West Michigan family farms go digital, increase pick-up spots during coronavirus

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Courtesy; MLive

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WLNS) – A century-old family farm’s vegetables are finding new ways to get in the hands of West Michigan customers.

According to MLive, Zeeland-based Visser Farms is turning to online sales and distribution focused on several pick-up sites.

The Visser family needed to quickly develop a new business model this spring because of the coronavirus and ensuing state government restrictions. The pandemic eliminated much of the farm’s direct sales to local restaurants.

“It has been a learning curve, but it is going well,” said Cindy Visser, who operates Visser Farms with her husband and four sons.

West Michigan’s family farms are going digital for sales, reaching customers and reducing the contact for distribution.

Like Ada-based Green Wagon Farm and Visser Farms, these family-owned farms in Kent and Ottawa counties are providing pick-up spots at popular farmers markets, roadside stands and a new Finnish-style market with other family farms.

While this new way of selling has meant changing their routines, Green Wagon Farm has actually experienced growth in sales from last year. Green Wagon features about 18 acres of farmland.

“We’ve seen a tremendous gathering of support from our local community here,” said Green Wagon owner Heather Anderson. “We’re really excited to see new faces and old faces return and join us this summer.”

Even at Fulton Street Farmers Market in Grand Rapids, where both of these farms annually sell their produce, the pandemic’s effect is visible. The popular market has instituted a one-way flow for customers, and farms like Visser Farms are pre-packing bags of specific produce to limit contact time and handling of the produce.

West Michigan farms also have opened pop-up stands where customers can purchase produce, some pre-packed, or pick up their online orders.

“We’re grateful that we can do online orders and pop-up shops,” said Cindy Visser, owner of Visser Farms. “The restaurants we sell to virtually are doing nothing.”

One of the newest efforts has been opening a “REKO market,” which is a farming model that allows customers and farmers to interact on platforms like Facebook to coordinate ordering. The idea comes from a similar practice used by Finnish farmers.

Vendors will meet for a short period of time so customers can pick up their orders, Anderson said.

“It’s a really simple, little, producer-run market,” she said.

The West Michigan REKO, with sites in Holland and Ada, is designed for no-contact pickup, requiring social distancing and masks for all shoppers and producers. Online pre-payment options are available for most vendors.

The REKO Markets, which currently feature more than 10 farms combined, are currently scheduled for 3-3:30 p.m. Thursdays at The Community Church, 7239 Thornapple River Drive SE, in Ada and noon-1 p.m. at the Holland Town Center, 12330 James St.

With all of the changes in selling food, Visser and Green Wagon have had to consider planting and harvesting practices as well. Masks are worn during much of the process.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed daily-life for family farms, but adapting is all they can do, Visser said.

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