Direct Agricultural Marketing Specialist
No one could have predicted the unrest the COVID-19 pandemic caused. Despite all we have been through, Ohio’s local food producers are still producing.
Because of the relationships built over the years with Ohio’s local food consumers, many producers are reporting some of their best sales ever. At the same time, many other small businesses throughout Ohio are struggling.
Ohio’s agricultural producers were quick to pitch in and help. Whether they pivoted their entire business model to participate in the Farmers to Food Box program, or to online sales that could be fulfilled in socially distant manners, it once again proves that agricultural producers are flexible, resilient, and willing to do what they can to make sure everyone in their community has access to locally produced, healthy foods.
The Ohio State University Extension Direct Food & Agricultural Marketing team was proud to serve producers by assisting them with accessing the information needed to continue to provide foods to Ohioans as the pandemic began and continues still. We quickly partnered with the OSU Produce Safety Team to share science-based information on how producers could continue to operate in the safest possible manner.
We also offered a variety of presentations to help them evaluate and adopt online sales platforms, drive-thru markets, and nutrition assistance benefits for the many Ohioans who found themselves food insecure. Nearly 2,000 individuals viewed the presentations live or recorded. There were also 1,300 views of the team website where the COVID-19 resources were housed along with other marketing materials and videos.
The team also developed the Retail Agriculture – Guidance for Operations during the COVID-19 Pandemic bulletin to assist our producers with operating during the pandemic. You can download the bulletin by visiting go.osu.edu/operations.
While this has been a time unlike any other, we are looking forward to continuing to provide education and assistance to Ohio’s local food producers moving forward. We have many events in the works in the coming months to help further the success of Ohio’s local food producers.
We are currently collaborating with the Farmers Market Coalition and the Ohio Farmers Market Network on a North Central Region SARE-funded professional development program to assist Ohio’s farmers market managers, stakeholders, and Extension educators to better understand what resources are available to assist with data collection and analysis for decision-making. Farmers markets are an essential access point for locally produced foods. This was never more evident than during the pandemic. Having the resources necessary to collect and analyze data at the market level will go a long way toward ensuring our farmers markets remain successful access points for local food consumers and market outlets for our local food producers.
We are also in the planning stages for our annual AgirtourismReady conference. We missed the opportunity to gather with our agritourism operators last year, as it was canceled right as the stay-at-home orders were issued in Ohio. While we are planning to gather virtually this year, we are looking forward to providing the information and education our operators need to continue to successfully provide a positive interaction with Ohio’s citizens and our farmers. With the amount of time we have spent social distancing, we anticipate increased demand for on-farm activities and events this coming season. One method of helping to ensure sufficient social distancing while participating in on-farm activities has been for operators to offer pre-sale tickets online. This has helped them better control the number of visitors to their farms, reduced the number of staff needed, and help ensure a more pleasurable experience for all. We anticipate our agritourism operations will continue this new practice into the future.
While we do not have data to know all the impacts of the pandemic on our farmers and food consumers, we look forward to continuing to reach out and serve Ohio’s local food producers, direct marketers, and agritourism enterprises. If you would like to learn more about the OSUE Direct Food & Agricultural Marketing Program, email Christie Welch firstname.lastname@example.org or Anna Adams email@example.com. Recorded trainings can be viewed at southcenters.osu.edu/direct-marketing.