Welcoming back an old friend: the local farmer

  • Heidi Horman of Granite State Greens in Sanbornton holds one of her laying hens at her farm on April 6. The demand for her products has convinced her to open her store to the public later this year. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Heidi Horman of Granite State Greens in Sanbornton holds of her laying hens at her farm on Monday, April 6, 2020. The demand for her products has convinced her to open her store to the public later this year. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Larry Pletcher of the Vegetable Ranch LLC in Warner points to the bar where the tomato plants are strung up from when they reach maturity. The plants already have flowered and he has sold all of his chickens. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Heidi Horman of Granite State Greens in Sanbornton at her farm on Monday, April 6, 2020. The demand for her products has convinced her to open her store to the public later this year. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Heidi Horman of Granite State Greens in Sanbornton moves a row of lettuce at her farm on Monday, April 6, 2020. The demand for her products has convinced her to open her store to the public later this year. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 4/11/2020 4:24:14 PM

These days, some local farmers are looking ahead, hoping the consumer landscape has changed for good.

It’s an undercurrent now, a shift in thought that may or may not continue once the coronavirus is dead and we return to normal.

Then, we’ll see if their good fortune remains. For now, add this to the endless list of odd circumstances connected to the virus. Perhaps one of the smaller headlines, yet still packing a punch, still changing lives in some manner.

In a bizarre twist, the local farming community has thrived since the crisis began in earnest three week ago. Shoppers, tired of empty shelves, lack of freshness and close contact with others during this fearful, infectious time, have saddled up their horses and embraced farm life. What happens to these shoppers, where they go once the threat is gone, is anyone’s guess.

“I’m using this as great motivation for next year and a positive outlook about how it will change, what I do, what farmers do,” said Heidi Horman, owner of Granite State Greens in Sanbornton. “I think the mentality of people will look more toward local grocers.”

That’s certainly the case as we speak. The numbers are startling, profits through the chicken coop roof, proof that shoppers are flocking to farms these days and abandoning the status quo.

For example, Horman, once the queen of lettuce, had to abdicate her throne after the Grappone Conference Center, like so many other businesses and institutions, closed this spring.

“I had all this lettuce and nowhere to go with it,” Horman said. “That shut me down and I said, ‘Uh oh. Now what?’ I don’t have a farmstand.”

Carol Soule, the owner of Miles Smith Farm in Loudon, does. “(Soule) called me Wednesday and said she needed 40 heads,” Horman said. “Then she called me yesterday and said she needed 40 more heads. The girl who ran the store said the lettuce was flying off the shelves.”

The lettuce has not been alone since we’ve all hunkered down behind closed doors. Chickens are flying off the shelves as well. Beef, pork, greens, all going fast.

Grocery-store chains are nerdy, unprepared, unpredictable. Farmers are cool again, ready to meet the demand, re-inject money into the local economy.

Larry Pletcher, who owns the Vegetable Ranch in Warner, has seen his business grow like weeds recently, posting an announcement on Facebook, urging customers to order ahead via email.

“We’re in a pre-order situation and we did twice what we would have normally done in the winter farmers’ market in Concord,” Pletcher told me. “The first Saturday when this started, we did four to five times our normal amount.”

Four to five times? Really?

Pletcher said his other numbers, for products sold, also belong in his record book for sales. Twenty pounds of potatoes, 10 pounds of carrots, five chickens.

“We had organic whole chickens, but we started to run short on that one,” Pletcher said. “The first week we opened no one had that, so we sold a whole lot of chickens.”

Meanwhile, the big chains, at times, began to run out of meat and produce. Those shopping aisles suddenly felt awfully narrow, forcing shoppers into video-game-like maneuvers to avoid close contact and reach open space. Options were needed.

The farmer offered another choice.

“We started home-delivery service, so that has helped get our products out,” said Luke Mahoney, owner of Brookford Farm in Canterbury. “Our sales are up 50%, mostly meats, which is huge.”

Mahoney said he can’t keep up with the demand for eggs. Pre-virus, his farm sold about 300 dozen eggs per week, 200 of which were sold wholesale, 100 retail. Now, Mahoney sells all 300 dozen a week to retailers, meaning more profit.

“The biggest shift has been wholesale to retail,” Mahoney said. “That’s the biggest boost for the farm. Selling to restaurants, we don’t make out as well, and when you can shift selling to the end-user, the numbers look better.”

Strangely, this egg-citing example of farmers and their recent resurgence has nothing to do with the approach of Easter Sunday.

“I don’t think any of this has to do with Easter,” Mahoney said. “It has to do with people just looking for good food. People don’t want to go to the supermarket and get exposed to crowds and also not trust the products that come in from all over the world, and who knows how many people have touched it?”

Concerns like that have led to this boom. “Look,” said Soule, addressing the awkward position of seeing her business grow during a pandemic. “This is an awful time, and we do not want this to continue. But maybe people are discovering new habits and realizing that local farmers are here for them. We’ve been here all along, but no one was paying attention.”

That’s what the farmers want. They want you to pay attention, see what they offer, compare their quality to that of the big grocery chains.

They’re getting that now, local loyalty, during a worldwide crisis. They hope it’s the start of something different. A new way to shop. Why change once the enemy has been beaten?

“That is the worry, that the attitude will change,” Mahoney said. “But like 9/11, it changed the world in ways we didn’t know about, and I think this event will change the world as well.”




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2020 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy