Every year the Brattleboro Food Co-op invites its growers to gather and share their experiences with the BFC over the previous season. It’s our first sign of spring around here! This year, a dozen of our farm partners participated, our highest attendance ever! Turns out—as with a number of other discoveries we have made in this unlikely time—Zoom meetings are pretty conducive to farmers’ busy lives, and they were more than happy to join us without having to come down to the store.
How has the pandemic affected our local farms? Well, to a person, they agreed that they had had a successful year. As with most businesses, there was a fair amount of retooling and reprioritizing of certain channels over others, but all saw increased sales last year. Some talked about the relative normalcy that farming allowed them, and even noted the added bonus of having children around. Several noticed that the public also felt that the farms provided a semblance of normalcy and many came to pick-their-own, shop the farm stores, and participate in CSAs. In fact, CSAs have really boomed throughout this pandemic.
Many also lauded their crews. Several of our farm partners talked about relying on loyal, stable crews for several years, and the pandemic’s effects continued to offer plenty of work. The farmers were grateful to their staff, another similarity with our Co-op!
Some interesting bits: one of our farm partners, Old Friends Farm in Amherst, MA, expected to have fewer sales of cut flowers this year, as a result of reprioritizing by the public in light of the pandemic. But in fact, the Co-op sold more of their cut flower bouquets this year than last year—a pleasant surprise. We postulated that perhaps some local beauty was still important, and that these types of simple pleasures still had a place in our adjustments to the new normal (plus it’s easy to show off fresh arrangements on all those Zoom meetings!).
Another interesting topic was the movement in the organic farming community to participate in the “Real Organics” project, highlighted by Howard from High Meadows. This is an effort born of the reaction to the USDA’s decision to allow hydroponically grown produce (where the roots are fed by water-borne nutrients versus those in the soil) to market as regular organic with no differentiation. Several of our organic farms are members of this project, one made more interesting by its farmer-led approach. Historically organic farming has been very much about soil health and symbiosis of organisms, and you may see this differentiation in the “Real Organics” label on products. More about this in a future Food for Thought.
You might have noticed that the bulk herb section in the Wellness department is back! New easy-pour dispensers make it possible to distribute herbs into receptacles with a minimum of touch, although we do ask that you wear disposable gloves to do so. Soon, this will arrive in the Bulk department, and life will begin to feel even more normal over there as well.
Speaking of Wellness, we sadly bid adieu to Carla Magbie, who capably led our Wellness department for the last five or so years, but has moved up north. In her place, we welcome Chris Dubis, who comes to us from our friends at the Willimantic Co-op in Connecticut. We are excited to have his leadership, expertise, and kindness in our midst, and we are grateful to Willimantic Co-op for getting Chris inspired about cooperatives!
The pandemic buying patterns have favored several departments in our store and challenged others. Overall, the Co-op is doing very well, though sales have begun to trend slightly slower lately. Thank you for all your support during these trying times. We’re going to make it!
See you in the aisles,
By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager