Each day Terry Roberts, owner of the Roberts Family Blueberry Farm, and his family drive through Northeast Georgia to deliver fresh produce.
Before the pandemic, they would make 50 trips a day. Roberts said they now drive out to 300 homes.
“It’s just a couple of my grandkids, my wife and myself,” he said. “Everybody needs to eat.”
Roberts said he used to set up a truck in different communities around Hall County to sell his produce. He now sticks to deliveries, which go as far as Braselton and Blue Ridge.
Roberts grows all of his fruits and vegetables, most of which are sold year-round because of his hydroponic system. He said the farm always keeps around 7,000 heads of lettuce growing at one time.
Because of the large influx of customers, Roberts limits the amount of food people can purchase.
“We have people wanting to buy a box of tomatoes, but we can’t do that,” Roberts said. “But four to five carrots is not a problem.”
In addition to carrots, lettuce and tomatoes, the farm is currently selling microgreens, cabbage, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, potatoes and broccoli. Each Sunday Roberts will update the produce list on his Facebook page. People can schedule a delivery by calling 678-316-3598.
In the case of a complete state shutdown, Roberts said the farm has already set up a plan with Hall County Emergency Management Services to continue serving the public.
“Everything is done,” Roberts said. “We will not stop bringing food to the customer.”
In its 10 years of operation, Andrew Linker, the executive director of Northeast Georgia Locally Grown, said he has never seen this high influx of demand, amount of sales and number of new customers in such a short period of time.
Locally Grown sells products from local farmers year-round, and allows pick-up for food on Wednesdays, at its sites in Hall, Rabun and Habersham counties.
The organization opens its market webpage for orders at 9 p.m. every Friday. Recently Linker said people have been “at the edges of their seats” ready to place an order.
“The timing of this increased demand is interesting because March is generally the time of year with the least amount of fresh produce availability,” he said.
While some farmers are scrambling to keep up with the demand, Linker said others have pursued organic practices because of health concerns for themselves or loved ones. Linker has also seen farmers adjust their distribution range to only serve those in their immediate community.
“It's important to me that folks continue to support, value and show gratitude for small scale sustainable farmers in this community during and beyond COVID-19,” Linker said.
Since the outbreak, Locally Grown has taken advantage of its drive-thru entrance at the Northeast Georgia History Center in Gainesville. Volunteers will hand the pre-packaged items through the window or place it in the trunk of a customer’s car.
The organization has also shifted from preferring checks and cash to paying online. People can choose the items they want to pick up by placing orders on its market page, which is open weekly from 9 p.m. Friday through 9 p.m. Monday.
Drew Echols, general manager of Jaemor Farms, describes the COVID-19 outbreak as a “unique situation” for most farmers.
Although both Jaemor Farms’ locations in Alto and Commerce are witnessing a drastic increase in fruit and vegetable purchases for March, Echols said sales have dropped overall by 20%.
“We’ve seen better days, but it really hasn’t been that bad,” Echols said. “The volume of produce is up tremendously, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into money.”
People can call Jaemor Farms to place an order for pick-up. An employee will deliver the items to the car.
The farm’s staff will begin picking strawberries in 10 days. With the short two-month seasonal window, Echols said he’s a bit nervous about this year’s crop.
Jaemor Farms’ biggest broker out of Atlanta is Royal Food Service, Inc, who distributes a bulk of the farm’s strawberries to restaurants and schools in Georgia. Because schools and restaurants have closed, Echols said the company asked him to look elsewhere to sell strawberries.
“When you don’t have to try to make money, everything is fine and good,” Echols said. “(Now) we all have to get creative.”