Posted Apr 21, 2021
Ahead of our 2021 farmers market season, we chatted with Raya Carr of Mint Creek Farm in Stelle, Illinois about her experience as a small-scale farmer weathering the pandemic. Learn more about the Covid-19 Farmer Relief Fund, and how you can provide immediate relief to sustainable farmers and food producers who have been hard-hit during this pandemic.
- GCM: Why do you choose to sell with Green City Market? Why have you returned year after year?
“Green City Market brings together a strong community… It also has a holistic mindset, looking at things that affect farmers — and more than necessarily just the market itself — like grant opportunities, promotion through social media and events, and delivery services.”
- GCM: What challenges has your farm faced in the last year?
“Last year, the pandemic of course loomed large, and that resulted in some problems, challenges, and opportunities for Mint Creek Farm. We were really concerned of course when the markets shut down — which, understandably, they had to because of the pandemic — but we weren't really sure if our [independent] delivery business would be enough to keep us afloat by itself. We have had our own direct-to-consumer delivery business for years.”
“The challenges the pandemic presented and [Green City Market] pivoting entirely to a delivery-based model wasn't as bad as we expected because our customers were so proactive and wanting to support us. Like, I sent one newsletter out and immediately had almost 100 orders for delivery, which was amazing. It was humbling for us to have that work out, but of course, it led to challenges. We had to up our game because we were dealing with more volume than we ever had before.”
“Just when we thought that word that [our delivery program] was kind of reaching a flow, we found out that our butcher couldn't process as many animals for us as previously. There was a different max capacity during the pandemic, and they also had a lot more requests coming at them — it got really crazy when the big meatpacking plants shut down. It's been a huge problem, and it's finally just now getting shored up like as of the last four to six weeks. Luckily, we are diversified so although we were really high and dry with getting any of our lambs or goats or cows or hogs processed for the better part of a year, we do raise poultry and our poultry butcher has been able to keep up with all the dates we'd had and work things out for us so we were able to sell more poultry.”
“It's been a lot to keep up with, and having adequate working capital in any kind, or a safety net, has been a problem, so it's been a battle hanging on during this roller coaster.”
- GCM: What do you anticipate will be distinct about this upcoming season? What do you think will be difficult, and where do you find hope right now?
“Coming through such a trial by fire has left us all exhausted, but we may be more aware of our resilience than we were before. And I think there's some power in that.”
“A concern I have is this idea of things going back to the status quo… There was a general growth in awareness and a more poignant kind of prioritization of folks sourcing from local farmers because they realized their food security was dependent on that during the pandemic. I'm a little worried about — also due to economic pressure and financial concerns — folks not continuing to prioritize sourcing from farms as much in the coming season.”
“But when I say that out loud I'm like — I don't know if I believe that; I think that that's not the kind of thing you unlearn after the pandemic, or at least, I sure hope not. I think where there's a will there's a way, and I really think that we'll continue to do our best to figure this out together.”
- GCM: What do you want Chicagoans to know about the state of farming right now?
“Keep up the good work to keep supporting local farms and prioritizing where you get your food from. [Our food] is there for you, but your support is also supporting food security in terms of the bigger picture of the environment and stewarding our natural resources — that’s really central to Mint Creek’s mission, and we couldn't do it without the support of all our customers and the farmers markets. That's all really essential to going forward and in a future where we have secure access to healthy food.”
After last year’s crisis-filled season, you can help bring local farmers like Raya back to market for another chance to make their sustainable businesses thrive. Donate by April 30 and get your donation matched as part of our Covid-19 Farmer Relief Fund just in time for the reopening of our markets on May 1.