EAST LANSING, Mich. — During its 140-year history Coveyou Scenic Farm in Petoskey has weathered a lot of storms – and more than one global pandemic. As a testament to that spirit of resilience, David and Kathy Coveyou recently received the Best COVID-19 Pivot Award from the Michigan State University Product Center at its Cook, Share & Prosper online summit. This award recognizes Michigan food and farming businesses that have demonstrated excellence, innovation, and growth during a most challenging year.
This past April, in the span of just a few weeks, Coveyou Scenic Farm went from wondering how it will survive this total business upheaval, to successfully landing one of USDA’s Farmer to Families Food Box Program awards. The nationwide USDA initiative provided funding to purchase produce, dairy, and meat products that were then distributed to area food banks and other nonprofits. From June to September, the Coveyou Scenic Farm team worked to produce almost 18,000 boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables for food insecure families in the Charlevoix, Antrim, and Emmet county areas of Northwest Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. This provided recipients with approximately 250,000 pounds of food, supplied by Coveyou’s, 12 area small farmers and other suppliers.
According to the USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program was designed to put American farmers and distributors of all sizes back to work while supporting over-burdened food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits serving Americans in need.
This was a huge change in the Coveyou Scenic Farm business model that had previously seen 60% of its sales occurring at farmers markets, its on-farm store, and through a small amount of self-distributed product to area restaurants. Working closely through the Manna Food Project, a Harbor Springs based food bank, the farm quickly added equipment, staff, and retooled operations. The Coveyous continually looked at all aspects of their wash/pack system as the program evolved. At production peaks, they were able to pack 400 to 500 boxes an hour, or one box every seven seconds! Once the boxes were packed, they were added to Manna’s distribution network of nearly 60 area food pantries and community organizations. Jessica Stoepker, community engagement and volunteer coordinator for Manna estimates at least 4,000 families benefited from this fresh, local food security effort.
“Some of the least fortunate people in our community were receiving superb quality certified organic produce on their tables less than 24 hours after it was harvested – produce that was fresher than the most financially fortunate in our community would be able to buy in a grocery store,” says David Coveyou.
The Coveyou Scenic Farm participation in the USDA Farmer to Families Food Box program has continued to have a positive impact on the business. The pivot allowed the Coveyous to concentrate efforts on expanding their own farm-based market, growing both customer counts and sales, and helping to take the sting out of revenues typically generated by sales at area farmers markets and to local restaurants.
“This extensive teaming with other farmers and producers has allowed our market to attract more customers who want to do all their shopping outside of conventional brick and mortar grocery stores,” says David.
Countless businesses across Michigan have been working long hours adapting to the pandemic. In recognition of their efforts, the MSU Product Center awarded three other awards in these business categories: Best Marketing to Harwood Gold located in Charlevoix; Best New Product to Radical Plants, LLC based in Mt. Clemens; and Best 2020 Minority Business to InBooze Cocktail Kits located in Grandville.
Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan State University Product Center help entrepreneurs and businesses to develop products and service ideas into the food, agriculture, and bioenergy markets. Its team of experts consults with clients on a one-on-one basis, helping new entrepreneurs navigate from concept development to launch. The MSU Product Center also offers specialized services such as labeling, packaging, and nutritional analysis. If you are interested in business counseling from the MSU Product Center, please complete visit our website at www.canr.msu.edu/productcenter or call (517) 432-8750.
— Wendy Wieland, Michigan State University Extension
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