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Local supply chain helps farm persevere during pandemic

by on March 27, 2020 1:30 PM

HALFMOON TOWNSHIP — Visiting the grocery store is hectic and scary these days, with empty shelves, long lines and bewildered people. Down at the Way Fruit Farm store in Stormstown, things have gotten busier too, but the farm store has been able to keep its shelves mostly stocked with local- and farm-made products.

“We use a completely different supply chain than the grocery stores; a lot of our products are local. A lot of them are from smaller businesses, so we have been able to continue to get the products that grocery stores haven’t. Probably the one exception is toilet paper. I don’t have a local toilet paper connection,” said owner Jason Coopey. “But we use a local milk company; they have local eggs, and I got flour from a restaurant distributor because no restaurants are using flour. So I have been able to find all these little niches to be able to have product where the grocery stores haven’t.”

“I have taken certain measures to make sure I have my seed here in case we lock down more, or if trucking gets interrupted. So at least from our standpoint, I don’t see any disruptions to that,” he said.

While there have been concerns about the national supply chain, the local chain remains strong, which is keeping local food on the shelves at Way, Coopey said.

“Our local supply chains, everyone is still producing,” he said. “The supply issues are the big companies that get stuff from Iowa, or when all your beef comes from somewhere in Colorado. That has been the issue for the supply chain. But whenever I am getting my cow from the guy who farms some of my land and is butchered in Spring Mills, you just don’t have the supply disruptions.

“Luckily, locally here in Centre County, we have had relatively low incidents of this,” Coopey continued.

Coopey said the farm and workers there have taken precautions, limiting contact with food and making sure that employees are not sick.

“We are trying to meet the needs of everybody while staying safe ourselves,” said Coopey.

While they have been busy and are working to serve customers, he said it has been disheartening to see so many other local businesses struggle.

“We have been very blessed with the amount of business that we have gotten. We feel really bad for a lot of the other businesses. A lot of the restaurants have had to lay-off staff and it has been really difficult,” said Coopey. “We have been lucky because of the fact that people want those basic necessities and we sell those basic necessities. We have done a really good job of keeping the store shelves stocked with eggs, milk, flour and even those basic necessities that people have maybe walked away from for a while, are now back in vogue, to some extent, because of the fact that people are trying to prepare. People don’t know what the future holds, so there is a little bit of shortages of bread and other things in the grocery store, so people are trying to make sure they can find those items.

“It has been a scary time for a lot of people. We have tried not to make it such. We have modified behavior and have worked on sanitation here in the store,” said Coopey.

One of those modifications is home deliveries and pickup that includes no direct contact with employees.

The farm store started conducting home-delivery service about a year ago to keep up with consumers who preferred home deliveries, even before the pandemic started. Now that service has become even more vital.

“For the last year, we have been doing home deliveries, as well as in-store pickup,” said Coopey. “Now, those instore pickups can be contactless if people desire and our deliveries can be contactless if people desire. Our delivery service demand has just gone through the roof in the last week. And as people with varied conditions and varied attitudes toward this do just not want to go out in public, it is just a matter of keeping up with the deliveries.”

So far, the business has been able to make deliveries within a day to its service area, which can be found at wayfruitfarm.com, said Coopey.

While grocery sales have been brisk, the café business has slowed down, as people are not able to sit and gather at the location, he said. But take-out is available, and the smell of apple cider donuts is still in the air throughout the store. He thinks business at the café will pick up as things settle down.

“As this becomes the new normal and people get tired of using all the flour they bought, I think we will see a resurgence,” said Coopey, who added that Way might add some menu items to vary things a little bit in the near future.

Even life on the farm is moving a little faster in this day and age.

 



Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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