December 1, 2021

How do farms cope with COVID-19? Some go old-school

Milk on your doorstep


Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Audrey Lines, left, chats Thursday with Casey Lanave at Trinity Valley Dairy in Homer. The dairy saw a huge spike in sales following the coronavirus pandemic earlier this month, and has opened a drive-through window and will begin delivering milk door to door to deal with the pandemic.

Trinity Valley Dairy in Homer normally delivers between 4,000 to 4,500 gallons of milk a week to retailers across the state, owner Brandon Brown said.

That number nearly doubled to 8,000 gallons during the second week of March due to increased demand in the wake of panic buying in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was crazy,” Brown said. “We bottled it, put it on the truck and it was out the door.”

Stores in Cortland like Price Chopper and Tops Friendly Markets ordered more milk from Trinity Valley Dairy after running out of milk from suppliers like Garelick Farms, Byrne Dairy and Upstate Farms, he said.

The number of gallons has decreased this week for Brown’s farm, but farmers across Cortland County have been working to adjust to coronavirus.

In Brown’s case, that comes by returning to a marketing model not seen in nearly a half-century: door-to-door delivery of milk. That, and a drive-through window.

Brown’s case, though, has been an outlier as farms across America haven’t seen major leaps in production, said Mark James, a senior field adviser for the New York Farm Bureau.

James, who provides guidance to Farm Bureau leaders on behalf of farmers in six counties across the Finger Lakes, including Cortland County, said the biggest change for farmers has been using social distancing and making sure they’re extra diligent with handwashing and cleaning frequently touched surfaces.

The bureau is also advocating on behalf of the farms and industries to provide supplies to farms to make sure they are considered essential businesses during the pandemic.

As for shortages of foods or liquids produced by farmers, like milk, he said he wasn’t aware of any in his region.

“It’s so far, so good,” he said.

At Trinity Valley Dairy, the coronavirus pandemic is changing how the business operates, Brown said.

For customers wanting to abide by socialdistancing guidelines, a drive-through window is available for pickup of orders or direct ordering.

Deliveries to homes will start today for milk, cheese and other dairy products. The farm’s store has opened early for the season as well, he said.

The original opening was planned for April 30 but with demand increasing recently and people wanting to avoid crowded spaces in supermarkets, Brown decided to open early.

After the early spike, Brown said that business has slowed, which is to be expected. “We’re doing OK for right now but if it goes on for an extended period of time, who knows?” he said.

He predicted that he may have only 3,000 gallons of milk sent to retailers this week, but he can get more from nearby farms.

Little has changed for Paul Fouts, owner of Fouts Farm in Groton, beyond reduced interactions with workers to comply with social distancing.

“It’s mostly just trying to limit the times we are next to each other or anyone else,” he said.

This includes having only necessary workers in the milking parlor when the cows are milked, for example.

Production of milk hasn’t increased because of the coronavirus, he said, but rather because of the spring flush, or cows’ bodies adjusting to the season.

“Every spring, production tends to go up,” he said.

What problems he’s seen in the milk supply comes from distribution rather than production. He’s seen a reduction in bedding supplies and delays in the arrival of medicine for his herd.

“We’re fairly isolated here and can run as usual but the things that supply us might not be,” he said.

And if the virus pandemic gets worse? “We’ll cross the bridge when we get there,” he said.