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Ohio Local Farms Thrive on Community in the COVID-Era

It could be argued that no industry has been untouched by the pandemic.  Supply chains have been disrupted, non-essential workers furloughed, and some businesses remain shuttered. The agriculture industry has taken a huge hit, but farmers are resilient, accustomed to working with the whims of the weather, shifts in climate, and acts of God. Independent farmers are particularly poised to be quick and nimble in their response to change, and in the COVID-era, small farms are not only surviving, they are thriving. In Ohio, a state rich in agricultural heritage and small farm culture, some people are going straight to their neighboring farms for food and skipping supermarkets altogether. Ohio Farm Bureau director of media Ty Higgins says: “Almost every aspect of Ohio agriculture is being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but farmers are resourceful when it comes to finding ways to market their products. Our members that already sell directly to consumers are seeing a spike in their sales and more farmers are looking at direct to consumer marketing as an option.”

Our Hidden Acre Farm in Ohio’s Elyria Township is the quintessential small farm, just 40 minutes east of Cleveland and seven miles from the Lake Erie shoreline. Husband and wife Dan and Jenny Ketchum raise chickens and other poultry, keep bees for honey and grow fresh produce. Dan says: “Our egg sales have actually been through the roof.e have a waiting list now where we never had a waiting list and we have more people interested in our fresh veggies once they start coming.” Ketchum sees this as an educational opportunity, people are learning that fresh produce could be as close as the next farm, and they can even grow it themselves. With winter snows stretching well past the last frost date, Ohioans were late to the produce party this year, but Ketchum says that’s not a problem. “There’s short-cycle foods such as lettuces, radishes… the list goes on of about eight to ten different crops that everybody can do now. We have them growing, so unfortunately we are not able to supply them for anybody else right now.”

The Ketchums are rushing to meet the rising demand for fresh produce and poultry: “We’ve had to grow our business model based on, in essence, the pandemic, because now we need to have more supply because we are trying to get more people so that they understand what fresh and what local really does mean, versus trying to go to a big box store,” says Dan. It’s catching on. A recent review on their site garnered five stars and this comment: “We highly recommend On Our Hidden Acre! I started going there for eggs, which are delicious! Even some of my kids, who were apprehensive about eggs not coming from the store, are now hooked! We have also tried their honey and lip balm and everything has been great. Dan has been a pleasure, we love supporting this local family!”

Two hours south of the Ketchums’ farm another married couple, newlyweds Charlie and Kerissa Payne, have built Covey Rise Farms “from scratch,” raising pastured meat sustainably. In a fortuitous move, Covey Rise Farm, which produces 15,000 chickens a year, launched nationwide shipping back in September, in efforts to reach more home consumers. When restaurants shut down in March, the Paynes did not feel the pain that many small suppliers experienced. On the contrary, second quarter sales have increased 300 percent over the first quarter of 2020. “Even with losing all of our wholesale accounts, we’ve seen an incredible increase in retail sales,” says Charlie Payne. Some small chicken farmers expect to see even more business as the pandemic rolls on, assuming big chicken production plants end up closing their doors as big pork and big beef have. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Payne who raises lamb and pigs in addition to chicken. “In the meat world, we’re still seeing a ripple effect from this with large meatpacking plants going offline.”

Whether or not big production slows, the appreciation for independent and locally-source foods is growing with every seed planted. Back at Hidden Acre Farm, they’re spreading the love, using their new-found fanbase to help their neighbors out too. On Facebook they urge followers to pay a visit to their friends at Maple Grove Farm who have just harvested some fresh 2020 hay. “Patrick Howells and his wife Brooke; (who are veterans) and their two sets of girl twins are just an amazing Christian family. Lorain County 4H Family as well as someone who also makes some DELICIOUS maple syrup. Please let’s support this family and give their page a LIKE and maybe share this post because you never know who may need hay or straw.” You never know… The following post is a picture of their honey bee hive with what looks like two bees holding hands. The caption reads: “Just hang on .. no matter what you’re going through.. just hang on .. and maybe with a little help from your friends.”

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