Sales of Local Food Soar

Pandemic Increases Demand for CSA Shares

In 2007, Adam Barr began selling produce he grew on his family farm in Meade County. Working by himself, he grew and sold an assortment of fresh produce by subscription -- CSA “shares” -- to 11 families.

Barr Farms Family with Adam, Rae, Cedar, Sylvan, and Hazel

(Photo Credit: Noelle Tennis Gulden)

Through the years, produce subscriptions have been a tough sell. Getting people to pay ahead of the season, keeping their choices seasonal, requiring them to prepare a variety of fresh -- sometimes unfamiliar -- vegetables, are a few of the marketing challenges farmers face when they grow for subscription sales. “CSA (requires) a huge amount of communication,” says Adam.

In fact, many farms nationwide have seen a steady decline in their CSA income since the financial crisis of 2008. Those who continue to increase their production, like Adam, work hard at getting new customers and retaining old ones. “The larger we grow the CSA, the more marketing we have to do,” says Adam.

But the pandemic may have changed all that. Adam sold out his 250 CSA subscriptions weeks ago and says many other Kentucky organic farms have also. “We’ve all got waiting lists,” he says. In Anderson County, Hannah Crabtree says she and her husband, Jesse Frost, weren’t planning to offer subscriptions this year at all, but demand required it.

Nationwide the stories are the same. “Demand for local food on Harvie’s farm-to-consumer platform is up over 200% in COVID-19 crisis,” writes Simon Huntley in a press release about the technology he’s created for small farms, like Adam’s, that sell directly to consumers. He attributes the upsurge to a convergence of more people cooking at home, grocery store supplies being less reliable, and consumers becoming more focused on their health.

While the societal change caused by COVID-19 has hurt many farmers, others report that direct sales to consumers have more than compensated for decreasing sales to restaurants.

Adam wonders if all this interest in CSA purchases will transfer to a more

committed consumer base in 2021 and beyond. “Who is the customer this year?” he asks. “Are these people buying . . . because they see the value of local food, or are they buying because the grocery store might not have it?”

While no more CSA shares are available through Barr Farms, you can learn more about Barr Farm's fresh, certified organic vegetables, grass fed beef, and pasture-raised pork and chicken and where to purchase on their OAK Find-A-Farm profile.

You can also find a list of about 6 dozen Kentucky CSAs on Kentucky Proud's directory here; about 10 of them are certified organic.

--Sarah Fritschner, MMO Editor

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