Posted  3 Apr, 2020 
In: Articles

Originally published March 24, 2020 on Purdue University


As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts local food systems, local farmers and markets must adapt to ensure consumers can access fresh, nutritious food.

There are numerous ways that local producers can offer products to consumers while practicing social distancing, and farmers’ markets can make adjustments to minimize community spread of COVID-19.

But now is the time for you to consider alternative methods to find and connect with customers during a time of confusion and challenge.

This guide offers ideas and guidance on the following:

  • Social media marketing tips to advertise alternative delivery systems
  • Food safety and handling standards, plus additional COVID-19-related precautions
  • Alternative delivery system options, including:
    • On-farm pickups or roadside stands
    • Off-farm pickups or pop-up markets
    • On-farm grocery market
    • Online orders
    • Local grocers and co-ops/regional distributors

Any trade names provided do not constitute endorsements from Purdue Extension. They are included to bring clarity to the message.

Social Media Marketing

If you aren’t already on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, establish a presence to connect with consumers. Once you’ve done so, you can use your social media outlets to:

  • List available products
  • Offer advice on how to pick up goods or choose delivery
  • Feature photos of your farm
  • Incorporate catchy posts about your farm and your work

 

Food Safety / Handling Standards

Along with adhering to best practices in food safety and food handling, you should undertake additional measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19:

 

  • Do not allow anyone who is showing signs of illness at the site of your alternative delivery
  • Pack boxes in ways that prevent customers from touching one another’s products
  • Stagger pickup times to reduce crowds
  • Undertake additional cleaning and sanitation protocols and recommendations, such as
    • Regular cleaning of contact surfaces
    • Hand-washing or hand-sanitizer stations at your site
    • Encouragement of customers to wash / sanitize their hands before handling produce
    • Encouragement of social distancing (maintaining at least 6 feet between customers)

For additional precautions, consult:


On-Farm Pickups or Roadside Stands

On-farm pickups or roadside stands typically have less restrictive standards under county and state laws, although you should consult your local planning and zoning office to ensure you’re aware of restrictions/regulations.

You also must protect products from weather and minimize potential to spread COVID-19.

Purdue Extension also recommends that you:

  • Create accessible, clear signage that lists available products and hours of operation
  • Establish safe parking areas
  • Ensure there are no impediments to traffic or utility access easements

Off-Farm Pickups or Pop-Up Stands

First, consult your county zoning and health departments. Some communities do not allow pop-up stands unless an area is zoned for commercial use or has a variance under consideration.

People may also express concern about increased traffic if your stand is in a residential area; make sure you establish ample communication with all site-adjacent residents and/or businesses.

You may also be required to obtain a temporary, fee-based food permit or peddler permit. It is critical to make sure that you abide by all applicable statutes of state code.

Purdue Extension also recommends that you:

  • Create accessible, clear signage that lists available products and hours of operation
  • Establish safe parking areas
  • Ensure there are no impediments to traffic or utility access easements

On-Farm Market

If you have an on-farm market akin to a grocery store, Purdue Extension recommends:

  • Designating hours for elderly/immunosuppressed customers who have a higher risk of complications from COVID-19
  • Using alternative “grab-and-go” packaging, pre-ordering and/or pre-payment to minimize customers’ time in your market
  • Undertaking additional cleaning, sanitation and food safety protocols

If you’re considering an on-farm grocery, consult your county zoning and health departments to determine regulations and/or restrictions. Purdue Extension also recommends taking into account:

  • Coordination of traffic
  • Communication to adjacent residents/businesses
  • Homeowner association permissions

Online Orders

Online sales allow customers to purchase your products from their residence. (If insufficient broadband limits your capacity for online orders or marketing, set up service through telephone or text.)

Have a form for payment set up, and then explore online sales by:

  • Setting up your own online platform such as Barn2DoorHarvie or Open Food Network
  • Using Google Sheets or other online-software ordering forms
  • Selling through Facebook
  • Opening a webpage with your ordering form
  • Starting a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) enterprise

You also must establish a delivery system through a coordinated drop-off point or pick-up at your farm.

Indiana has existing online-sales platforms to help you connect with customers, manage orders and coordinate delivery locations. However, they primarily serve the state’s urban areas.

Market Wagon is an online grocery store / farmers’ market that sells hundreds of locally produced goods from hubs of local producers across the Midwest. You can sign up as a vendor to sell in this space.

Hoosier Harvest Market (HHM) is a farmer-owned online farmer cooperative featuring locally grown and produced goods in central Indiana. Northern or southern Indiana producers may want to contact them to gauge how to start another regional cooperative or coordinate new HHM areas of operation.

Local Grocers & Co-Ops / Regional Distributors

Now is the time to connect with grocers, co-ops or distributors that may be interested in stocking and/or selling your products.

In addition to following all appropriate county and state laws, licensing and/or certifications, Purdue Extension recommends that you:

  • Search for local grocers and co-operatives and determining their preferred means of contact (text, email, telephone)
  • Reach out to them and ask the following questions:
    • Are they interested in/available to sell your product?
    • If so, how would they prefer to create the order?
    • How often do they want you to contact them?
    • How many deliveries per week will the store expect and at what times?
      • Standard for produce is two days per week, often Tuesdays and Fridays
    • Ensure that your business carries product liability insurance — often a requirement
    • Strive to provide similar weights, counts, case sizes, units and/or packaging as national brands
    • Use well-designed, professional labels to make it easier for stores to sell your products
    • Agree on payment terms (generally invoiced with a net payment of 30 days) and discuss terms should payment need to be delayed
    • Generate, track and manage invoices from a cashflow perspective
    • Maintain lot tracking and food safety by including delivery lot numbers on packaging/invoices
    • Reach out to regional distributors who also may need your inventory to assist with demand
    • Maintain regular communication about what products you will have available and when

Authors

  • Amanda Mosiman, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Warrick County
  • Amanda Baird, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Tipton County Agriculture & Natural Resources
  • Tamara Benjamin, Assistant Program Leader and Diversified Agriculture Specialist – Purdue Extension
  • Bobbi Boos, Local Food Producer, Martin Hollow Farm, Lawrence County
  • Mike Record, Local Food Producer, New Ground Farm, Monroe County
  • Nathan Shoaf, Purdue Extension Urban Agriculture State Coordinator
  • Heather Tallman, Indiana Grown Program Director, Indiana State Department of Agriculture
  • Amy Thompson, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Monroe County

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