Sep 7, 2020
Market adjusts to new normal during pandemic

The pandemic has changed the rules for growers who direct market. For Corrion Farms & Greenhouse of Essexville, Michigan, it’s meant going online and developing the farm’s first web-based ordering system.

“We talked about what we wanted to do within the family and got everyone’s opinion before we started. We planned our website from beginning to end,” said Dina Corrion, owner of the business with her husband, Norm.

The website offers online ordering for contactless delivery to customers in Essexville and the nearby cities of Saginaw, Bay City and Midland. Deliveries are made to each city on a different day and there is a small delivery fee.

The contactless delivery is made to the customer’s front door. “There are people who really like it,” Dina said. “They’re happy we’re doing this with the pandemic.” These customers are often those who are high-risk for COVID-19, such as the elderly, or simply people who want to minimize outside contact.

Corrion Farms & Greenhouse also offers scheduled, curbside pickup at the farm one day a week for online orders.

The key is setting up the online ordering to get the quality information needed for efficient scheduling and delivery. Customers must select the shipping option – local delivery or curbside farm pickup – and provide their address, phone number and any other delivery or pickup details or special needs.

“It was a bit of a learning process,” Dina said, “but with the website, it’s been pretty easy.”

Floriculture is a mainstay of early-season marketing. Flowers fit well with vegetables because they’re a short season crop and offer a rotation option in the greenhouses.

Geraniums, morning glories and ornamental grasses are popular choices and can all be purchased online. “We hope to be done with flowers before pickles,” Dina said. Tomato transplants also sell well in the spring.

Vegetable sales ramp up by July. Watermelon, cantaloupe, sweet corn, tomatoes and potatoes are the top selling vegetables. “A lot of people like our potatoes,” Dina said. Vegetables sold online are sold by bundles.

The regular vegetable bundle is intended to give three to four adults about a week’s worth of vegetables. The small vegetable bundle is intended to supply one to two adults for about a week. Both bundles typically contain six to eight types of vegetables.

Customers can specify when ordering if there are any vegetables they don’t want. They can also add on an extra amount of their favorite vegetables for an extra fee and specify the quantity if they want to.

The vegetables in the bundles change over the season and customers can check Corrion Farms & Greenhouse’s Facebook page to see what’s available. A sunflower bouquet of four to five large sunflowers is also offered in the summer months.

The operation has five greenhouses and was started by Norm’s great, grandfather. Their son, Nicholas, is actively involved on the farm. The other three children help out when their jobs allow. “We’ve been very fortunate,” Dina said, “to have family members who can help out.”

Corrion Farms & Greenhouse still markets at three farmers’ markets in Michigan – Midland, Saginaw and East Lansing, and the pandemic has brought changes. “All three of the markets we’re at are roped off with the sidewalks marked to guide the customers,” Dina said. “Vendors at all three markets are required to wear masks.”

One market requires a double row of tables to separate vendors from customers by an extra table width. “They don’t want people handling any produce,” Dina said. It also helps with social distancing.

The customer reaction to all of this at the outdoor farmers’ markets varies. “Some are coming who don’t want to wear a mask,” Dina said. “Some like the masks to feel safe. Some don’t feel safe and like to stay at home.”

“We’ve always gone to the markets,” Dina said, and online marketing lets Corrion Farms & Greenhouse still get fresh produce to the customers who can’t make it this year.

— Dean Peterson, VGN correspondent

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