Pitchfork Farm COVID-19 Update
One local farmer that we reached out to was Eric Seitz down the road at Pitchfork Farm.
How are you doing considering the current circumstances we find ourselves in?
Firstly, we’re healthy and safe, and doing well. My wife and I had our first child, a baby boy, Jules, in late March, which was scary given all that’s happening, but we’re home now and having a ball being parents to this little peanut. As far as the farm goes, like most businesses, we’re struggling with all of the unknowns and trying to best plan for a summer with so much uncertainty. So much of our farm business is reliant on our partnerships with area restaurants, cafes and food trucks. With all of them closed, we’ve seen our sales to 80% of our accounts grind to an absolute halt. Trying to balance spring work and how much of our hired crew we’ll actually need with no real sense of whether restaurants will re-open this summer has made for a fairly stressful spring. Right now we’re staying the course as far as our crop planning, and focusing on making sure our wholesale to our grocery stores and distributors remains stable.
Vermont has an amazing history of supporting its local communities and farmers, any specific moments that have stood out to you during this time?
The Vermont Foodbank put in a tremendous order of beets and other root crops in March that was a huge financial boost for us. Typically they put in orders in the spring for a fall delivery, but the received emergency relief funding to make supplemental purchases outside of their normal schedule. It’s been tremendous for us, helping us move many tons of crops that would normally go to restaurants that are currently shuttered. Without these large purchases from the Vermont Foodbank, we’d be sitting on a mountain of root crops without anywhere to send them.
How do you see Vermont farmers adjusting to the “new normal”?
I’m not sure yet. Obviously CSA farms are probably seeing an uptick in interest, while market farms are probably feeling a bit nervous about the coming season and trying to make some plans to weather the season. As a wholesale farm with no CSA or farmers markets, we’re eying our payroll as the primary means of coming through this. 60% of our revenue comes from restaurants, the other 40% from grocery stores and distributors. While we’ve seen a steep uptick from stores and distributors, without our restaurants to whom we sell 1000-1400 lbs. a week of salad greens (our main crop on the farm) we’re going to see a fairly catastrophic drop in revenue in the summer months. We’ve considered starting a CSA or doing home delivery to folks, but it’s probably just too complex a program to build on the fly for what will ultimately be a drop in the bucket compared to our lost sales. Unfortunately, it will probably come down to how many crew members we can hire. We typically have 12-14 crew members by mid-June. My guess is we’ll have to try and get by with less than half that amount. The fact remains, though, that people will need to eat and many Vermonters will want to eat what we produce. We're forging ahead with our normal crop plan, with the hopes that new avenues for distribution will emerge in the coming months.
How are you changing or innovating your farming practices during this time?
The only changes are around safety protocols. Things like wearing PPE and having bottles of sanitizer at each greenhouse door. It’s honestly a huge pain in the butt that 2 people can’t ride in the same farm truck. We’re having to get clever about how we move people from field to field without anybody getting too close to each other. Same for washing crops, planting crops, greenhouse work, etc. It’s all a huge pain in the butt.
What are you looking forward to most once the “stay-at-home” order gets lifted?
Eating at any one of the 40+ restaurants we work with! I can’t wait to eat some al pastor at Taco Gordo, get some oysters at Great Northern or meet my friends for supper at Poco. I also can’t wait for our many loved ones to get to meet our baby boy who we’ve been in isolation with since he was born. He's got grandparents and aunts and uncles and so many best friends who've only met him through video. There's going to be a lot of happy tears when we can all get together.
Any words of hope or inspiration you would like to share?
My son Jules River was born 5 weeks early under extreme duress in the midst of a pandemic. He wasn't breathing when he was born and he spent the first 6 days of his life in NICU at UVMMC. I couldn’t leave because if I did, I wouldn’t be permitted back into the hospital. In the midst of all of this were the nurses and doctors who took care of him and my wife (and me) for 8 days. They were kind and compassionate and fearless taking care of the tiniest, most vulnerable little people in the face of a pandemic no living person recalls. They saved my sons life and they did it knowing they had to come into a building everyday where the very sickest among us were being taken. I don't have words to describe my gratitude. All I can say is that, to the people working in the hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, we see you. We know what you’re risking every day, and we will never ever forget the work you’re doing. Thank you all.
To see more stories and highlights from other local farmers, be sure to check out our Local Farmers Carry On page.