Small farms tackle COVID-19 and Canada’s food system
Small farms are finding new ways to feed people as the COVID-19 pandemic restricts grocery shopping and squeezes supply chains in Canada. Each summer, Sarah and Henry Bakker raise several thousand chickens, a dozen pigs, and a handful of grass-fed cattle at Field Sparrow Farms near Bobcaygeon, Ont.
Most of their sales come from farmers’ markets, so by mid-March, Sarah was worried that market closures would tank their sales numbers. She emailed their customers to offer weekly deliveries.
“We have gotten slammed with orders,” she says. Every week, the Bakkers now deliver meat straight to their customers’ front doors. To meet increasing demand, they’re sourcing extra chicken from a neighbouring farm and a nearby Amish community. “Rural Ontario, rural Canadians … when something breaks, we jump in and help each other fix it,” she says.
Sarah says that people in Toronto are rethinking how and where they’re getting their food — and seeing the weaknesses of international grocery supply chains. She says she’s stressed and anxious about the pandemic, but hopeful and optimistic, too. “I feel like we’re going to come out of this in a new world.”
‘THE BEST FOOD THAT I KNOW HOW TO GROW’
While the average farm size in Canada is 820 acres, small farms are on the rise. In 2016, farms under 10 acres made up nearly seven per cent of farms in Canada. That’s more than 13,000 farms across the country, an increase from 2011.
Rob Veinott has been farming on the road between Halifax and Peggy’s Cove for several seasons. His Edible Earth Farm usually supplies quick salad crops to small farmers’ markets and restaurants, but he’s branching out beyond salad this year.
While many large farmers’ markets are moving online, Veinott says smaller ones like Spryfield and Tantallon may not. He plans to adapt the “fresh sheet” he uses for restaurants for a CSA, giving customers a choice of produce each week. He’s likely to include other growers’ product in his boxes, streamlining the distribution system and diversifying the options for customers.