The Farmer’s Harvest Blog

The State of Local Food in 2022

Small Scale Farmers and Agriculture in 2022

This year’s growing season is starting to take off, and it’s starting to feel like we’re coming out of the “COVID tunnel”, but with more challenges to face than we had previously imagined. Local food and its surrounding community has felt like an anchor for many in a tumultuous time.

Having been involved in local food since we first started buying our own groceries, we’ve had a front row seat to watch the steady evolution of local farms and markets over the years, including as shoppers, volunteers, marketers, and technical contracting.

At least, it was steady up until 2020! We saw the rapid mobilizations of farms and markets making it work: extra-safe food handling measures, masks, online ordering, and unfortunately even some shut downs. Every farm and market had their own strategy, and it was a sight to behold.

The dust of COVID is starting to settle (touch wood), and we’re on to the next set of challenges – some of which we expected, and others we absolutely did not…

War, Supply Chains, and Inflation

The tragic war in Ukraine has thrown us for a loop, both emotionally and in our day-to-day. An astonishing amount of grain, fertilizer, and oil originate from Ukraine and Russia, and trade from both nations has essentially gone offline since the war began. The end result is that the price of goods is increasing at the fastest pace in decades, especially “conventionally produced” food with meat topping the list.

Grazing Cattle

Climate Events

While not specific to 2022, extreme and unusual weather patterns have been showing up more frequently in recent years. From flooding in BC, to an atypically strong storm that ravaged Ontario just recently, and slower more subtle changes, this is becoming a clear reality for farmers in Canada and across the globe. While this does impact all scales of agriculture, small-scale agriculture’s production is typically varied and biodiverse enough that there is little risk of losing an entire year’s production.

Labour Shortages and Expensive Land

It has been more challenging than ever for small farms to find skilled labor, and many have reported just finding farm hands in time for this year’s season by the skin of their teeth. On the other side of the same coin, the rapid increase in property values over the last two years has made severing rural lands more popular than ever, and the cost of agricultural land is simply too expensive for young new small farmers to purchase or rent. Even well-established farmers are struggling with more expensive, and even disappearing, land leases.

“Although we are never glad when tragedy visits, we can be aware and seize the opportunity to do good in this world, even in the midst of tragedy.”

Jim Rohn
Basket of Vegetables

Here’s where you come in…

As a trusted, revered, and resilient local farmer, some of the challenges above are working against you, but many are working for you. This perfect storm is setting the stage for local agriculture to truly challenge “conventional” agriculture, and through tragedy bring positive change.

The trials and tribulations of 2022 have brought the following opportunities…

The Pricing Barrier is Disappearing

When you bring up local food to the uninitiated, without fail you will hear a comment like “Local food is great, but it’s just too expensive”. We know running a small farm is about the hardest work out there, and the financial reward isn’t always the most fruitful. While the cost of local food varies from farm to farm, we will admit that it can be more expensive than what’s stocked at the supermarket, but we also know that quality costs money, and so does supporting our community members.

With large-scale and imported food products hitting record high prices, this barrier is more fiction than fact. In our region, it seems like local farmers haven’t increased their prices in years!

Now is the perfect time to seize the opportunity and change the mindset of those that never saw local food as a viable option. Get in front of them online (you won’t find them at farmers’ markets!), and let them know that local food should be on their menu. And while you’re at it, do us all a favour and make sure you’re charging enough!

Digitization and Online Awareness

Most small farms know it’s important to have an online presence – a website and social media being the top priorites. The focus of all small farms is, understandably, food production (and we know you’re damn good at it), but the branding, marketing, and online awareness can easily be forgotten about in the thick of the growing season.

It has become increasingly important to maintain a professional appearance online – a modern website, high quality photos, and active social media channels. We’ll save the details of each of these aspects for separate articles.

That being said, a well-formed and executed digital marketing strategy isn’t always enough to grow your customer base.

The Convenience Factor

Local Food Delivery

Some people love leisurely shopping at the farmers’ market. Others prefer zipping through the isles of a supermarket, quickly scooping up a pre-packed order, or even having their food delivered to their doorstep.

In 2020, there was a dramatic shift to restructure the local food distribution system. Just about every farm and farmers market scrambled to offer online orders and pre-packaged order pick-ups or deliveries. It was a sight to behold, and the response was unanimously positive despite some customers missing the classic farmers market feeling.

Today, we’re seeing a shift back to the in-person market format, which is great for the typical local food lover, but excludes a huge audience that prefers a quicker and more streamlined shopping experience. On the other side of the same coin, we heard farmers saying they preferred simply dropping off their weekly harvest at the market to be packed up for customer orders, or even offering their own pick-up and delivery options.

Now that the need is no longer there, however, things are quickly returning to the local food status quo.

We’re not suggesting taking everything online, but advocating for a streamlined combination of sales activities to reach a broader audience. Keep your market customers while effortlessly attracting new customers with online pick-up orders.

eCommerce for Local Agriculture

Making your products available online could be the thing that takes your reach to the next level. Farmer’s Harvest offers a complete solution, from an optimized website to a comprehensive online sales solution. Whether you’d like to offer pick-up or delivery, and no matter what kind of food you’re selling, our platform is sure to work for you. Please contact us to see if Farmer’s Harvest is right for you.

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