As the days go on, we have seen how impacts of the coronavirus reach into every part of regular life. South Pond, being an event venue that provides all our own catering needs has been deeply impacted. Everything we have ever done has centred on food and gatherings. Without gatherings we are left to focus on what we can do with food. We are lucky to be a farm. We have the ability to turn to the land for support during this time. We have turned our focus from bringing people to South Pond to enjoy our food, to now finding ways to send South Pond food home to people.
We have changed how and what we are growing. When we are growing for events, we try to grow large quantities of specialty items to be served for themed dinners. Now, we are focusing on the every day items that people want in their homes. We aren’t growing for an event deadline anymore, we are growing for rolling harvest all the time for our weekly orders.
In early April, we noticed it was difficult to find chicken from our usual local farmers. This was probably the first sign that we might be headed for deeper disruption than we initially thought. Next we noticed it was flour, then we heard the large cattle processing plant in Alberta closed it’s doors.
I think everyone started realizing what a fragile food system we have built ourselves. Bigger or (industrial/commercial) seems better, until you realize you’re dependent on only a few key players, and if they get taken out of the game, we have nothing to turn to. The media reports statistics like 10,000+ head of cattle per day processing is now closed down. This sheer volume translates into grocery store shelves fully stocked, giving us the luxury to choose from numerous animals and specialty cuts. We are so distanced from the source of our food, and I think people are starting to think about what the means for quality and health.
For every event we hold at the farm, we try to grow as much as we can on the farm and for what we can’t grow, we source from nearby farmers who we know and trust. A lot of those farmers rely on restaurants or farmers markets to sell their products, and without them they are struggling. I think of it as a responsibility of ours to communicate our philosophy on serving good, nutritious food and push customers out of their comfort zone to try something they maybe wouldn’t usually order at a restaurant or make at home. For the last few years, we have been trying to transition to whole animal purchasing and serving. We moved from serving only a single cut for large events, to offering whole chickens cut into portions, or whole sides with multiple cuts rather than just chicken breast or steak. By choosing whole animals, we can support smaller farmers and know 100% where our meat is coming from. When you’re shopping for a large event, sourcing 100 chicken breasts means you will have to find a large scale source. But if that means only 20 whole chickens, maybe our neighbouring farm can supply us instead.
With all the closed doors we are seeing in the food processing and distribution chains, it is only a matter of time before we see the effect on our grocery store shelves if we haven’t already. We are a small farm compared to most other farms, but we are trying to do our part for food security. People are questioning the food system and looking for transparency and quality foods. Not everyone has the connection with farmers or the freezer space to buy whole animals at a time. But maybe if we create a community, we can share them and help our farmers by supporting them and help ourselves by feeding our bodies with nourishing, good quality food.
We have started a new project of purchasing whole animals to help our local farmers, and hand carving them ourselves to create our newly released Butcher Box. We are just starting it, but we hope that this is something that can continue into the future. We hope this is a way for people to connect with their food, and know where it is coming from and how it is being handled from start to finish.