December 08, 2022

Produce farmers overcome hardship during COVID-19 pandemic

VALPARAISO, Ind. — The COVID-19 pandemic affected many business sectors due to restrictions on large gatherings and regulations put in place to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

One of those sectors was the produce industry and the farmers whose businesses depend on produce stands and agritourism attractions such as you-pick fruit patches and horticulture nurseries.

Liz Maynard, a clinical engagement associate professor of horticulture with Purdue Extension, said when the shutdown first began, horticulture operations and nursery growers were in the middle of growing seedlings, flowers and hanging baskets to sell.

At the time, she noted, there was some confusion about whether those types of practices would be considered essential.

Maynard said the government quickly determined those involved in the agriculture industry were essential workers due to the fact that people had to be able to take care of the crops.

But more uncertainty came for those in the produce sector around April and Mother’s Day because people didn’t know if they would be allowed to open up for business.

Maynard said she saw many questions on Facebook pages for flower operations and markets about whether they were closed and then if they were open, what restrictions and social distancing measures the operation would have in place for both staff and customers.

As spring turned into early summer, Maynard said more confusion arose about whether farmers markets would open up for the season or what restrictions would have to be put into place to ensure everyone’s safety.

Maynard said Purdue Extension wrote up a fact sheet with guidelines for vendors to follow if they had a booth at a farmers market. Likewise, Purdue Extension also crafted a guideline for consumers who wanted to shop local and support their farmers market.

Maynard said a lot of producers that had never used social media for marketing began using it and those who already had a marketing presence found ways to make a bigger impact.

Ashley Estes

Ashley Estes

Field Editor