Hunts Brook Farm Rethinks the Small Farm Model

QUAKER HILL — The era of the country farm stand by the side of the road where farmers left fruits and vegetables and customers paid by the honor system is over as long as the pandemic continues. 

“We have a lot of people who just pull in thinking that our stand is open,” said Robert “Digga” Schacht, who owns Hunts Brook Farm with his wife, Teresa. 

He has set up an on-site, socially-distanced farmstand twice a week to provide for customers who once shopped at his honor stand as well as his booths at a number of farmers markets. 

“That was a big shift for us because we always ran an honor stand and people could come and go as they pleased any day of the week,” he said. “We obviously can’t let people come in randomly and touch things and not be able to be right behind them wiping things down.” 

From the grassy parking area, customers walk up a small hill to the large, open-air covered building where all of the farm’s fresh produce is separated into crates neatly organized on tables. Customers can follow the “traffic” signs directing where to enter, where to wait, where to purchase, and where to exit. Schacht has clearly marked the entrance and exit for cars, too. 

“People don’t come in and touch the food. We have everything laid out in a way that people can see and there are lists that people can read off of. There’s an example of each product out on the table for people to visualize,” Schacht said. They just tell us what they want and we retrieve it from the containers and we’re able to sanitize the tables in between each person and keep plenty of distance between people. And we’re outdoors.”

Opening a manned farm stand followed a series of difficult decisions brought on by COVID-19 that included shutting down the Waterford farmers market, which Schacht said he and his wife managed with their neighbor Hazel Secchiaroli. 

“When we got to see the state’s guidance on how to operate the markets, we realized there was no way we could logistically do that,” he said. “Just to be able to create the traffic patterns and sanitizing stations and all the things that the state had talked about wanting — we’re not a big operation so it wasn’t worth the effort.” 

The farm also pulled out of the Chester farmers market, which was a major revenue source, he said. Without the farmers markets, the farm was able to add 45 members to its 65-member CSA and a second day of pickup.

Between the increased CSA shares and the on-site farmers market, Schacht said the new combination has been a little easier on his employees energy wise. But, he continues to strategize — cautiously — about how to manage if there is a second wave of the virus. 

“I wanted to set us up with something where we wouldn’t have to change midstream if the cases started to spike again,” he said. “I think the way our market days are set up, we could continue to do it safely.”

Schacht said there is a much stronger feeling in the community about the importance of local food production, but it’s different from the food movement from 10 years ago. 

“Instead of just being from the perspective of liking the fact that you’re getting fresh food and that it’s healthy for you, now it’s like people are relieved to know that they’re connected to a source of good fresh food,” he said. “I’ve had this conversation with several people. ‘It’s not just that we’re happy to be eating good fresh food that’s good for us it’s like we’re really glad that we have a relationship with you as our farmer and that we know there’s going to be food available one way or another.’” 

The empty grocery stores that resulted from food hoarding at the onset of the pandemic were a shock to the community, he said. 

“I think the common thought was that a grocery store would have three days worth of food in it if the supply chain broke down and this whole experience proved that wrong,” he said. “So, people are really paying attention to where the local sources of food are and how they can access them.”

The farm stand at Hunts Brook Farm, 108 Hunts Brook Farm, Quaker Hill, is open Tuesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 to 1 p.m.

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