A Q&A with John Peterson, Farmer & General Manager of Ferndale Market
Tell us a little bit about Ferndale Market and your history.
Our farm was started in 1939 by my grandfather, Dale Peterson. Shortly after he started the farm, he met my grandmother, Fern, so we’re proud that all our turkey products still carry their name today: Ferndale Market. I’m now the third-generation to grow turkeys on our farm in Cannon Falls, Minn., and we continue to use the same practices that have sustained us for over 80 years. Our turkeys are grown free-range and without the use of antibiotics or growth promotants. In addition to our home farm, we work with a few other partner farms to grow our turkeys under the same protocols, so we’re able to help sustain other local family farms through these partnerships.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your farm operations?
Thankfully, we’ve all stayed healthy and have felt grateful for the opportunity to be essential and able to operate through this time. Farming lends itself well to social distancing, but we’ve taken extra precautions in our on-farm market, our warehouse, and for our truck drivers.
Have you noticed increased demand in your products as meat shortages spread across the country?
The shift in demand for our turkey has been incredibly uneven. In addition to providing our turkey products to co-ops, we also sell to schools, colleges, and restaurants, and all of that business disappeared in mid-March. So, while we have seen a surge in retail demand, it hasn’t been enough to absorb the loss of our foodservice customers.
Does your farm face the same processing concerns that larger operations have faced?
A situation like we’re living today is a stark reminder of why we believe in our smaller, localized model. Bigger facilities tend to have bigger problems, simply as a matter of scale. We do all our processing at independent Minnesota facilities, and we’ve been spared the worst of the processing concerns. We have, however, seen that our processing partners are extremely busy, which has created some challenges for us to get our smoked or sausage products made as quickly as we’ve needed them.
How is the local farm community at large being affected by the pandemic? Have you noticed neighbor farms struggling to make ends meet or, alternatively, seeing an increase in demand for their products?
Much like our own experience, I think the impacts for our fellow farmers have been very uneven, depending entirely on the channels the farm was previously selling into. For folks that were largely dependent on restaurants or farmers’ markets, this has been an absolutely devastating period. For others that are more retail-focused or selling directly from the farm, it’s been the opposite. We also have an on-farm local food store, so we speak daily with many of our farming partners. While the experiences are widely varied, all of them are feeling a lot of uncertainty about the future at this point. It’s hard to make quick changes in farming because we’re all dealing with natural cycles that run months and years, so we’re all faced with a lack of longer-term clarity right now.
How can our shoppers best support you and other local farms during this time?
Now more than ever, it’s important for shoppers to support the farms, practices, and products they value. I know the “vote with your dollar” motto can sound cliché and overtly commercial, but we’re in a time period of extreme disruption in our economy, and our food system in particular. As consumers, this is our chance to shape the model we’d like to see on the other side of the pandemic. I also think the time of shut-down has helped to refocus on the importance of small and independent businesses. We’re incredibly proud to be a part of that mix, and I believe deeply in the vitality and strength that local businesses bring to a community. We grow our turkeys here, employ our team here, buy all our supplies here, and sell our finished products here, so the economic benefits multiply for all of us when we support local.