MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, June 3rd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a story from one of our students at the World Journalism Institute.
Vivian Jones, Nashville, Tennessee, 2016 Hillsdale college grad and one of our students in the radio track.
She’s the married mom of a one-year-old and Vivian just did a great job. Now for her final project, she drove over a few local farms and farmers markets. She wanted to find out how consumer buying habits have changed, in light of the coronavirus.
Here now is Vivian Jones with what she found out.
AUDIO: [Ducks, birds]
VIVIAN JONES, CORRESPONDENT: Just a few miles outside of Nashville there’s a small meat and dairy farm. It’s namesake? A goat called Annie that owner Kelly Albright’s husband, Robert, gave her when they got married.
ALBRIGHT: It was my first venture into livestock, and she was so easy that I thought like: “I could raise livestock, this isn’t hard.” We joked that if we ever owned property, we would name it Annie Acres.
And they did. Today, Albright and her daughter, Lilly Mae, are building a new pen for two calves. Rain this morning turned what was a pasture into a puddle.
AUDIO: [FARM YARD]
That’s Rocco the duck. He’s following them around, squawking as they work.
ALBRIGHT: We’re going to build a calf paddock…Lilly, do you know where the posts are?
Annie Acres expanded last year, and started reaping the benefits this spring. Then the coronavirus hit. Shoppers at grocery stores faced empty shelves, and turned to farmers like Albright for more sustainable food options.
ALBRIGHT: We do pork, we do chicken, eggs, dairy, we do raw dairy, raw milk, cream, butter. This year has been exponential demand.
Albright didn’t expect this kind of growth. In fact, she was a bit worried that she wouldn’t be able to sell product quickly enough.
ALBRIGHT: We took pigs to butcher in January, and we sold all that. And we took pigs to butcher again in March, and we’re almost done with all of that pork, and we’re about to take more pigs again in June. So, I was very nervous about there being too much pork, but the market has taken care of that. Because there has been so much demand for people to look inward to their community as to what’s already available.
Another farm-to-door approach is a bit more organized. It’s called CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. Many local farms offer produce directly to customers through CSAs. Customers buy a share of a farmer’s crop, and farmers provide boxes of fresh produce throughout the growing season.
BERNANDER: What’s in the box right now [is] green kale, broccoli, golden beets, lettuce, collard greens…
This is a CSA distribution at the East Nashville Farmers Market.
Robert Bernander is an employee at Delvin Farms in College Grove, Tennessee. He says his farm has seen record sales this spring.
BERNANDER: Corona has caused a huge spike in CSA sales, because people you know, they don’t want to walk into Kroger and expose theirself to any of that, you know that any other people might have. So they’ve gone to a local farmers’ CSAs and tried to source their food that way.
Delvin Farms’ CSA program has more than doubled in size. Last year, it signed up 450 members. This year: more than 900.
In fact, at least 15 of the 35 farms with CSAs near Nashville—that’s 42 percent—have already sold out of CSA shares.
AUDIO: [MACKIS GREETING CUSTOMERS]
Melissa Mackis is the marketing manager at Caney Fork Farms in Carthage. But she doesn’t just sit in an office. Each week, she drives a truck to a brewery in East Nashville, where she distributes produce boxes.
MACKIS: Last year, we weren’t anywhere near capacity. And then in March, we grew about 70 percent, and then in April, we doubled that… We reached capacity before May, which was our goal pre-COVID-19, but we had a much slower growth plan. Our sales have kind-of skyrocketed. People that we wouldn’t have seen usually coming to the farmers market and sign up for a CSA, that kind of thing, now we’re getting them from all sorts of places.
This year hasn’t been easy—especially on the operations side. At Caney Fork, the seven farm employees have to practice social distancing as they work, just like everyone else. And when they interact with the food, they have to wear masks and gloves.
MACKIS: We have this home delivery system already in place. Once this all started happening, that’s what most of the people signed up for was home delivery. So I think it’s just the fact that there’s no one interacting with the food, it’s coming straight to you.
CSAs aren’t just a Nashville thing—you can find them all across the country. While farm-to-door sales have declined over the last decade, last year more than 7,000 farms in the nation sold directly to consumers.
When COVID-19 disrupted the food supply chain, sick workers brought meat processing plants to a halt and grocery store meat shelves emptied. Consumers rushed to stores to stock up on produce, and trucks couldn’t keep up with the demand.
CSA farms across the U.S. were ready to help meet the need, and now they’re booming.
ALBRIGHT: We tried an experiment with putting our two sows together, but they didn’t like it…
Back at Annie Acres, Albright says the pandemic has forced people to think about where their food comes from, and exposed systemic problems with the supply chain in America.
ALBRIGHT: This whole pandemic has highlighted holes in our economy of food… A lot of our food supply we’re so disconnected from… In South Dakota, one food processing plant closes, and it reverberates across the U.S… It’s scary that one small chink in the overall food chain supply can cause this much disruption.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Vivian Jones in Nashville, Tennessee.