Charlotte Minguez, RAFI-USA’s Just Foods Program Coordinator, recently talked with farmer Mario Delgado about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected his farming operations. Mario says that he had to quickly convert to a pre-order system, which was helped greatly by the Geer Street Restaurant allowing him to use their parking lot to connect with his customers picking up their orders.
Charlotte Minguez: How has COVID changed the way you are producing and selling this year?
Mario Delgado: Before COVID, I would just harvest and take what the farm had to the Durham Farmers’ Market. Since COVID, and when the farmers’ market temporarily closed down, we had to quickly convert to a pre-order system for our customers. We had no farm newsletter nor email list of our regular customers, so we had to coordinate with the Durham Farmers’ Market’s listserv in order to get the word to our customers. A wonderful Durham Chef with Geer Street Garden Restaurant — not far from the market — allowed us to use their parking lot for over a month to meet customers with pre-orders. This helped us develop our own email list of regulars that we use to this day. Today, a portion of our sales remain pre-orders, which requires more work on Fridays, sorting and pulling meat orders, and reserving organic vegetable orders. Customers pay with an invoice sent to them on Friday evenings and cash money is no longer used. I feel they are safer and I am safer with a quick pickup of orders and not handling money.
CM: What is your vision for the greenhouse you’re going to build with the grant funds you received, and what do you plan on producing in it?
MD: I am so excited to get a new greenhouse for me and my family to use. My wife and family are hopefully arriving this fall or early winter; the paperwork was submitted last winter for them to come to live and work with me on the farm near Louisburg. My wife and children can help me with planting and harvesting (and marketing) our products. We will continue to study the markets and see what is needed for our customer base — maybe indoor cut flowers or hydroponics.
CM: Have you had any conversations with other farmers or farm workers about how their farming is going in 2020?
MD: Other farmers at our market have also had to adjust their production and marketing due to COVID. Some have developed entirely new ways of marketing and delivery — even at-home deliveries mid-week and more CSA’s. These have been successful for them. June and July were very hot and dry on the crops but with the recent August rains, the crops are looking better and growing. Farmers are now planting their new transplants for the fall crop. I have planted over 4,000 greens transplants in the last two weeks for fall and winter sales.
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