Brannon farm changes gears during pandemic

Hard work, dedication and concern for others aren’t quaint concepts at Olde Tyme Farms. These principles helped the 20-acre chicken, egg and organic vegetable operation quickly pivot and keep moving, despite the COVID-19 shutdown.

 “We changed from mostly wholesale to mostly direct-to-consumer marketing,” said Tyrone Brannon, who operates the farm with his wife, Megan. Part of the process included production changes, such as adding homemade chicken tractors (moveable shelters), increasing field plantings and dropping on-farm classes due to social distancing requirements.

Tyrone and Megan Brannon changed their farming operation to adjust to the pandemic.

Fortunately they already had online payment plans and were using Square. They added PayPal, making hands-free payment a part of the ordering and delivery process. The Tuscarawas County Farm Bureau members introduced tailgate pickups and expanded delivery.

“We have also been closely assessing our place in the local markets and re-evaluating what will be most profitable and economically sustainable moving forward,” Tyrone said.

While investing in their business at such a time was difficult, they had savings to dip into.

“I think if we hadn’t had those savings, it would have been a much tougher decision,’’ Tyrone said. ‘’Plus, food is necessary, and we wanted to make sure that we were able to provide for our local community and our family.”

Their beloved pup, Cali Jo.

Expanding their family

Family took on a whole new meaning during the crisis when they began their first foster parenting experience with two siblings, both younger than 3.

 “It was a difficult choice to take in two little ones with all of the unknowns going on with the COVID-19 pandemic, but looking back, it’s the best decision we ever made,” Megan said. “We decided on foster care, after struggling with fertility issues for years. As a K-6 teacher previously, I have a heart for kids, and we both thought foster care would be a great way to give little ones a great life. After all, what kid wouldn’t want to grow up on a farm?”

The children help feed the chickens and assist in planting the garden. “We want them to know where their food comes from, and how hard people have to work to grow food,” Megan said. “I think that if more people knew what hard work it takes to get their food from the farm to the table, there would be less waste.”

Tyrone uses his mom’s tractor to get things done around the farm.

Business challenges

Along with new family demands, they faced fresh business challenges on the farm near Stone Creek.

The most serious was loss of their first crop of nursery plants due to a four-week shipping delay of containers. Because they couldn’t transplant their specialties of heirloom tomatoes, super-hot peppers and herbs, many plants became root bound and died.

They switched from producing microgreens to growing broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other small plants to sell. Sowing seeds every few days helped to partially meet the growing demand for backyard gardens. Another innovation was using hanging containers to grow herbs. Shelf space was maxed out in their 48-square-foot greenhouse and the four growing towers, equipped with grow lights.

Butcher appointments became difficult with the meat chickens. However, careful planning enabled them to book all remaining 2020 dates and keep their prices reasonable in the current meat market, Megan said. They had preordered chicks, which helped in keeping up with demand.

 But, some consumers didn’t have funds to pay.

Tyrone is the resident beekeeper, bringing local honey, propolis and bee products to the area residents.

“We never wanted someone to go hungry,” Tyrone said. Credit was extended. In some cases they trusted that the people would pay when they could. They’re still helping some families. “We donate chicken, eggs and now garden produce where and when we can,” Megan said.

Along with family and farm demands, Tyrone works full time as a mechanic and applicator for TMK Bakersville, and Megan is an adjunct professor and full-time PhD student at Kent State University.

While a needed vacation is impossible, the Brannons try to spend one weekend a month camping — but not too far away. Animals and plants need daily tending.

Future plans

Ever nimble and with eyes to the future, the Brannons received a Natural Resources Conservation Service grant for a 40-by-90-foot high tunnel. Instead of grow lights, sunshine will be used for seasonal crops and their newest venture, medicinal and culinary herbs. Megan plans to blend some of the herbs into specialty teas for off-season sales.

Megan teaches a class on microgreens for her county Farm Bureau’s yearly women’s event.

To make the farm even more sustainable, they will use their vermiculture (worm composting) operation for fertilizing plants and a rain barrel irrigation system in the tunnel. The grant also includes a cover crop of pumpkins and sweet corn for next summer.

During the past few months they’ve lived the philosophy behind the name Olde Tyme Farms. Megan said, “We wanted something that connoted doing things the old-fashioned way, with hard work, grit and honesty, while still representing both of us.”

Thus came Olde, and from blending Tyrone and Megan came Tyme, and a farm evolved with a fluid approach toward the future and an appreciation of the past.

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