RIDGEFIELD, CT — Much has been made of how the coronavirus lockdown permanently shuttered many restaurants, and is greatly diminishing the revenue prospects of those that have reopened. There’s been less conversation about what that meant for those one level up on the food chain, the farmers who sell the food to the restaurants.
Pre-pandemic, Horseshoe Farm, a 14-acre sustainable farm in Ridgefield, sold 80 percent of its harvest to local restaurants. When the owner, “Farmer Pete” Campbell, saw those kitchen lights flicker and go out, he knew his business would have to pivot to stay afloat.
With restaurants no longer ringing his phone, Campbell decided to focus on his retail operation. During its five years in business, Horseshoe had always run a modest farm stand on weekends. But although the state allowed him to keep that “essential” food business open, getting enough COVID-skittish customers in to browse through each week’s harvest was proving an insurmountable obstacle.
So, like the schools, gyms, and libraries before him, Campbell decided to move his operation online. He turned to one of his farmhands, Jimmy Kelly, who had some digital experience, to create a community supported agriculture (CSA) business that would have legs post-virus as well. It would also need to make sense post-spring and summer, as well. A full 95 percent of the farm is devoted to maple syrup production and a state-of-the-art sugaring operation.
Normally with a CSA, residents pay seasonally for their “share,” and may not have a lot of choice, week-to-week, of what veggies they can walk home with. At Horseshoe, with the online website, patrons only need to fork over money the weeks when they like what they see. The online offerings go beyond traditional CSA veggie fare to include floral arrangements and, of course, maple syrup products.
“Buying stuff online is maybe the future for lot of farms in the area,” Kelly said, if for no other reason than the process is contactless and residents are not exchanging credit cards.
Mondays customers place their order online from what is fresh that week. On Wednesday and Thursday, farmhands take those grocery lists and harvest the produce. On Friday, the customers come to the farm to find their shares pre-packaged and waiting within a walk-in cooler, which keeps everything fresh. A farmhand in gloves and a mask removes the order from the cooler and leaves it for the customer to cart away. “It’s completely contactless,” Kelly said.
It’s also less wasteful. In the past, Horseshoe would turn the food left over by the farm stand patrons into compost or chicken feed. Now, there isn’t any food left over.
“Business has been really good,” Kelly said. “It’s great to be able to provide fresh local veggies. A month or so ago, people were hard-pressed to find that.”
Horseshoe Farm is located at 142 Wilton Road W, Ridgefield.
This article originally appeared on the Ridgefield Patch