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Direct-to-market farmers struggling amid pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Some farmers who sell directly to restaurants, schools and other places that have temporarily closed amid coronavirus outbreak have been left looking for new customers.

John Piotti, president of the American Farmland Trust, a national group that works to protect farms, said farmers need help, particularly direct-to-market farmers who sell to restaurants, schools, farmers markets and other such places.

“It’s clear that this pandemic is really challenging and threatening all of society,” Piotti said. “But our farmers, who are the ones responsible for putting the food on our table, are experiencing particular challenges and they need our help.”

Greg Gunthorp raises pigs, chickens, ducks and turkeys in LaGrange, Indiana, and sells them to places such as restaurants, universities and amusement parks.

“We’ve spent 20 years building these markets, and that literally just blew all up last week,” Gunthrop told The Indianapolis Star.

Gunthorp predicts that his customer base has decreased to less than 20% of what it was before. He plans to sell directly to consumers and is using his website to promote his products.

“Businesses and farms that are going to be successful through this are going to have to make more changes in weeks than most businesses have to make in years,” Gunthorp added.

Heather Spray and her husband have a farm called Joy Lane Produce in southeast Illinois. They also produce greens at their greenhouse. About 85% of their business is local restaurants, but most are now closed.

Last week, Spray’s husband tried selling greens outside of a restaurant that normally buys from them, hoping to appeal to people getting take out. But Spray said the farm’s sales are less than half of what they normally would be in recent weeks.

“If small local restaurants can’t get going in the next few weeks, I’m not sure how long they will be able to keep their doors open,” Spray added. “And if they don’t make it, then we will have to pick that business up elsewhere or shift our market strategy.”

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