WARWICK - The coronavirus upheaval has been a mixed blessing for Will Brown's Lowland Farm, a 15-year-old business that produces grass-fed beef and lamb and pasture-raised pork for its own store and local markets.
Demand has spiked for weeks as customers stock up and try to avoid supermarkets, which have had spotty meat supplies anyway at times. But it has been hard to keep up: customers have been buying more quickly than Lowland Farm’s grazing cows, sheep and pigs can be turned into vacuum-packed pages of tasty meat.
The pork supply normally last 30 days, but most recently sold out in 10.
"The demand is far in excess of what we can deliver," Brown said.
Other local meat producers also say their business has been brisk since the pandemic hit New York. They all use small meat-processing plants in Pennsylvania and have not had to contend with the closing of large meat plants that had coronavirus outbreaks among workers. If anything, those closures and the news coverage about them appears to be increasing their customers.
"The demand has far, far exceeded supply," said Tunis Sweetman Jr. of Sweetman’s Farm, which sells grass-fed beef, pastured pork, free-range eggs and other products at its farm stand on County Route 1A in Warwick.
Sweetman said supplies that normally would last two to three weeks are now sold out in about two days. To ensure social distancing, he only allows one or two customers inside the store at a time, and his daughter has been taking orders by phone and email and bringing purchases outside to customers when they pull up.
Some customers have told him they couldn’t find the meat they wanted at their supermarket or didn’t want to venture into one to buy just a few things. But the pandemic also seems to have inspired a new food-buying mindset that he hopes will remain after the crisis passes.
"In some cases, people are getting very conscious about eating better and buying local," Sweetman said.
Jackie Pierson of Pierson’s Farm in Mount Hope also reported an uptick in business, including more customers buying in bulk by ordering a quarter of a cow, which is about 80 to 90 pounds of hamburger and steaks. Her farm, which dates back seven generations of the Pierson family to 1790, sells grass-fed beef and pork and pastured chicken and eggs in its store.
"Yes, it has increased demand, but are we going to be able to keep up with it?" Pierson said. "I don’t know."
She said the pandemic seems to have made customers more conscious of the food supply chain and attracted to producers in their own backyard that they had overlooked. She believed the realization that "there’s people making meat all around us" was driving demand, more so than a newfound interest in naturally raised meat.
Brown said constraints on the three processing plants in Pennsylvania that Lowland Farm uses limits how much meat he can sell. The plant that was scheduled to slaughter, cut and package lamb for Lowland Farm in May has canceled that appointment because it can no longer manage it, he said.
Much of his meat is sold at his own store, which he moved last year to a roadside location in Vernon, N.J. Lowland Farm cuts also are sold at five stores in Orange County and one in Hawthorne, N.J., and can be ordered online in advance, although Brown said he needs to limit web orders with demand so high right now.
"Then you get into a situation where you’re sold out before you get it back," he said.