizer in the door of our vehicles and clean our high-traction areas more than normal.
Outside of the normal frustrations with the spring weather in central Ohio, we honestly have much to be grateful for. Many direct to consumer farms across the nation right now are seeing a newfound interest in consumers wanting to form a relationship with the people who raise their food. If there is a silver lining to this crisis, it should be producers, regardless of their sales channel or farming practices, making an effort to show the public what we do, because right now they are watching with newfound interest in where their food comes from.
Our Farm Bureau community has been great in helping to keep farmers markets open, and deeming them as an essential service. We contacted Farm Bureau early on in regard to this item, and their response to our concern was given consideration and the attention it deserved. In our mind, what could be better than an open-air market, with fresh and local foods right now? Once the initial dust begins to settle, I would challenge Farm Bureau to look at supporting legislation or finding funding to help support increasing the capacity of regional protein processing. Our farm relies heavily on USDA processing to ship nationwide, plant capacity in our region was fragile to begin with and now the cracks can truly be seen.
This pandemic has shown that there is a tremendous opportunity for young producers to direct market products and help capture more of the retail dollar, there are plenty of opportunities and niches to transition a portion of an operation to direct markets and together we can make it happen.
My name is Christine Snowden and I work for Heimerl Farms as a part of their service team and also as a gilt selection officer within that role. I manage 22 barns, 2400 head with the help of contract growers that see to the day to day operations of their barns. I graduated from Ohio State with a degree in Animal Science and a passion for swine that has led to a great career in the swine industry!
The biggest challenge that I have faced since the beginning of COVID-19 is the uncertainty of the virus. Like most agriculturalists, I have been playing every week by ear and really can not make definite plans. This is mostly to do with packing plants and whether or not we will get the loads that we need. If we do not get the loads we need, we have to really conserve and try to get the largest pigs out first while getting the empty barns ready for the next group of pigs. Our gilt orders have been affected due to the customer’s varying cash flow and how many replacement gilts they can take at the moment.
The day-to-day is ever-changing. Just trying to communicate with our contract growers is harder than ever. I try to give my growers a set time at which I will be at the farm and have them talk to me with appropriate social distancing measures, this is ever more challenging with our small office space. Some growers will simply leave me a note in the barn. The professional relationship feels strained during this time as we try to communicate via a phone call. There’s a void in the relationship because we are not able to see the grower in person, to see their barn, and identify the necessary steps to continue improving the pigs living space. The supply chain has been broken, sadly. Without the packing plants working at full capacity we are experiencing issues on the live animal side and on the consumer side. Sadly, there is no way for a grocery store to sell a live animal. The other issue is that when consumers hear that there is going to be a meat shortage they try to get as much meat as possible which is driving the meat prices up. In addition, consumers are utilizing local meat processors which is pushing processing dates back as far as Jan. 1, 2021.
There have been many changes that we have implemented from the office to the pigs. In the office we have been trying to maintain our distance from each other, wash our hands as soon as we come in and clean our desks after we are finished working. We are also trying to keep communal areas clean as often as possible. On the live animal side, many dietary changes have been made to slow growth and also to try to optimize the barn space as much as possible. For example, we will double stock the facilities and then move those pigs when the next barn is clean and empty.
I have remained optimistic and hopeful by sharing the timeline of pig growth through my social media platforms (Facebook: Christine Snowden; Instagram: crsnowden) with my hashtags #PorkPost, #OptimisticOink and #PositivePig. I also have been trying to spend time on things that are important to me and slow down my days. I try to focus on an aspect of my day that makes me happy. I also have started to train for a half marathon and that has given me something to do in my evenings that has helped me boost my energy levels.
I am hoping that I can continue to try to slow down my days and find the good without going back to the mindset of going through the motions and getting caught up in my to do list. It has been nice taking time during my workouts to think about all of the good in my life.
I am new to the Ohio Farm Bureau community and just starting to get involved after moving back to Ohio. I am really looking forward to in-person meetings and getting to know fellow Young Ag Professionals!
Farmhouse Frocks is a homemade clothing company that employs 30 Amish seamstresses in our community. Although we have a big online presence, we also have a studio at 45 W. Jackson Street, Millersburg, Ohio where we provide access to all of our American-made goods. We’re a mother-daughters team that is passionate about empowering the maker to the consumer. We serve women of all sizes from 5-28.
As we are very active on Instagram, and when COVID-19 hit we saw a demand for washable cloth face masks. Everything progressed very rapidly as the demand became so strong. Along with being cautious of adding too many in-house workers, we kept our team small and put in long hours. We were able to hire 18 local Amish furniture shops that were shut down to sew masks for us. I am humbled to say that in one short month we had already made and sold 100,000 masks.
One of the biggest lessons has been that you have to be able to pivot where needed when unexpected challenges arise. Whether that be lower foot traffic and a higher increase of online sales, or our employees having to shift and acclimate to new conditions. Another challenge was due to selling a product that everyone could use. Our client base grew and though it wasn’t the client base we were accustomed to, we have found creative solutions on how to serve them.
Our day-to-day has definitely shifted. Some things in-house that changed were adapting our shipping area to create more flow and accessibility and adding smaller price point products for our customers. Since COVID-19, we have added more employees and we’ve become more focused on giving our customers a virtual experience through social media.
I’ve remained optimistic and hopeful by being very intentional about what I see and hear, and to be honest, I haven’t listened to the news since this all began. I have just focused on leading my team and trying to stay positive.
Life after this is going to look different than it did before, but I’ve become even more focused than before on sourcing our products locally. I think that’s something that many people have shifted to.