The COVID-19 pandemic brought rapid, major change to Vermonters and the state’s economy. Early on, UVM Extension focused on the impact to Vermont’s farm and food system, from producers to consumers. Through their support of Vermont’s farm and food system, UVM Extension experts help build resiliency, safety and confidence for producers and consumers in these uncertain times.
Developing Guidance for Growers In mid-March, the UVM Extension Horticulture Team made phone calls to 121 farms to assess grower needs, concerns and ideas. Using survey data and the latest research, they developed science-based guidance for growers eager to protect public health while continuing public sales. This specific advice clarified broad Federal guidance, informed new Vermont State guidelines, and helped food businesses act with confidence. (go.uvm.edu/guidance4growers)
Improving Handwashing Stations When planning for the 2020 summer season, the Bennington Farmers’ Market identified need for a moveable, public handwashing station. The UVM Extension Agricultural Engineering Team developed two designs; each version can be assembled for under $200 using inexpensive, readily available parts. The “Improving Handwashing Stations” factsheet details assembly and components. (go.uvm.edu/handwashingstation)
Providing Practical Food Safety Information UVM Extension’s food safety specialist wanted to understand COVID’s impact on the food industry and provide practical information to alleviate public concerns over purchased foods. This led to a podcast series (go.uvm.edu/podcasts) focused on food manufacturers’ production adaptations and increased understanding of businesses’ adjustments to online sales, supply chains, changing markets, staffing limits and more. For consumers, a comprehensive online Q&A focused on handling and consumption of groceries and take-out foods (go.uvm.edu/covidfoodsafety) continues to be a valuable resource.
Establishing a Virtual Farmer Conversation Network In April and May, eight UVM Extension programs partnered to offer the “Online Conversation Series: Sourcing and Selling Vermont Food in the Time of COVID-19.” The Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Vermont Tourism Research Center collaborated with farmers, agricultural service providers and community members to deliver the seven-webinar interactive series. 439 people learned about COVID-19 protocols for farm stands, virtual events, and equity and access in local food systems. The strategies, challenges and resources helped farmers make quick adjustments to new realities of local food sales, embrace the opportunity to have successful businesses, and serve communities in new ways. (go.uvm.edu/sellvtfood)
Finding Solutions for Selling Online Extension’s Agricultural Business team tailored their extensive digital marketing experience to fit the unique pandemic-related needs of producers in Vermont and New England. They continue to work directly with producers to find solutions for online and direct-to-consumer sales, and present webinars and informational podcasts. The team is developing an online digital marketing planning course and continues advising through the farm and forest business coaching program. (go.uvm. edu/agbusiness)