Small food producers innovate to survive

Creativity, humour and social distancing combine to get food to customers for one meat producer

Direct-marketing farmers and food producers are finding creative ways to get meals on their customers’ tables and maintain a sense of community.

“You guys are all amazing and you convinced us that we will get through this crazy time. Enjoy your food, stay home, stay safe, stay classy,” Michelle Schram and Troy Stozek of Fresh Roots Farm posted on Facebook on March 21 after delivering meat orders to Winnipeg.

“This is what respect looks like. This is apparently what farm-to-eater food distribution in a time of social distancing looks like.”

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The husband-and-wife duo farm near Cartwright where they raise grass-fed beef and lamb and honey. They direct market their products online and deliver the food to Winnipeg once a month for customer pickup.

COVID-19 fears and social distancing measures complicated their usual order of business. Schram and Stozek said they consulted the guidelines of farmers’ markets in Manitoba and British Columbia.

Grocery stores and restaurants have safety directives from the province. Direct Farm Manitoba (which represents small food producers and farmers’ markets) said it has asked the province to give guidelines to smaller producers.

“We were feeling pretty nervous about making sure that customers knew that we were trying to take all of this seriously,” Schram told the Co-operator. “There’s no guidebook.”

Normally they’d meet customers at a central spot, like a community centre parking lot. People would show up over half an hour, grab their order and stick around to mingle and chat.

“We’re motivated to try to create community around food and so part of this is having people come and gather at our deliveries,” Stozek said.

Customers were counting on them, and the delivery represented their monthly paycheque, so Schram and Stozek decided to make the best of it.

They stretched pickup time to an hour. They nixed reusable bags in favour of paper sacks. They asked anyone who was sick or had travelled to send someone else to pick up, and allowed people who were nervous to stay in the car and have orders brought to them.

Customers lined up in orderly fashion, two metres apart, as Stozek and Schram placed their orders on the table for them to grab.

They also added a bit of levity. When people reached the head of the line, a sign informed them they were in the “social distancing solo dance party” zone. A playlist of songs like the Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and Celine Dion’s “All by Myself” played, and people were invited to dance.

“It felt really strange to have all these measures in place and sort of feel strict with people but we wanted it to still be sort of fun and light in a way,” said Schram. “We just didn’t want to make people feel uncomfortable.”

Chefs and cheese makers Rachel Isaak and Dustin Peltier of Loaf and Honey pivoted to online sales and home delivery after the events they rely on for income were cancelled.

They posted a menu of food items including soups, bread, cookies, and main dishes. A few days later they posted on Facebook that they’d been up to three in the morning cooking and preparing orders.

Isaak and Peltier delivered food to people in quarantine, families with new babies, people with mobility issues and health concerns, and people who just needed a break from cooking, they said.

“The world is getting smaller by the hour for a lot of us but food has always been a means to connect us all,” they wrote on March 20. “Even if you’re not able to feed the masses there is always someone near who will need a meal.”

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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