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Farmers Helping Farmers

Nothing can replace the good intelligence you get from having a long chat with something in the trenches. That's what happened this week. Mike Novakowsk of Harris Seed was a guest expert on The Grower & The Economist. He covers New York State for Harris Seed, he visits produce auctions several times a week, and he has his own roadside stand with his wife. Mike is living and breathing the changes COVID-19 is having on small and medium-sized farms every day.

In March, a lot of farmers struggled with crop scheduling and deciding how much to grow. Many of Mike clients sell to year-round farmers markets that were closed. They needed new outlets to sell to and quickly. These growers found new opportunities by working together. The farmers started working together and helping each other. They pooled their produce and non-produce farm offerings and launched social media campaigns. Quickly that nervous energy turned to excitement.

Small and medium-sized growers were able to work together, to pivot, and to grow their businesses. These growers have also started selling at produce auctions. There are eight produce auctions in New York and they have been selling out. There are new players at these auctions as well. Mom & Pop grocery stores are struggling to get shipments of produce in, so they are buying from the auction. From the beginning, Peter and I wondered if COVID-19 disruptions would create opportunities for local growers to supply grocery stores, even though before they were considered too small. It sounds like the answer is yes.

It's not just produce that is selling well at the auctions. Mike has seen hanging basket selling for retail prices and higher. Everyone is looking for inventory, demand has recovered and some people cut supply in March because they didn't know what the market would look like. As fear and panic have subsided more customers are looking for colors and diversity. They want to add a few flowers to their homes to brighten things up.

As I mentioned in the beginning Mike is not just reporting on what he's hearing about from other growers, he is living it too. He has a roadside stand. He opened a month early with storage crops he got from nearby farms. Even with a cold and wet April a lot of people still stopped by Mike's stand. He attributes the growth in traffic to being a self-serve option that is not inside a grocery store. People can grab what they want and get back into their cars.

Mike has experienced the outpouring of community support for his farm stand. He's also seen an increase in his social media outreach. People are requesting deliveries from 15 to 20 miles away. Others are requesting gift packages shipped to Colorado!

It was great talking to Mike and learning from his experience this spring. Listen to the full episode at


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