Allison Lakin, a cheesemaker in Waldoboro, felt distressed when she heard all the talk about the coronavirus closing restaurants, but no one was talking about how it was affecting people who supply the restaurants. People like her.

“I have a wholesale business that is about 85 percent to restaurants,” said Lakin, who owns Lakin’s Gorges Cheese and East Forty Farm. “Basically I went from having 20 orders to having two in just a couple of days. And I have fresh cheese that I can’t store. It’s got to be eaten.”

Other farmers told her they’d just slaughtered farm animals, and the meat was slated for restaurants. What could they do with it now?

Lakin started thinking about creative ways to sell her cheese directly to the public, “so that I can pay my mortgage and utility bill.” The result? A Google Doc spreadsheet of farm products that was quickly picked up – and will be expanded upon – by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service.

Accessible to anyone, the spreadsheet lists local farms, what they have for sale, their hours, and whether or not they will do curbside pickup or delivery. The extension service turned the document into an online Farm Product and Pick-up Directory that was posted Thursday afternoon, but Lakin’s original spreadsheet remains online  and will be updated as well.

Lakin created the farm spreadsheet on Monday, quickly promoting it on social media and sharing it with other farmers and the cooperative extension.

“We took that list on its own and sent it out to the fruit and veg grower listserv that we have through the extension service,” said Jason Lilley, a sustainable agriculture professional. “There are about 250 growers on that, and I think overnight we went from 7 to 45 entries.”

Within three days, 50 farms from eight counties had signed up. As of Thursday, 54 farms were on the list. The extension service has a link to a form on its website that farmers can use to submit their information. Lilley expects new additions daily.

Among the listed farms is Spear Spring Farm in Warren, which often sells to restaurants. Jamien Reynolds, owner of the farm, posted on the spreadsheet that she has pork, lamb, chicken and eggs for sale, along with fermented garlic, raw honey, spices, sun-dried tomatoes, popping corn, polenta and crackers. It’s too early in the season for field vegetables, but the farm will soon have collard greens, kale, bok choy and pea shoots, grown in its high tunnels and greenhouse.

“We’re just at the very beginning of our season, so (the virus) hasn’t negatively affected our business yet, with the exception of maybe CSA sign-ups,” Reynolds said. “I think people are just in a holding pattern, kind of holding their breath and waiting to see what’s going to happen. But we’re also just really worried about spring markets.”

Though the Spear Spring farm stand doesn’t usually open until mid-May, on Wednesday Reynolds decided to start boxing orders for pick-up at the farm. She also wrote “yes, call ahead” in the spreadsheet box marked “delivery.”

Reynolds has offered delivery for the past two years to the elderly and “people who have extenuating circumstances. So in this particular case, we would do pre-order with pick-up at the farm, but if there were someone who needed home delivery, for whatever reason, we would get them food.”

Reynolds also posted on the database that she’s looking to hire people, has no emergency needs, and is willing to share bulk orders with other farmers. Lakin added these categories after thinking about the short- and longer-term needs farmers may have.

Lakin used herself as an example. The two cheese orders she had this week were in Damariscotta and Freeport, and it wouldn’t be cost effective for her to spend more than three hours on the road delivering them.

“I figured there are other people out there like me, so one of the other categories I put in this database was ‘could you help deliver people’s products?’ ” she said. “Then I started thinking as the virus evolves, and more people are impacted, what if a farmer or producer gets sick and needs some help? So I added that (emergency needs) category in there.”

The extension service plans to expand this section of the spreadsheet, Lilley said, and add an interactive map.

Jenn Grant, owner of Findview Farm in Gorham, was initially worried about her prospects if farmers markets close. How would she sell the eggs, beef, pork and lamb she produces? For now, that’s no longer an issue. A lot of new customers have shown up at her farm stand in the past week, and other farms report a similar pattern.

“Those with farm stands, especially selling meats, have really been busy because the grocery stores have been running out,” she said. “People have been buying a lot. They’re just stocking up.”

“These new people who come in have never bought from us before,” she continued. “I had someone come in yesterday who had two coolers that they filled up.”

Grant is not worried about running out of meat because she has a stockpile in her freezers, and she processes beef every month.

“Last month I slaughtered three pigs, and I just slaughtered three more this month,” she said. “Technically, that was supposed to take me through the summer. If this keeps up it won’t. But I’ll figure that out when the time comes.”


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