This interview is part of a series chatting with local business owners, artists, organizers and people in our community who are learning to adapt during COVID-19.
Paul Stewart + Shira Katzberg – Footstep Organics
What does working from home look like for you?
As two full-time farmers we’re always working from home. So in a lot of ways this has been nothing new. What has been new is having our kindergartener at home. While it has its challenges and creates a huge amount of inefficiency in what we do, she has been very patient and great at joining in to tackle jobs. We even started paying her.
How have you adapted your operations during the pandemic?
The pandemic has meant the closure of all farmers’ markets for the foreseeable future. This has forced us to find a new way to market our vegetables. To do this we have expanded our Community Supported Agriculture program to include a lower commitment, short-term monthly subscription as opposed to the annual subscription we typically offer. This has been overwhelmingly popular, especially locally in the Quinte West area. We have also joined some online portals for selling our vegetables.
How have you been supported by the community?
Our local community and community of market shoppers have been hugely supportive. The moment markets closed we began to receive social media messages, emails and phone calls asking where to find our vegetables.
We think people understand how vastly different the vegetables purchased direct from a small farm are from those you find in a grocery store, and they wanted to maintain that connection.
Additionally, with people looking to avoid the crowds at the grocery store and stay home, we have received a lot of new interest in our home delivery options. This has meant a big spike in our CSA membership.
What is something good that has come from this difficult situation?
As a new farm in Quinte West — we moved our business here in 2016 — it has been great to meet so many new people and gain new customers from the surge in interest in local food. Finding this group of local engaged eaters has been great. It inspires us to grow our presence and sales in the Quinte West area.
What advice do you have for other business owners/organizers/artists/etc at this time?
We are hesitant to give any advice to businesses on what to do during this time. We all need to continue to follow the advice of our public health officials and stay home. It will be up to other businesses to decide if this is a good time to take a break, work on things behind the scenes or potentially pivot to provide essential services.
For those businesses that are deemed essential it is important that we continue to provide people with our services. It may mean more work and some restructuring but, especially in the case of food production, it needs to continue.
We are concerned for a lot of small businesses at this time and think it’s necessary that we all advocate for more government relief for these small businesses. A commercial rent freeze is critical for many of these businesses, as well as a relief package [for] small restaurants to make sure that these places can be there for us at the end of this.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
While we have seen a lot of great interest and expansion in our vegetable box deliveries and CSA membership, the bulk of our business is done through farmers’ markets, [which typically] make up 80% of our gross sales.
We won’t be able to transition entirely to food box deliveries. Our business isn’t modeled this way and we lack the infrastructure for that level of packing and delivery. We need farmers’ markets to reopen with all necessary social distancing measures in place in order to keep our business solvent through 2020.
Stay tuned as we share more local folks who are Makin’ It Work, and check out our weekly interviews (of the same name) on Instagram Live every Friday.