Summer is my favorite food season. It’s the season of fruits and vegetables I crave. We are at peak season right now. Freshly picked corn, luscious peaches dripping with sweetness, tomatoes-green stripes, dark chocolate, yellow pear and cherry red, and more-all juicy and endless varieties of squash–yellow, zucchini, and patty pan to name a few. The best and freshest summer produce come directly from a farmer. Unfortunately, with COVID-19, the 2020 farm season got upended. My rhythm for purchasing from local farms has significantly changed with only three farmers market visits the whole 2020 growing season. In previous growing seasons, I pick up a weekly Tuesday Community Supported Agriculture (“CSA”) delivery plus visit the farmers market at least three to four times a month. Thankfully, I had signed up for my Local Roots Farm CSA before COVID had unleashed its uncertainty.
Most small diversified farming operations have multiple income streams to maintain a profitable business through a growing season. A farmer’s mainstay may be a CSA delivery program and selling at one or more weekly farmers markets. Nearly every small farm operator needs multiple business channels which could include wholesale, selling to restaurants, supplying a local Food Hub, servicing local schools and universities or being a supplier to a tech company’s on-site food service.
Now with college campuses and schools closed and downtown employees and Seattle area tech workers all working from home, multiple opportunities for farmers to sell their products are lost. Compared to durable goods, food has a relative short shelf life. Farm fresh produce only lasts so long. It must be refrigerated or frozen or processed. Jams, pickles, frozen berries, chutneys, kimchee, and sauerkraut are all summer’s bounty processed in the summer to be savored in the winter.
As with any profession, those that innovate survive and flourish. Farmers must be creative and look for opportunity. Two Washington-based small farms, Local Roots Farm and Collins Family Orchards, are both innovative, know how to tell their story and use their current customer networks to expand and grow their business during these unprecedented COVID times.
Local Roots Farm
Local Roots Farm has been my CSA for five years with my neighborhood drop off site just six driveways away around the block. Just as the pandemic became real in early March, Local Roots realized that half their income was in jeopardy because of loss of restaurant sales.
They quickly pivoted, reached out to their current CSA membership to recruit new subscribers and added a Saturday delivery date with new and returning customers. In early August excess produce still needed to be sold. Restaurant sales had not rebounded and local road construction near the farm detoured potential drive-by customers away from the Local Roots roadside stand. Innovation and creativity is the name of any successful business.
Local Roots began offering occasional Peak Summer Produce Boxes delivered to their Seattle based drop off sites. The $65 box is filled with a plethora of seasonally available veggies from their Duvall farm and other regional farms. The first Peak Summer Produce Box was August 14. They are also selling boxes of “seconds” tomatoes suitable for immediate processing to sauce. The Snoqualmie Valley on-site farmstand has been relocated to an easily accessible location in downtown Duvall. To get information on these two opportunities for local food sign up at Local Roots. I promise you will not get too many emails-farmers are farming-not sending emails!
Collins Family Orchards
Collins Family Orchards, a Selah, Washington farm, also pivoted. Collins business is largely farmers market retail and lots of wholesale accounts. Because of COVID protocols, farmers markets are not as populated. Volunteers monitor the entrance and exit to permit only a limited number of people in the outdoor market to allow social distancing. The lines to get into the market can be as short as five minutes to as long as 30 minutes. Short lines are good for me but not so good for the farmers. Short lines means fewer customers and potentially fewer sales.
Collins Family Orchards COVID pivoted, too. Their CSA fruit delivery service filled pre-COVID. With fewer market and wholesale customers, Collins now offers free weekly deliveries of 10 and 20 pound fruit boxes with luscious summer and fall fruits, peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots, apples and more. If you don’t know a pluot–it’s a cross between an apricot and plum–30% apricot and 70% plum. Pluots have the firmness of apricots and the sweetness of plums. Yum! A ten pound mixed fruit sampler box is available, too. Online orders are available from Friday until Tuesday at 8 p.m. Deliveries are scheduled for Thursdays and Fridays in the Seattle metropolitan area from Tacoma north to Everett and as far east as Maple Valley, Sammamish and Redmond. Sign up for the Collins email here.
I admit, I’m a fruit-aholic. Fruit’s sweetness satisfies my sugar cravings. Lately I’ve purchased 20 pound boxes of peaches. It’s a lot of peaches! My go-to recipe is crock-pot cooked peach butter. There is “no butter” in peach butter, just lots of concentrated peach flavor. It takes a lot of fresh fruit to cook down to create a fruit butter. Peach butter in a crock-pot is super easy because the peaches are slowly cooked down, which intensifies the natural sugars and the peach flavor. Butters require a fifth of the sugar that jams require. I add ginger, cinnamon, and a little bit of sugar for flavor. It’s easy and freezes or cans well. Refined white sugar is less expensive than fresh fruit, hence commercially made products have less fruit and more sugar. My go to fruit butter recipe from Tasty Table is here.
My mantra. Eat in season. Buy from local farmers. Preserve the harvest for the winter whether through butters or freezing. Winter is coming. The taste of summer will be so good! Yum!