Baywater turns to ‘grab and go’ boxes
SALISBURY, Md. — Brothers Andy and Matt Holloway are the sixth generation operators of a farm in Wicomico County that has been in their family since 1860.
Somehow, their ancestor, Ephraim Holloway, managed to keep the farm going through the Civil War that broke out the year after he began farming. Through the years, the farm has survived other wars and trends in agriculture that challenged the family’s passion for growing heirloom produce without compromise. The Holloway’s Baywater Farms developed a large wholesale operation in addition to local retail sales at farmer’s markets and a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) offering seasonal produce. National customers include Giant Foods, Safeway and Whole Foods Market. Local restaurants appreciated farm-fresh, local produce … until several states issued emergency orders in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, shutting them down except for take-out service and delivery.
With a large quantity of freshly picked produce ready to be distributed to customers who no longer needed it, Baywater Farms sent it to the local farmer’s market.
“We sold out,” said Andy Holloway in a recent telephone interview. “The community poured out to buy fresh, local produce in an open air environment.
“A large majority of our revenue was from restaurants,” he said. “Their closure was a major impact. So we reached out to the community, as we have always done. Now, instead of enjoying our food at a restaurant, they can pick it up at the farm. We’re selling direct to the consumer. We have to adapt to be sure we can continue to operate — and the community is loving it.”
The farm quickly developed “grab and go” boxes and a process for ordering and paying by telephone, text, email or social media. It takes less than 10 minutes to complete a transaction, and the order will be waiting in a cooler at the farm for pick up. Holloway said he watches from a window. There’s no need for any human interaction, which Holloway said he misses.
“The community all knows us. They support us and we support them. There used to be conversations, like ‘How’s your son?’ but we can’t do any of that now. These are weird times.”
To simplify things, the Holloways offer a choice of two sizes, similar to the CSA shares they have provided in the past. A small box available last week included two heads of lettuce, salad mix, winter squash, purple radish and kale for $15. The larger box, for $25, also contained stir fry mix, Swiss chard and carrots.
Fifty percent of the orders are coming in through social media — Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. A portal is being developed so consumers can see what’s available.
“Two weeks ago, we did not have that (social media) channel available. It’s unfathomable that it could happen that quickly,” Holloway said. “It makes me grateful that we are younger generation farmers able to take farming and the virtue of it — growing food for the community — and be able to add on top of that new ways to connect to the community, and make that quick and painless.
“The people we are trying to reach are those who are tech savvy already. We’re trying to be in their wheelhouse, all without the hugs and shaking hands,” Holloway said.
“We do simple phone calls as well, and e-mails or texts. We don’t want to alienate anyone.”
Holloway added the response has led them to increase their production.
“We are hopeful at the moment. We have increased all plantings by 40 percent. We doubled our cherry tomato planting,” he said. “Commerce and food are very important. It’s time to increase production for our local community.”
The farm is still getting orders from some national retailers, sometimes more than it can handle.
“The whole food supply chain has been disrupted,” he said.
For example, produce from Guatemala moves through Mexico into the United States and through lots of states to get to a final market. When borders shut down, it disrupts the entire marketplace.
Holloway said he feels for huge vegetable operations where 90 percent of the work force is H2A workers. “If they don’t come, that will put more strain on farmers. We have our employees year-round because of the greenhouse.”
With succession planting, employees are able to harvest continuously. The crops don’t all ripen at once as happens with some varieties developed for a one-time harvest.
“Sometimes our tomatoes grow 10 feet tall. We stake them. We harvested them until the end of October last year,” Holloway said.
“We’re trying to bring back what our great-, great-grandfather grew and sold to his neighbors. That’s what we’re coming back to,” Holloway said. “It’s a really weird time. It’s mind boggling that the whole world can be turned upside down that quickly.”
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