The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has forced restaurants to temporarily close, but the growers who provide chefs with fresh produce are still harvesting and putting food on the table.
“We’re still growing it. We’re offering it for direct home delivery,” said Ken Myszka, owner of Epiphany Farms Hospitality Group, which operates four restaurants with food produced on a 75-acre spread near Downs. The timing of the virus crisis at the beginning of the growing seasons has helped reduce the impact on growers, he said.
The farm-to-table link became farm-to-home recently as the coronavirus threat closed restaurants and other businesses. The public has welcomed the opportunity to buy fresh produce and other farm-raised products, said Myszka.
“It’s been awesome so far. We planned on launching home delivery later this year anyway, but this forced us to do it sooner than anticipated,” said Myszka.
Customers can go to the Epiphany Farms website for order and delivery information.
Home delivery has been brisk for Down At The Farms, a Fairbury-based marketing and delivery service, according to Will Travers, who operates the consortium of more than 60 central Illinois farmers. Chefs, grocers, institutions and a growing number of families buy products from Down At The Farms.
“I would say this week that 90% of our business came from new customers,” said Travers.
The 40 to 50 individuals who ordered from the food hub replaced the same number of restaurants who could not place orders because of the virus shutdown, said Travers.
The shift in customer base and delivery requires creativity and flexibility, but growers view the changes as an opportunity to expand their businesses.
“We plan to grow these individuals as customers. We’re excited to see the new prospects,” said Travers.
Down At The Farms posts a list of available products every Friday on its website for first-come, first-served orders.
Grocery stores also are building new connections with smaller producers as they struggle to keep high- demand items on the shelf.
Dave Jackson, owner of Sav a Lot in Clinton, now stocks milk from Kilgus Farmstead in Fairbury. The limited availability of some sizes of milk from a larger producer and Kilgus’ connection to a DeWitt County farm led Jackson to the smaller supplier. The Ted DeMent farm in rural DeWitt County raises cows for the Kilgus Farmstead until they are old enough for the dairy operation.
“Making these connections with local producers has been positive. We’re going to keep them,” said Jackson.
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