Small farmers finding alternative ways to get goods to consumers

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Belinda and Donnie Carringer, Carringer Farms, have come up with an alternative, COVID-19-safe way to get their abundance of fresh produce to local consumers with pick-up arranged either at a pre-determined location or at the local tailgate market.

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

Spring has sprung, and that means strawberries are ripening, greens and root vegetables are still being harvested, and peas and more will be available soon. 

Donnie Carringer is harvesting all types of greens and lettuces on the farm he owns and operates with his wife, Belinda.

“Our local farms and businesses need support now more than ever to keep them up and going. Most farmers have already started planning and planting for the upcoming seasons. For those of us who have greenhouses, we started planting as early as December 2019. For the consumers who support farmers, you get local, fresh, and nutritious produce,” said Belinda Carringer, who owns and operates Carringer Farms with her husband, Donnie. 

“We have had to get creative and think outside of the box this year as to how to reach customers and also be safe because of the virus outbreak,” she added.

Each Saturday, the Carringers send out an e-newsletter with information about what is available from their farm. Individuals can request to be put on the e-newsletter list by emailing carringerfarms@yahoo.com. Orders can be sent via email. The Carringers are delivering orders on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. at the old Wal-Mart parking lot.

“Our customers just pull up and we come to them with their goodies,” she said. “They pay [cash or check] and can be on their way. We are wearing gloves and using hand sanitizer. We want to make this as safe as possible for all of us.”

Currently, some of the fresh produce offered by the Carringers include potatoes (Kennebec and Russet) turnips, kale, swiss chard, collards, microgreens, and spring salad mix. Eggs, as well as homemade jams and jellies, breads, and granola, are also available weekly. 

Joe Deal and his father, Butch, are the principles of Deal Farms, which has a produce site on Hwy 64, Murphy Road, before the pass at Winding Stair. In about two weeks their anticipated strawberries will be ripe enough to sell. After that, other crops will be harvested and sold at the produce stand. 

“We’re trying to think differently, while following the guidance from CDC and the governor, and still be customer friendly,” said Deal. “So, we will probably just have [parking lot] service and we’re also talking about offering door-to-door deliveries for some people who cannot get out. And we’ll probably have some tailgate markets throughout the season.” 

Deal said customers can learn on the farm’s website what is available, and they can even order ahead. 

“It’s so important that locals support us and other Macon County farmers and businesses,” said Deal. “The tourists are not able to come right now, so we need local support more than ever.” 

Christy Bredenkamp, director of Macon County Cooperative Extension (MCCE), said that for now at least, produce and other locally sustained goods can be purchased at local produce stands and by vendors who sell at the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market in downtown Franklin. “Distancing is respected,” she said. 

She and others have pointed out that consumers need not be afraid of purchasing and eating fresh produce. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement on March 17 to allay fears: “Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.”

Bredenkamp relayed that up-to-date information about food resources is available on the MCCE Facebook site. Plus, at least a dozen articles are accessible at https://covid19.ces.ncsu.edu.

“It’s always important to support local, whether in a time of crisis or not,” said Bredenkamp. “It’s their livelihood. And they are working hard to accommodate consumers.” 

Winding Stairs Nursery offers bedding plants and “slots” in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) that offers seasonal produce. Photo by Vickie Carpenter

Amanda Chappell, general manager at Winding Stair Farm and Nursery, said, “We are not taking items to the farmer’s market any more. Instead, we are offering seasonal CSA [community supported agriculture] … customers can buy a share of whatever is in season from the farm. They get a box weekly. Thirty shares were offered and there are five left. Right now the nursery is appointment only and people can buy seasonal produce and eggs without having to subscribe to a CSA. Customer can make an appointment really easily online. And there are all kinds of vegetable plants so they can plant their own. There is this growing movement going on right now; people are even talking about making victory gardens like from the past so produce can be shared when the harvests come in.”

Hannah and Alan Edwards are not farmers; they own Yonder. However, since opening their small breakfast and lunch eatery on Georgia Highway in Franklin, they have been committed to using locally sourced foods. When COVID-19 resulted in their doors closing, temporarily, they decided they would connect consumers with sources by providing an online site on which to order products. 

“It has always been our mission to connect folks to farmers and other local vendors, which, in turn, is why we opened Yonder, our amazing little locally sourced, organic eatery,” said Hannah Edwards. “Small communities like this and others, have so many resources for local goods. Farmers are all over these hills, and surrounding ones, and they’ve put in the work to plant and harvest their goods, which has not stopped because of the COVID-19 outbreak. With all restaurants closed now, they’re stuck with tons of supply and only a Saturday market in town. We have always had future plans of doing a brick and mortar market … but with that now on hold, it basically lit a fire under us to do it now.”

On Fridays at 8 p.m., Yonder opens what is essentially an online farmer’s market through eatrealfood.com site. The market remains open through Sunday evening or Monday morning. Homemade bread, fresh produce, local eggs, milk from a creamery in Mill’s River, Pisgah Coffee Roasters coffee, and meats from area sources are all available to order – plus homemade jams and more. Orders are pre-paid online and then consumers pick up on Thursday evenings between 5 and 7 p.m. in front of the Yonder eatery. 

“By shopping at Yonder Farmers Market, we cut down on transport time which lowers our impact on the environment as well as providing everyone with fresher, more nutrient-dense foods,” said Edwards. “It is also important, in our opinion, to put money back into our local economy. These hard working farmers and vendors are using their land, their resources, their labor, and their money to provide goods to the consumer. Our small economy needs support in times like these for sure, but our hope is that when coming out of this, we think more clearly about what matters and where we are putting our dollars. We speak for food here and now. But in general, we hope people’s lifestyle and behaviors shift to a more community-minded way of being a consumer.”

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