No one is better prepared to adapt to a changing set of circumstances than a small farmer. Unseasonable weather, ornery animals, global pandemic? We were built to pivot.
As we enter this particularly uncertain growing season, with farm markets in limbo, farmers are scrambling to safely get their products to hungry sheltered-in-place customers saddled with the task of cooking for everyone in their house every day. They can’t leave and they are hungry.
Many growers are making the switch to home delivery, something we have been doing on our farm for more than a decade.
It can seem daunting at first, but it’s arguably easier than setting up and tearing down a mobile store one to three times per week. And, to be honest, with the rise of meal service delivery, it’s the way consumers will expect to get their food in the future.
Why Home Meat Delivery?
A few times a month I pack the freezer trailer full of frozen pork and head out into the big city. Friends call me crazy. It’s a day-long affair, and one that I would be sad to outsource.
There are few more effective means of forming an intimate connection between farmer and consumer than placing food at the doorstep of the folks who will actually eat it.
Not only does this bond make good practical business sense, it’s good for the soul. This fact is only heightened by the lack of social contact we are all feeling in the present pandemic.
A window of waving, goofy-smiling customers will be the highlight of everyone’s week.
How to Start?
Romance aside, the first step is to check meat transportation laws in your state.
In Ohio, there is no permit required for moving meat from the processor to the customer. It is considered a private, unregulated matter. Many other states require licenses, while others are temporarily waving those permits so that farmers can get food into hungry homes during this pandemic crisis.
It’s going to take a phone call to your state’s department of agriculture.
This could be its own essay, but you need a solid online platform for making sales.
Right now companies like Barn 2 Door and Graze Cart are working overtime to set up online stores for farmers as fast as possible by mortals. National Young Farmers Coalition has set up a good resource for comparison.
But it’s important to remember that you don’t have to get that fancy if you’re a hobbyist. If you don’t like the idea of a third party hosting and taking a percentage of your profit, make a free sales post on Instagram or Facebook.
Let customers pay with Venmo or check or cash. It’s the poor man’s online platform, cobbled together for maximum profit.
This is the most daunting aspect of home meat delivery to overcome. You have temperature- and time-sensitive product, while your customers have jobs and/or a life.
They are already going out of their way to support you outside their normal grocery routine; you’ve already put in months of work for your product. How do we make this easy on everyone?
When we first started, I would individually coordinate a specific time with as many as 30 stops along the route. This was a fool’s errand.
Even as COVID crisis imprisons your customers in their homes, with traffic, delays, equipment malfunctions, wrong turns … it’s almost impossible to nail down an exact time of a meat delivery. A window of two hours is all I’ve been able to master.
As our home-delivery scheme evolved, we now offer monthly cooler-sized bundles. We text reminders the evening before the meat delivery for customers to put out their coolers on their porches or an inconspicuous place of their choosing. When they get home from work, their meat will be there.
If someone has an unexpected baseball practice or doctor’s appointment come up, or if you have a flat tire or traffic delay, you don’t have to change your entire delivery route.
As your family relationship builds with your customers, orders too large for a cooler can receive what I call “Free Home Installation.”
You’d be surprised how many customers are open to sharing a garage or door code, or access via a Ring doorbell, for their farmer to literally place their order in their home freezer. Offer these Reverse Burglar options privately for your customers. Be sure to leave a note of thanks or some calling card that can personalize the experience.
And let’s face it, no one is more skilled at Freezer Tetris than the small farmer. Time to show off your skills. Once you’ve ninja-ed your way into someone’s basement freezer, they pretty much are committed to buying from you forever.
A Good Plan
The sky is the limit with fancy route-mapping software, but, for our purposes, anything more than 35 stops is too many for one day. And most costly mapping apps are designed for multiple drivers and hundreds of stops.
So we go with free. Every customer is input into a Google Map. We have hundreds of customers stored there, and when orders come in, they get a color-coded dot for the month.
Then I take about half an hour to connect those dots in a way that makes sense. This is the most labor-intensive aspect of this method. It’s not rocket science but is necessary when covering a large metropolitan area.
If you have more stops, spring for the apps that will do this for you. Do not fly blind.
After all these years, confess I still write names and addresses in order on a piece of paper like a caveman. I’ve had technology fail too many times. It’s my comfort blanket.
Get a good audiobook, hand sanitizer, gloves and a maybe even a mask. Settle in for a lazy drive. What better way to spend a day off the farm than delivering joy, collecting smiles and money?
It might be the only time this spring you’ll get paid to sit.