At Fletcher Farms, William Fletcher grows strawberries in the springtime. The fruit peaks roughly around Mother’s Day—meaning the bulk of his season took place during the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
In normal seasons, a large portion of Fletcher Farms’ sales are from restaurants. That all came to a halt when restaurants were forced to close dining rooms.
Fletcher quickly took measures to ensure sanitation on the farm and to keep not only himself and his family safe but also his workers. To compensate for declining restaurant sales, he began selling more at farmers markets in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, as well as two roadside stands on the North Shore. He also sold flats of strawberries in large orders, spreading the word through social media.
“The retail landscape looked a lot different for our consumers,” he says. “Everybody kind of adjusted to the change, and it just worked out.”
In late May, Fletcher Farms was able to wrap up its strawberry sales for the season with enough support to end on a positive note.
Maggie Long of Mushroom Maggie agrees that local farmers markets have been a tremendous help to farmers trying to stay afloat during the pandemic.
Long sells different varieties of mushrooms such as oysters, pioppinis, chestnut, lion’s mane, king trumpet and shiitakes, as well as “grow your own” mushroom fruiting blocks and reishi tinctures. Prior to this spring’s stay-at-home order, most of her business also came from restaurants.
Still relatively new, the two-year-old farm felt the strain of the shutdown.
“For Phase One, we didn’t have any employees,” Long says. “Me and my husband were just tagging in and out between farm work and kids and stuff, and so that was pretty difficult.“
But she says they were fortunate enough to have built a good customer base, particularly at the Red Stick Farmers Market , where she is a regular face.
As patrons of the farmers market have noticed, there have been changes made to ensure customer safety. Attendees are required to wear face masks, social distance while lining up at vendor tents and let the vendors handle and bag items for patrons. Customers are also encouraged to get the products they need and leave rather than prolong their stay to ensure the safety of all patrons.
Vendors have also worked tirelessly behind the scenes to continue offering their products at the farmers markets and at local restaurants.
Both Fletcher and Long say they are starting to see a rise in business now that restaurants are opening back up.
And with this week being National Farmers Market Week, they can hope for a strong turnout of Baton Rouge shoppers showing support for the farmers market’s hard-working vendors and coordinators.
After all, Long points out, fresh fruits and vegetables—such as her reishi mushrooms—have been shown to boost immunity.