One year ago, we wrote our first COVID response statement after a hasty team meeting the morning after Minnesota’s school closure was announced. Like everybody, we knew the world was about to change but had no way to sense the twists-and-turns we were in for. I remember I started our statement with “we are all in this together.” I’m sure the rest of the note was naive, given all we know today, but I know we led with loads of extra sanitation in our market. Over the ensuing weeks, we came to launch curbside pickup, worked with our local food partners as demand surged, and expanded the measures to keep our staff and customers safe.
It seems like the quick-and-easy narrative for businesses during COVID has been a focus on the obstacles (and there have been plenty), but I want to note the anniversary by looking forward at a few of the unforeseen positives that have come out of the past year and will carry us forward:
- Who’s Essential? For farmers, the scariest days happened early on, as plants closed and stories of meat shortages filled the news. Remember the confusion of simultaneous stories of milk shortages and milk dumping? Out of this challenging time grew increased appreciation for “essential workers,” and heightened awareness of where our food comes from. Consumers were surprised to learn how centralized our food system has become, and gave more thought to the many faces behind the typically fully-stocked shelves. This was a needed awakening, and it bodes well for independent farmers, meat processing workers, and consumers alike.
- More at Ferndale! At Ferndale Market, our customers have enabled us to grow the breadth of foods we carry. Our customers asked us for more basics, as a “one-stop shop,” and we responded, both with more local options, and natural everyday basics when a local alternative doesn’t exist. What, you may ask, are bananas doing in a local food store? 2020 taught us that consciously-sourced basics (like Fair Trade bananas) drive more frequent customer visits, which deepens support for our local food partners through more regular purchasing of cheese, meat, bread, and eggs.
- The Local Foods Team. The local foods community – farmers, retailers, restaurant owners, food makers – all came together with a shared sense of purpose, even while we all battled uncertainty in our own worlds. Our friends at Chowgirls Catering helped to launch Minnesota Central Kitchen. Our K-12 school customers found creative ways to serve our turkey, whether in student box meals or holiday meal kits. Our retail and processing partners were gracious in understanding when sudden demand spikes had us playing from behind on some turkey items. We banded together and did our best to support each other and our communities, and our local food scene will remain better off because of it.
For all the things we hope to shed after the pandemic, I hope these will remain. Thanks for your continued support through it all. We’ll hope to see you at Ferndale Market soon!