Farm thrives, bolsters other local farmers during coronavirus pandemic
For Shelly Oswald, owner of Old Time Farm in Stoneboro, Pa., the novel coronavirus pandemic illustrates the vital role small, local agriculture producers play in safeguarding food security during a disaster. The pandemic caused nationwide delays in the shipping of goods to American households. Local farmers like Shelly were crucial in helping fill this gap by getting healthy food to Pennsylvania families.
Using the USDA Rural Development Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, Oswald – whose family farm serves customers within a hundred mile radius of its Mercer County location – was able to better market her heritage breed livestock products, including American Milking Devon cattle, Partridge Chantecler chickens, and Standard Bronze turkeys.
“Thanks to our grant opportunity with Rural Development, we were able to let our community know we were present, willing, and ready to meet their food needs,” Oswald said.
Oswald used grant funds to offset the cost of marketing courses and workshops, where she refined her branding and outreach to underscore Old Time Farm’s keystone message on the importance of buying, raising, and protecting endangered heirloom breeds. She also established an e-commerce shop, and was able to purchase labels and packing materials, as well as pay for some beef processing. Finally, the VAPG allowed Old Time Farm to help other regional ag producers reach consumers after their wholesale markets and traditional marketing events collapsed in the early days of the pandemic.
Because Old Time Farm specializes in heritage breeds, Shelly also was able to incubate and sell chicks and turkeys – along with their eggs – to area ag producers whose conventional poultry farms suffered from pandemic-related supply chain disruptions. This, too, bolstered regional food security.
“Supporting local food ensures we have skilled, good producers in our communities, local food-producing capacity in our region, and regionally-adapted plant and animal genetics in small, bio-diverse herds and flocks, so we can protect biosecurity, and conservation of the environment,” Oswald said.
American Milking Devons graze the fields of Old Time Farm in Stoneboro, Pa. This is a true, triple-purpose breed used for milk, beef, and as oxen. Old Time Farm chose the Devon for its long legacy of intelligence and trainability. In fact, Devons were the cattle of choice on the Oregon Trail, and can still be found on George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
Free-roaming Partridge Chantecler chickens search for food at Old Time Farm in Stoneboro, Pa. This dual-purpose breed hails from Canada, and is especially appreciated by northern-locale farmers for its colder-weather suitability.