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Local small farmers look to survive in age of COVID-19
Local farmer Billy Duggar
Local farmer Billy Duggar, owner of Billy’s Botanicals in Richmond Hill, said COVID-19 has hit his business hard. Photo provided.

All around us things are changing, at least for the immediate future. But one thing remains the same - people need food and farmers produce food.

Many of the conventional ways that food used to travel from farms to people’s plates are being uprooted; restaurants are being forced to change the way they do business or close down altogether, supply chains to grocery stores have been disrupted or slowed by dramatic increases in purchases and food coming from afar is taking longer to arrive on the shelves.

But this doesn’t have to be bad news all around. While the restaurant industry is taking a very hard hit, local farms around the country and right here at home are still producing high quality food that needs to be eaten.

Many small farms have relied heavily on orders from restaurants to keep them in business. Billy Duggar, owner of Billy’s Botanicals in Richmond Hill, estimates that 80 percent of his sales were restaurant-based. Not only has his small farm taken a big hit, but both Billy and his wife Ana were also employed in the restaurant business.

“It’s been a little bit of a wild ride for the past seven or eight days,” Duggar explained. “Both of us getting laid off within a couple days of each other; just like everybody else, we’re facing uncharted territory and unfamiliar life scenarios.”

“We feel pretty fortunate that we have the farm and we have that source of some income,” he went on to say.

“We’re just trying to deal with it the best we can … we have access to this fresh food and we have an obligation to get it to people who need it and want it.”

During this past week, the Duggars have worked hard to adjust their farm’s business plan to not only help them stay afloat financially, but to also meet a growing need in the local community for good, fresh, wholesome food delivered!

Not only do they grow produce, but their farm also serves as a seafood processing center for local fishermen.

These fishermen have also lost restaurant revenue and Duggar is working with them to help their catch land on local plates as well.

Fish and produce are listed on the farm’s social media sites every week and customers can place their orders there for home delivery.

“As food producers … and I feel I can speak for other farmers … we have an obligation to get food to people who need it. It’s a burden and a badge of honor at the same time,” Duggar said.

Just down the road from Billy’s Botanicals is another small farm, Northern Belle Farms, where Elizabeth (Liz) Giard has a steady supply of duck and chicken eggs, herbs and vegetable plants for sale. She has been in business for almost a year and has seen a boom in business over this past week.

“People hear from other people and it’s been booming lately ... I feel it’s good that people are now looking at local food differently.”

During this time of uncertainty when people are returning to their kitchens out of necessity, it’s a great time to source local ingredients for cooking healthy meals at home. Local farms are doing what they do best, producing good food. And now, more than ever, they need the support of local consumers to keep that work going.

Elizabeth Giard
Elizabeth Giard of Northern Belle Farms says business is booming lately. Photo provided.
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