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Farmers in the DMV see boost in retail business, but unsure how long it will last

With more shoppers avoiding the grocery store and cooking at home more, farmers are seeing an increase in retail sales. But will the trend last post-pandemic?

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Two local farmers said they are seeing an increase in their retail sales as people are forced to cook at home, but the spike has some local farmers concerned if that will continue post-pandemic.

"It's been fun to see how relieved people seem to be about coming to pick up things and not having to go into a store right now," Sharon Fraley, owner and operator of East Rivendell Farm in Damascus, said. 

Fraley said they have seen an increase in neighborhood customers purchasing their produce, eggs, dairy and meats. She said customers are able to call in or place an order online, and then pick their orders up in front of the store.

"A lot of people are scared," Fraley said. "A lot of people are fearful of going out into public, and this seems to be easing their mind." 

She said they’ve seen so much business that they’re struggling to keep up the demand, and even ran out of their fresh eggs.

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Fraley has been using Facebook to show customers what's available on what days. The customers are then able to order online rather than coming into the store.

Jesse Straight, the owner and lead farmer of Whiffletree Farm in Northern Virginia, said they’ve also seen an increase in retail sales, but the other half of their business has been shut down.

"Before the coronavirus, about 50% of our business was with restaurants," Straight said. "So that part of the business is, obviously, zilch, and I feel very bad for our restaurants -- they're in a really rough spot. The other half of our business is with retail, and those people who are eating all those meals out before, are now eating them at home. So retail is up." 

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Straight sells chicken, eggs, pork and beef and he said everything is non-GMO. He said he too is grateful for the exposure his farm has received during this unprecedented time, but said it’s difficult to figure out how long retail sales like this are going to last.

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Whiffletree Farm has been letting a certain number of customers come into their store.

"It could be the kind of thing where we ramp up production and then find ourselves just sitting on a huge inventory," Straight said. "It’s difficult to figure out, with farming obviously there's a lag time between when we produce our food and what customers want. So it's not like a factory where you're just pumping out more widgets. We work within biological time frames." 

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He said one thing he, and other local farmers, are doing right now is changing the way they operate to adapt to this new normal, with many local farmers offering curbside, drop off, and delivery services.

"What I'm excited about as we're getting more local traffic more people right in our community are having more exposure to us," Fraley said. "I'm hoping that with them seeing the difference in taste of doing fresh local, as opposed to having things brought across the country, that maybe some of this will stick after this is all over." 

RELATED: Dairy farmers begin to flush away milk due to coronavirus

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