by Jake Solyst
May 14, 2020
During a typical spring day at Godfrey’s Farm in Sudlersville, Maryland, customers enjoy ice cream while shopping for strawberries and asparagus grown just down the road. But in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the family-run farm has come to mean even more to its Eastern Shore community.
Shoppers looking to avoid understocked and overpopulated grocery stores have been visiting the market in triple the numbers since it first announced that it would offer curbside pickup. The demand from the community took everyone at Godfrey’s by surprise, especially its owners.
“That first day, we thought we’d get ten to fifteen orders,” said Lisa Godfrey, who is a part owner with her husband, Tom. “We ended up with 150.”
What’s happening in Sudlersville is common in agricultural communities throughout the Chesapeake region. Many farms, dairies, seafood suppliers and others are facing a lost market for their products, and sometimes having to dispose of them due to the closing of restaurants, schools and processing plants. But producers with the ability to serve their local market directly are seeing a huge uptick in business.
Lisa, Tom and their staff, which includes the couple’s two high school-aged daughters, stayed up past eleven that first night putting together orders. Every day since, people from down the road and as far as forty miles away have been counting on Godfrey’s for fresh vegetables, cheeses and meats.
Keeping up with the demand while adopting protective measures has required hard work and ingenuity. Workers now wear gloves and masks, routinely sterilize the counters, and use a card payment system that doesn’t require the customers to touch or sign. Curbside pickup is organized through a Google form that the owners put on the website, while pick-your-own produce events will be held in scheduled visits to account for social distancing. Logistical hurdles, such as keeping certain products cool before they get picked up or allowing pick-your-own customers to pay beforehand, have been solved on-the-fly by the Godfreys.
These innovations have made Godfrey’s stand out in the community and attract many new shoppers. Just down the road, another Sudlersville business—whose products help fill Godfrey’s shelves—is also answering to a sudden rise in demand.
Sudlersville Meat Locker is a classic family-owned butcher shop that slaughters and processes its own meat, raised by local farmers. As larger processors have shut down in response to local COVID-19 outbreaks and broken supply chains, it has left some farms scrambling for a place to send their products. As a smaller operation, the Meat Locker has remained open, processing for its usual suppliers plus taking on some of the excess from larger suppliers.
“We used to get around 200 customers a day,” said Dwayne Nickerson, part owner of the Meat Locker. “Now it’s around 360.”
In the first 10 hours after offering curbside pickup, 1,600 orders came through. With the help of his staff, Nickerson filled all the orders and has been working seven days a week ever since to make sure the community can buy meat. In the first week, cars lined up down the road while the Queen Anne's County Sheriff's Office monitored to make sure people were staying at a safe distance.
Businesses such as Godfrey’s Farm and Sudlersville Meat Locker are rare in that they can sell their product directly to the consumer and don’t produce too much more than what’s in demand within the local community. The presence of these businesses means more options for consumers and less crowded grocery stores. During these uncertain times, these businesses will continue to be a much-needed food provider for communities across the Chesapeake region.
The responsibility is something that Nickerson takes to heart. Even as the long, pressure-filled days take a toll, the Meat Locker doesn’t plan on stopping. “We can’t just shut down,” Nickerson said. “That’s not what we’re about.”