Demand soars as consumers find new appreciation for local food

Mike Kozlowski, owner of Steel Pony Farm, has received 50 new orders for vegetable boxes this spring — demand that’s much higher than normal for this time of year. Photo: Supplied

By Jennifer Blair
Glacier FarmMedia staff

Demand for local food products has exploded in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’ve seen a very big spike in interest and demand for our products,” said Steph Campbell, who owns and operates Grazed Right, a grass-fed beef company, with husband Ben near Calgary.

“People are panic buying, and that’s spilling over into the local beef markets a little bit. People are looking to stockpile a bit more meat.”

Typically, the couple’s busy time of year is the fall, when their customers stock up on beef, pork, and chicken for the winter. But since the pandemic hit in March, orders and inquiries from new and returning customers have skyrocketed, she said.

“We’ve seen orders go up, and we’ve pretty much sold out of the meat we had in the freezer at this time,” Campbell said in early April. “People are buying in bulk — eighths and quarters and halves of beef — recently, so we’ve already pre-sold probably 15 per cent of our next year’s sales.”

Steph and Ben Campbell, owners of Grazed Right, have already pre-sold 15 per cent of next year’s meat sales as a result of higher-than-normal demand. Photo: Supplied

In a followup on April 23, she said pre-sales had increased to 50 per cent in just two weeks, mostly from new customers.

“I think people are interested in being a little bit more connected to the food chain,” she said. “People are hesitant to go to stores, and supplies in stores are low as well. They want to be able to trust their food sources.”

That’s been Mike Kozlowski’s experience in the farm-fresh vegetable sector as well.

“Demand has gone through the roof,” said the owner of Steel Pony Farm, a community-supported agriculture (CSA) vegetable operation near Red Deer.

For a lot of people who hadn’t previously been thinking at all about food security… it’s going to be important from now on. – Mike Kozlowski

“I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from people who want food right now, and I know it’s not just me — all farms that provide local foods are really being positively impacted by this.”

The pandemic is prompting more and more people to explore direct-to-customer food production, said Kozlowski, who farms with wife MacKenzie.

“For a lot of people who hadn’t previously been thinking at all about food security, it’s now on their radar, and it’s going to be important from now on,” he said.

“On one hand, it’s heartening, because I really feel like this could be a good move toward local, sustainable, secure food systems.

“But on the other hand, people are doing this out of fear, as a last resort, and that’s sad. It sucks to see people in desperation and fear.”

In the past, consumers largely viewed this type of community-supported agriculture as a luxury, in part because of the premium these farm-fresh foods command. But Kozlowski hopes that continues to shift once the pandemic passes.

“I’ve always had a sense of it not being taken that seriously by most people because we’ve got the grocery stores and that food supply,” he said.

“But I think what this is showing us is that we’re not invulnerable. In this case, it’s a global viral pandemic, but it could be a trade war, it could be climate change, it could be so many different things.

I’m really encouraged by the interest and demand, and I hope that people can keep this moving forward. – Steph Campbell

“If we don’t learn a big lesson from COVID-19, we’re going to have other harder lessons to learn in the future.”

And Kozlowski hopes that one of those lessons is localizing food supply a little more.

“Ultimately, I think the world would be a better place if we were all eating more from a local food shed,” he said. “We’d have more relationships with farmers, with each other, and with the land that feeds us.

“For all of us who do this, it’s our life mission to provide food for our communities. It’s just such a great feeling, coming into relationships with these people that we really want to be in service to.”

Campbell agrees.

“It’s making it more of a community-based food system instead of a national or international food system. I like that, and I think other people do, too,” she said.

“I’m really encouraged by the interest and demand, and I hope that people can keep this moving forward to support our little farm family and so many others like us.”

This article was originally published at the Alberta Farmer Express.