Mason farmers hope for a return to normal

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Image Credit- Dennis Fanson

Dave Fogle spent most days in March and April walking aimlessly around his farm, spending the free time from quarantine with his cows. He was uncertain about the future of his dairy farm because of the national pandemic, so he spent time with his animals because they kept him relaxed about the world around him.

Just like many farmers in the U.S., farmers in Mason had to deal with fewer sales due to restaurants being closed, as well as because of disruptions in the distribution lines for common products such as meat and milk.

Fogle Farms was no different. During the height of COVID-19, the farmers experienced difficulty distributing their product and had excess milk because they could not sell milk to local restaurants. They do not sell their milk to restaurants and grocery stories like Meijer and have had to survive by selling Milk to people directly in Mason

“There’s been a lot of support for us since this all began,” said Fogle. “People are ready and willing to support us, and we are very grateful for that. We lost money because of the pandemic, but we can keep the farm running going forward.”

Dr. Trey Malone, an agricultural economist at Michigan State University said he believes that it could be a while before the produce is grown and consumed at the level it was prior to quarantine.

Malone, said he believes that there was a shift in how people eat because of Coronavirus, and that will impact what food is eaten in general.

“Roughly half of the time, we eat away from our homes – and what we eat at places like restaurants are fundamentally different than how we eat when we have to cook it ourselves,” said Malone. “This led to massive reductions in demand for items such as bacon, with corresponding increases in demand for items such as ground beef.”

Fogle Farms is just one example of how a farm can be impacted by the pandemic. As a milk farm, it relied heavily on the consumption of milk and other dairy products in restaurants, which according to Fogle, has hurt them heavily.

“We want people to start going to restaurants again. A primary part of our business is selling our product to local restaurants,” said Fogle.  “When people start eating out a lot again, we should be able to sell more milk.”

Major distributors such as Meijer are also experiencing difficulties in receiving the product from farmers, causing them to pivot to other sources.

“Before quarantine, there was a lot of variety in what you could buy for every product at a major grocery store. There were like 17 different kinds of green beans. But now, things have limited to only a few kinds for each product, because places like Meijer have stopped buying lots of variety to ensure we have enough of the primary product to keep the shelves stocked,” said Pete Vandenbussche, the general manager of Meijer in Mason.  

Vandenbussche and Malone both said that this move by large grocery stores to reduce the amount of variety in each product can have seismic impacts on some farms while leaving other farms relatively unaffected.

One farm in Mason that was unaffected by the changes in the food economy because of COVID-19 was the Fanson Farms in Mason. The Fansons raise livestock to sell and did not experience a shift in the demand for their product because the demand for beef and pork did not change.

“We were lucky to not have the same problems as some of the other farms in the area,” said Dennis Fanson, the head of Fanson Farms, “We were able to continue to raise our animals and sell them without any difficulties. 2020 has not been different for us so far from any other year from a business standpoint.”

Both farmers said they are hopeful that they can operate to their full potential and run the farm normally. Both Fogle and Fanson agreed that the end of the stay-at-home order in Michigan will help out the agriculture businesses for the rest of this year.

“The Ingham County Fair is a big part of the year for us,” said Fanson.  “We have no clue if it is going to happen this year, but we are hopeful that it will happen this year. We sell most of our animals at the fair and we make a lot of our annual money from those sales. We really want the fair to happen.”

Local dairy farms such as Fogle Farms do not have to worry about a large event such as a fair but need the world to open back up and people to return to their pre-COVID-19 eating habits.

“I think there will be a shift back to normalcy in the way people eat,” said Malone.

“People will be itching to go out and eat at restaurants, driving up the demand for the products that supply them.”

Fogle believes that once local restaurants open up fully in the future, his business will return back to working at full speed.

“Thankfully, 2020 has been relatively similar to previous years on the farm,” said Fanson. “We have everyone here and we are all working hard, so we are thankful.”

Fogle has a lot less free time than he did in March, and that is a good thing for the farm, even though he is with his cows less than he was during the quarantine.

“We hope normalcy returns to the farm soon,” he said.  “The cows want the normal attention they get in the summer. We want things to be normal again, and they are starting to go back to normal every day,”