Some Indiana farmers find surprising bounty in COVID-19 year

Aprile Rickert
Jeffersonville, Ind., News and Tribune

SCOTTSBURG, Ind. (AP) — Scottsburg-based farmer Doug Krieger said that in more than two decades of selling at southern Indiana farmers markets, he’s never had a year like this one.

“It will go down record-breaking,” he said. “We’re way over triple, probably four times (the usual business). I can pack that truck just as full as I can get it and just have a few essential things to take back home.

“We cannot grow enough to provide to people. It’s never been this crazy ever, in 20 years.”

Krieger and his wife were at the mid-week Jeffersonville farmers market Tuesday at Faith Lutheran Church, selling produce, eggs, and honey from their 40-acre, organic family farm. Krieger said they’ve also had a steady stream of customers visiting the farm in person — they can call or text ahead and have food ready for pickup.

The family’s booming business could be a result of inaccessibility this year to some foods due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially early in the season when staples such as meat and eggs were scarce in groceries as shoppers stocked up for the unknown and supply chains were disrupted at times. Although some businesses were closed or limited during Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home mandate, farmers markets were deemed essential.

Kim Ellis, manager of the Jeffersonville Farmers Market, said the overall season has so far been going great, and although some of the activities such as games or live music can’t happen this year, there are more overall vendors and a lot of people showing their support.

That was especially poignant this past week as communities across the U.S. observed National Farmers Market Week, Aug. 2 through Aug. 8.

“I think that if anything we can take away from this year’s farmers market in the midst of all this chaos is the importance of the farmers market and our local food webs,” she said.

“We need to be able to have access to food that’s grown and produced in our local communities, so I think this year kind of exemplified how really important it is to support our local farmers.”

Kim’s husband Jay Ellis, who oversees Jeffersonville Main Street Inc., said he wasn’t sure what to expect with this year’s market but “people were eager to come out,” he said. Vendors are spaced out to adhere to social distancing requirements and masks must be worn.

“I think that we filled in a real gap because when COVID-19 first hit, there was a shortage of a lot of items, as we all know,” he said. Ellis added that the market’s meat vendor was continuously out of product because the farmers still had to wait in line for meat processing facilities.

Jeffersonville resident Meribeth Rogers, who was at the Jeff market Tuesday with her mother, Ann, and her daughter, 5-year-old Sophie, said she’d experienced the shortage early in the season as well. On one trip to a grocery, the only thing available was a country ham, which she cooked and the family ate for a week.

“I feel like it’s gotten a little better in the grocery stores,” she said, adding that she was a regular at this market even before the pandemic.

“It’s 100 times better,” she said. “There’s just something about a homegrown tomato. ...”

Her mother, Ann, said she was also familiar with the importance of farming because when she was growing up, her family sold produce in the same way.

“We had a truck growing up so they’ve heard stories about raising tomatoes, vegetables, green peppers, eggplant, strawberries, all that,” Ann said. “So they know how hard farmers work.”

In addition to the bright veggies, the Krieger family is known for its honey. Right now, Doug said, they have 30 hives, making them the largest honey operation in Scott County, soon to be the largest in Southern Indiana.

He said his family is already looking ahead to how things could be in the seasons ahead, especially if there’s a continued drive toward small producers.

“Early on, we couldn’t sell our plants, so our garden is about four times bigger than what it used to be,” he said. “So we’ve already increased production.”