Pandemic and profit: Local farms thrive during COVID-19

Kalia Richardson, The Independent Alligator

GAINESVILLE, FL – Baby chicks waddle around the pasture, munching on corn feed. Ducks flutter webbed feet and dip their bills in a man-made pool. At one local farm, it’s business as usual. At another across town, the pasture is quieter than normal.

Large farms nationwide have been grappling with declining crop and livestock demand due to COVID-19. The economic downturn has been debilitating for many larger farms in the U.S.

However, some small Alachua County farmers have used COVID-19 as an opportunity to sprout their businesses.

“We’ve upped our poultry numbers since everything happened because I bet demand for the product went up,” said Joelle Wood, founder of one local farm. “There just wasn’t anything available in the grocery store.”

Small farm owners in the Alachua County area who pride themselves in selling organic produce and organic-fed protein have built business models that repel the negative effects of COVID-19, Wood said. Large farms have had to throw away crops and euthanize livestock. However, by selling directly to consumers, Wood said she has not had this issue.

Joelle and Will Wood founded The Old Fashioned Farmstead, a protein farm in Alachua, in 2016. Joelle said although COVID-19 has caused minor issues like delayed shipping to the farm, it has benefitted their sales. Joelle’s farm utilizes a direct consumer convenience model where no major distributor is involved, she said. Food is delivered, available for pickup at specified locations or available for pickup at the farm.

“Once COVID came around, it kind of boosted what we were doing,” she said. “It encouraged our current customers to buy a little bit more. But then it also encouraged other people who have heard about us or thought about it before to actually be like, ‘Hey, I’m gonna place an order this week.’”

The protein farm currently has about 500 chickens, 50 ducks, 12 pigs and 100 turkeys. Joelle said that all animals are supplemented with organic, non-GMO feed. All poultry are pasture-raised, and all pigs are forest-raised.

Joelle said The Old Fashioned Farmstead shifted their harvesting schedule from once or twice a month to about every week due to higher demand brought on by COVID-19.

“We want to be able to sell directly to the people who will be eating the food and be able to talk to them about it, tell them how to cook it, build that relationship,” Wood said.

As the close-knit relationship from farmer to consumer strengthens at The Old Fashioned Farmstead, Deep Spring Farm has a slightly different tale to tell.

Leela Robinson, Deep Spring farmer, said that COVID-19 negatively impacted their larger-scale events, which has led to fewer visitors coming to the farm.

“It’s not like a red, white and blue farm that a lot of people know about,” Robinson said. “It’s a small farm, and it’s going to appeal to a smaller number of people.”

Deep Spring Farm sits on 23 acres in Alachua, Florida, and offers nature walks and yoga classes to visitors. The farm has two spring-fed ponds and an organic garden.

“We were planning this was going to be our professional year, hosting weddings, and that’s just been postponed,” Robinson said.

Robinson said that most visitors come to enjoy a swim in the spring. Despite having to host more private events, Robinson said yoga classes, for example, have enabled easy social distancing. Fewer visitors has also led to the decline of on-site vegetable purchases. Due to COVID-19, they have had no weddings scheduled for 2020.

While they’ve seen less business lately, she hopes they can still draw crowds due to the nature of the farm.

“It’s a kind of a private escape,” Robinson said. “I think people can safely come to the farm to social distance, no matter what.”

Deep Spring Farm has focused a closer eye on private events and their crops. It is currently harvesting red and hot peppers and plans to harvest muscadine grapes in August.

The Old Fashioned Farmstead and Deep Spring Farm both have had to adapt to the world amid the virus.

“We have the skills and the tools to be resilient,” she said. “I hope in the future we can share that with the community.”


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