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Farmers Markets and meat suppliers face challenges amid COVID-19

Local farmers have found alternative ways to sell their produce, meats, and poultry
Credit: WZDX

MADISON COUNTY, Ala — Farmers who provide our fresh produce in the Tennessee Valley are feeling the financial impact amid COVID-19. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state of Alabama has more than 40,000 farms.

Farmers Markets in particular have its own set of challenges. 

"For many, Farmers Market is their sole income," says Mary Stallings with Madison City Farmers Market. 

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She says this business is needed to stay open. "Otherwise, these farms will just go away. Many of them are very small scale and they depend on Farmer's Market," added Stallings.

It's also just as important for shoppers. "They want and need farmers to be able to provide local food to their communities so that our communities feel food secure," says Stallings.

The challenge for some farmers are include few wholesale contracts.

Posted by Madison City Farmers Market on Saturday, April 18, 2020

"We do have a few farmers that contract with school systems that provide, fresh local fruits and vegetables and of course those contracts right now are cancelled," says Stallings.

They've had to sell their produce to the public. Stallings says it's also difficult for farmers to depend on pre-ordered produce online.

"A produce vendor doesn't know until the day they pick exactly what they're going to have and how much. So, it is difficult to take orders," says Stallings.

Despite the challenges, Stallings says they've had some good sales. 

She says the number of customers are low due to social distancing, however some farmers have seen a surprise in sales. "The number of purchases exceeded our expectations for our first market this season," she said.

Mary says vendors also broke sales records. "Some of the sales broke their sales for any farmers market. Not just at our market but any market they've ever attended."

Vendors at Madison City Farmers Market must be 10 feet apart and sanitize their tables often. The market is asking one person per household to shop, and to leave kids and pets at home. Only meat and baked goods, in addition to produce, are available at this time.

Meanwhile, the meat supply industry also taking hit due to closed restaurants.

A meat wholesaler based in Birmingham stopped here in the Tennessee Valley. Evans Meat and Seafood say they've had to quickly pivot to selling to the public.The company offering curbside service.

One seller says more than 90 percent of their business is locally and independently-owned restaurants.

Evans Meats added a new photo.

"I don' think a lot of folks realize what we do at Evans, and how important the restaurants are to us, and us to them and both of us to all of the community," says Robby Melvin with Evans Meat & Seafood.

According to the USDA, in 2018 Americans ate an average of 222 pounds of meat a year.

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