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  • Writer's pictureJessyca Stoepker

Farm takes community-minded approach to COVID-19

This piece was originally submitted to and published by Petoskey News-Review on Oct. 23, 2020. View the original article here.

Staff from the regional food bank, Manna Food Project, load boxes of fresh produce from Coveyou Farms in September 2020. Through a unique USDA contract, the farm has worked in partnership with the food bank since May to deliver nearly 18,000 boxes of fresh produce to families in need.

COVID-19 has taught us many things as a nation. It’s forced us to be innovative and adaptable, and to cherish local businesses. There’s another lesson to be learned as well: that even amid crisis — and especially during crisis — people and planet must come before profit.

In response to both the economic and health emergencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partnered with national, regional, and local businesses to implement the “Farmers to Families Food Box Program.” The goal is to purchase billions of dollars in produce, dairy, and meat products, package them into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks and other non-profits serving Americans in need.

Though the majority approved for the program were large-scale food processing companies, there was one supplier, a family farm in our corner of the world, also selected: Coveyou Scenic Farm Market of Petoskey.

David Coveyou said in an interview that he was the only farm chosen in Michigan to be on the USDA’s list. They had a matter of weeks to get everything together. David and his wife, Kathy, strategized and got the operation up and rolling in May, with Manna Food Project his primary distributor.

The process went like this. Coveyou procured produce from his fields as well as from ten other local growers. Everything from carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, and potatoes, to apples, peaches, cherries, and more rotated through the boxes as the weeks went on. Once the produce arrived, his workers prepped it, sorted it, and packed it into boxes. The boxes were stacked high onto wooden pallets, which were then loaded into Manna’s refrigerated trucks. Manna then delivered them to partner food pantries and other human service agencies, supplying hundreds of boxes each day to families throughout Antrim, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

By mid-September, the team assembled and delivered nearly 18,000 boxes—providing thousands of people in need with fresh, local produce.

It was a huge experiment for Coveyou Farms, testing how innovative, creative, and hardworking they could be. Luckily, this wasn’t unfamiliar to the Coveyou family. They have proven their resilience over the course of five generations by operating according to their values and remaining community-minded.

Just look at their products: not just high-quality, but organic — meaning better for both the consumer and the environment. Their commitment to the environment extends beyond that, with a stunning array of solar panels and a geothermal cooling system in place.

Additionally, their organic farming internships have brought bright young individuals from around the country to live and work here for the past 15 years. “We pay them, we house them, and this year they played an exciting role in the USDA program,” David explained.

They involve themselves with local issues they care about: becoming Manna Food Rescue partners, Local Food Alliance members, supporters of the Farm to School movement, and more.

And when the pandemic brought sudden hardship, they didn’t fall into a survivalist, competitive mindset. Instead, they opened their market’s doors for other growers and food producers, providing a growth opportunity to some and a lifeline to others.

“When other local producers weren’t sure where they would be able to sell, we welcomed them to our Barn Market,” Coveyou said. “We now offer a wide assortment of Northern Michigan-produced items from over 30 providers.”

The Coveyous not only rose to the USDA’s challenge, but overcame additional ones by lifting others up. Even while pushing through their own struggles as a business during a pandemic and economic downturn, they remain community-minded. This is the essence of Thriving Petoskey.

I hope the Coveyou family’s approach inspires everyone to find their own ‘thriving’ business model—one that prioritizes our people and our planet above all else.

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