Local farms adjust to keep South Coast fed

Apr 26, 2020

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc in the restaurant and hospitality industry, Dartmouth farmers have found ways to adapt. 

Local farmers traditionally sell wholesale to retailers, directly to restaurants, at farmers’ markets and through CSAs. With restaurants closed for dining and farmers’ markets — if open — limiting customer numbers for social distancing, many farmers all over town have had to change the way they operate. 

Some farms, such Eva’s Garden on Jordan Road, have had to reduce the number of crops. Normally, owner Eva Sommaripa sells a variety of produce to chefs all over New England, but because many restaurants have closed, her farm had to make changes fast.

“At first we had to stop everything,” she said. “It was very upsetting, almost all of our entire income came from that.”

Immediately, Sommaripa cut back on what her farm was growing. Crops in the ground before the pandemic were donated to Our Sisters’ School in New Bedford, which serves economically disadvantaged families. Despite the reduction in crops, the farm has also started growing more popular produce such as chives, rhubarb, and spring garlic.

Eva’s Garden also retooled its online ordering platform to accommodate local deliveries and still sells to local restaurants like Little Moss and Farm & Coast Market in Padanaram, as both have implemented take-out options. 

For staff, Sommaripa said masks and gloves are required for picking and packing, along with frequent hand washing and sanitizing surfaces and tools.

“Nobody except staff is allowed in buildings or greenhouses, or on the farm when staff are here, except to pick up or deliver orders in a designated outdoor place by appointment,” she said. 

Similarly, Silverbrook Farm on Chase Road has also seen reduced crop sizes. Normally the farm would be getting ready to bring produce up to spring farmers’ markets on Cape Cod and Boston, but those have been canceled, with the fate of summer markets still unknown. 

Co-owner Andrew Thornhill said any extra crops will be used either as future compost or to feed the farm’s chickens. He would like to donate them, but is waiting for food banks to ease their rules.

In the meantime, Silverbrook farm stand is still operating, and is restocked daily with fresh produce and eggs, with plans to set up grab and go bags to avoid less contamination from people weighing produce. 

“There’s actually a lot of traffic coming to the stand,” Thornhill said. “It’s going better than expected.”

“The worst thing you can do is panic,” he added.

At Round the Bend Farm, Executive Director Desa Van Laarhoven said they are actually growing more produce as part of the farm’s “Manifest Love” project. 

The project, which began in March, is a collaboration between Round the Bend and New Bedford non-profits YWCA, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, and NorthStar Learning Centers to get food to those who need it. 

Van Laarhoven said they started the project to provide food shares free of cost to more than 100 local families directly connected to these organizations. Round the Bend is currently in its fifth week of the program, and has served more than 20 families per week.

Originally slated to start in June, the project schedule was moved up so that they could start providing healthy foods such as kale and peanut butter as soon as possible to those who need it.  

The farm has also put in place a new ten-page protocol for its staff to follow to ensure the safety of all its products.

“We knew this pandemic wasn’t going to last just a couple weeks,” Van Laarhoven said. “This will be for quite some time.”