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As restaurants close for coronavirus, farmers find ways to get food to our homes

Kristine M. Kierzek
Special to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Restaurants have closed their dining rooms. Farmers markets shuttered temporarily, too. But the food’s still there, and we all still need to eat. 

Turning on a dime , Wisconsin’s farmers are creating new paths to consumers. At a time when customers are finding that their groceries and big box stores are running out, or are too crowded with people, local farmers are stepping into the gap. 

Some local farms are delivering direct to doorsteps. Other farms allow customers to drive up and pick up produce, as generations have always done. But there are also new and emerging elements in the crisis created by the coronavirus. Concerns about food insecurity and food safety change that interaction, and farmers are adjusting rapidly.  

Working with social distancing rules, a number of farmers are turning to online orders. Deliveries are hands off. They are limiting the number of people at pickup sites, and many are going cashless. Social media, especially Facebook, has become an essential tool for farmers communicating updates as things change daily.

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“With the closure of the winter market for the rest of the season, we definitely wanted to find a way to get the vendors' products to the customers, especially since customers didn’t have a chance to stock up for the season,” said Katie Hassemer. She's the director of farm markets for Fondy Food Center and the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers Market, which created an online order and pickup system for vendors. They are looking into continuing that through the coming weeks as needed.

“The spinach doesn’t stop growing," Hassemer added. "We have to be innovative now, because we don’t know what farmers markets are going to look like the next few months. The Fondy Market is scheduled to open May 9, and we are moving forward like it will open, but who knows?” 

After shutting down farm market operations as of March 14, Kara Kading created an online order process to connect vendors to customers from the weekly Milaeger’s Great Lakes Farmers Market, 4838 Douglas Ave., Racine.

After reading Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home announcement Tuesday, she noted an allowance for farmers markets and considered bringing back the market with more safety precautions and spacing. After talking with vendors, Milaeger's decided to stick with the online orders and pickup process. 

A buying frenzy at farms, too

David Meuer, who runs Meuer Farm in Chilton with his wife, Leslie, has seen a “1,000 percent” increase in online orders, and he’s delivering to a dropoff location in Milwaukee while also shipping to customers around the country. 

“I’ve got bakeries calling two days before their normal scheduled deliveries, doubling and tripling their orders. The last of my einkorns (supply) just sold out. We do steel-cut oats, rolled oats, all are certified gluten free. We do polenta, yellow corn meal, maple syrup, meats,” said Meuer, who also went to cashless operations for now.

“We are sold out of live animals for quarters and halves for all 2020. We still have cuts available. People are paying down payments and everything. They want to guarantee they are getting their foods.” 

Hayden Holbert, who raises pastured pork at Avrom Farm, also sees online sales and direct deliveries as the future for many farmers. 

“We lost nearly all of our restaurant orders in a week, and we lost the opportunity to go to farmers markets,” said Holbert, who like many farmers pivoted to launch an online store with delivery options. The farm's weekly deliveries reach Milwaukee, Appleton, Oshkosh and Chicago. 

"Working with other farmers to supply other products, in addition to our meats we are able to add all kinds of products like stone-ground flour, grass-fed cheese, eggs and produce,” Holbert said. “We’re grateful to the people who have jumped on board and placed orders in the last week and a half. It has changed our outlook, and it is really filling the gap that restaurants and farmers markets left.”

Over the long term, some of these same farms offer CSAs, or consumer supported agriculture, in which buyers can get deliveries of various farm products over the whole season. Sales of those for the 2020 season had already begun when coronavirus hit.  

In Madison at the Dane County Farmers Market, the country’s largest producer-only farm market is also thinking of new ways to connect to consumers. 

“Our farmers all hail from Wisconsin, and about 75 percent come from the southern third of Wisconsin,” said Sarah Elliott, market manager for Dane County Farmers Market, which canceled markets beginning March 14. The market staff also tested online orders and held its first pilot of a drive-through market on Tuesday, March 24.

Dane County Farmers Market held a drive-through market on March 24.

“A lot of our farmers who immediately launched into home delivery are seeing a lot of success. That’s what customers want, the security of food delivered to their door. We are anticipating this may have lasting impacts on how customers may want to interface,” Elliott said. “We may see a lot of folks shying away from cash transactions and people wanting to avoid crowded places in the future.”

Farmers serving southeastern Wisconsin with deliveries, direct sales. 

Anarchy Acres: Heritage wheat and stone-ground flour milled to order in Mount Pleasant. Limited quantities available for shipping at www.anarchyacres.com. “We have seen a huge increase in sales, and we expect to be completely out of stock by the end of the week,” owner Charlie Tennessen said, as the coronavirus restrictions geared up. 

Hayden Holbert  and Lydia Nye run Avrom Farm in Ripon.

Avrom Farm: Online orders and weekly delivery of meats and poultry, produce, eggs, stone-ground flour and cheese to Milwaukee, Chicago, Appleton, Oshkosh. Minimum order of $35. Orders under $75 incur a $7 delivery fee, while anything above $75 is delivered free. 

Creator Farms: Microgreens, petite lettuces and baked goods, local delivery. Online orders at https://bit.ly/3brkcns or (262) 891-3793 

Farm Happy: Microgreens and greens, eggs, maple syrup and more. Order online for delivery or pickup. www.farmhappyjackson.com/shop

Fer-Li Grass Fed Beef: Online orders, deliveries and shipping available of grass-fed beef, poultry and pork. Contact Lisa at (920) 589-9244 or see Fer-Li's Facebook page. 

Jeff-Leen Farm, Random Lake: Meat products, chicken, sausages and fresh eggs. Two delivery drop-off points, near Bay Shore and Wauwatosa. Customers should email or text orders, jeffleen88@gmail.com, (920) 948-9508 or (920) 994-9502. Days and delivery times may vary, some on-farm pickup might be available. jeffleenfarm.com

LarryVille Gardens: On-farm stand features spinach, herbs. Holding pop-up markets every Thursday with spinach, herbs, meats and eggs from Nature’s Niche. Wholesome Harvest will sell spinach pies March 26. W1349 Highway 11, Burlington. (262) 206-2360.

Meadowlark Organics: Online orders and shipping of grains, flours, cornmeal grown in Ridgeway, plus monthly grain subscription in the works. www.meadowlarkorganics.com or (608) 636-6794.

Meuer Farm: Grains, flours, oats, honey, maple syrup, meats. Orders by 8 p.m. Thursday for pickup at a Milwaukee location every Saturday. Delivery routes in Stevens Point, Green Bay, Oshkosh and Milwaukee. (920) 418-2676 or meuerfarm.com

Milaeger’s Great Lakes Farmers Market: Online orders and pickups, 4838 Douglas Ave., Racine. farmersmarket@milaegers.com or www.milaegers.com

Milwaukee Farmers United: Online orders and local delivery for microgreens, herbs, honey, potatoes, butter, onions, carrots, beets and mushrooms from several farmers working together, including Produce with Purpose, Witte’s Vegetables, Mushroom Mike, Pine River Dairy, Groundwork MKE, Beevangelist, Milwaukee Microgreens. For information go to milwaukeefarmersunited.com. To order: www.localline.ca/mfu   

Milwaukee Microgreens: Doorstep delivery of locally grown microgreens. milwaukeemicrogreens.com or localline.ca/mfu

Ney’s Big Sky: Frozen meats delivered include beef, burgers, bratwurst, hot dogs, poultry, pork, buffalo and bacon.  (414) 254-2664 or neysbigsky.com

Olden Organics Farm: Delivery of meats, produce, coffee, cheese, canned goods, apple cider, tortillas, eggs, to Milwaukee area customers on Fridays. (920) 379-9004 or oldenproduce@yahoo.com. Online orders at https://bit.ly/2xnCrM4

Turtle Creek Gardens: Meats available, online orders and pickup location. Limited delivery. Go to www.farmmatch.com 

Whitmore Produce: Microgreens, produce and soups for home delivery in the Waukesha area only. brian.Whitmore@Whitmoreproduce.com

Yuppie Hill Poultry: Eggs, limited amount of meats and dairy in cooler, roped off area for pick-up. W1384 Potter Road, Burlington. (262) 210-0264 or http://www.yuppiehillpoultry.com