OUTLOOK: Buying local imperative to agriculture businesses

Emma Davison, one half of Golden Ears Cheesecrafters in Maple Ridge, reflects on running her business in the year of COVID-19. (Scott Saunders/Special to The News)Emma Davison, one half of Golden Ears Cheesecrafters in Maple Ridge, reflects on running her business in the year of COVID-19. (Scott Saunders/Special to The News)
Bob and Debbie Hopcott from Hopcott Farms in Pitt Meadows. (Hopcott Farms/Facebook)Bob and Debbie Hopcott from Hopcott Farms in Pitt Meadows. (Hopcott Farms/Facebook)
Emma Davison, one half of Golden Ears Cheesecrafters in Maple Ridge, reflects on running her business in the year of COVID-19. (Scott Saunders/Special to The News)Emma Davison, one half of Golden Ears Cheesecrafters in Maple Ridge, reflects on running her business in the year of COVID-19. (Scott Saunders/Special to The News)

If this year teaches the community anything, let it be their buying power in helping local businesses survive the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

At least that’s what two local business owner learned as they reflected on the agriculture industry and operating their businesses in 2020 – amid COVID-19.

Emma Davison and her sister Jenna Bock own and operate Golden Ears Cheesecrafters in Maple Ridge, and they attribute their survival to the diverse offerings of their business that provides several different revenue streams.

“It’s definitely been a challenging year, and it challenged a lot of agricultural and tourism-based businesses, in addition to local purveyors that are making local artisan products,” said Davison, who is also on the Maple Ridge tourism committee.

Similarly, family operated Hopcott Farms; which run a local butcher shop, wedding venue, and cranberry farm, say they managed well this year thanks to multiple revenue streams.

“It’s been challenging, no doubt about it. But, I guess from a pure dollars and cents perspective it’s actually benefited us, not that you like to benefit from a bad situation, it’s just the luck of the draw,” said Bob Hopcott, founder and part owner of Hopcott Farms.

Due to provincial health restrictions, the family did not host any weddings at their venue this year; however, they saw a significant uptick in sales at their butcher shop that helped make up for the lost revenue, he explained.

“Our sales are way up, people not eating out I guess; they’re cooking more at home,” said Hopcott, noting their shop gained many new customers.

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He estimates sales at their meat shop rose 40 per cent compared to last year.

“We couldn’t keep up with the demand at the beginning,” he said.

But the sales haven’t come easy, as provincial health restrictions have forced theirs and other businesses to adapt to new rules.

To continue operating its bistro, for instance, the Hopcott family has temporarily set up an outdoor heated tent to safely serve its customers.

Similarly, Cheesecrafters adapted. But as Davison noted it is challenging to continue operating at such reduced capacity.

“I think this is the beginning of a lot more small businesses and small producers shutting down, even in the last two months we’ve seen a lot of restaurants shut down… it’s not feasible for us to operate at 50 per cent capacity,” she said about the provincial health restrictions.

Cheesecrafters was hit particularly hard in early spring by the closure of hotels and restaurants, because it meant they could not longer rely on those revenue streams and no longer sustain the cost of producing.

As a result they were forced to layoff staff.

Instead, the artisan crafters had to “pivot” to where there was a demand in the market.

“We shutdown our store and we turned it into a grocery-packing facility,” Davison said.

Although they adapted to the circumstances at the time and stopped producing, they were later met with new challenges when businesses began to re-open.

“It left us for a couple months there, with no stock on a lot of items,” Davison said, explaining it can take upwards of nine months to make cheese and requires months of planning.

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But Davison noted that “majority of food sectors were panicking,” including dairy and poultry, as the public started “mass buying” in the early stages of the pandemic.

“People were doing a lot of panicking and I think it really affected the market negatively,” she said.

Likewise, the Hopcott family struggled to keep up with demand at the start of the year, where they were forced to source cattle from other Canadian farmers that met their quality criteria.

But Davison hopes this year leads consumers to look to their local food system.

“I really do hope that most people will see the advantage of investing in their local food system and [their] buying power, their buying power is so important,” she said. “If they are choosing to spend their dollars with a local producer… not only are they making [the product] but they are also employing local families and local people to make those products. By investing your dollars in even just a small amount of what they are producing it goes such a long way.”

Personally, Davison said the impacts of the pandemic has taught them how to quickly adapt, but their primary focus will remain to be supporting their staff and listen to their customers.

“Be kind to retail workers… just be gracious, those people are still working the frontline even if they are not in healthcare,” she said.


@JotiGrewal_
joti.grewal@blackpress.ca

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