Shore food market expands through Chesapeake Harvest
EASTON — The Easton Economic Development Corporation created Chesapeake Harvest in 2015 to help small and mid-size farmers develop further economically.
Easton native Jordan Lloyd, owner of the Bartlett Pear Inn, was asked to help lead the program in the right direction. A member of the EEDC Board of Directors, Lloyd was named director of operations for Chesapeake Harvest.
Chesapeake Harvest, a Maryland limited-liability benefit corporation, is an umbrella company with branches that include a food safety program, a starter plant program and six-mnth-old online sales platforms called Chesapeake Harvest Wholesale and Chesapeake Harvest Retail.
“Chesapeake Harvest envisions a regional food production and distribution system that increases sustainable agricultural employment on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and contributes to a vibrant regional economy, enhanced food production, distribution infrastructure, food security, and the preservation of farms,” the EEDC website states.
Founded on the premise of offering quality, locally grown, environmentally sound products, the market has secured about 30 farms, largely from Dorchester, Caroline and Talbot counties, and 200 buyers so far.
Lloyd credits Charlene and Carmon Dilsworth, of Greensboro, with getting the online platform “over a big hump.” Farming for about 50 years in the area, the pair believed in the online platform from its beginning, said Lloyd, and they invested significant inventory into it, realizing strong sales.
“Chesapeake Harvest is modest at this time as we continue to identify more buyers who are willing and able to purchase from small and mid-size farms,” EEDC Executive Director Tracy Ward said. “We anticipate that it will grow significantly, particularly with more institutional buys.”
Ward referenced Chesapeake Harvest’s recent initiative with Londonderry retirement community as an example.
Londonderry Director of Sales and Marketing Rachel Smith said that, thanks to Lloyd’s assistance with menu modifications, community members now enjoy meals meals primary sourced from locally grown ingredients via Chesapeake Harvest.
Smith said the food is delicious, and Londonderry residents who are from the area are always keen to hear which farms their food is coming from. Apples, garlic, onions, mushrooms, coffees, spice blends, blackberries, raspberries, jelly, cabbage and kale are among the many products sold on the platform.
Lloyd and his team (which includes his wife, Alice), EEDC members and Eastern Shore growers gathered last week at the Bartlett Pear Inn to determine how Chesapeake Harvest can best help farmers. The group examined the website and worked together to adjust the platform to make it more manageable, accessible and feasible for all involved.
The Chesapeake Harvest website was created by farmer Zack Schlag, and the online platform, Local Orbit, is from a company based in Hawaii. “Our whole identity comes from the farming community–even the website design,” Lloyd said.
Even so, he admits, the website is still a work in progress. “It’s a little clunky, to be honest,” Lloyd said. “It could use a lot of improvement.”
On the retail side, the program, initially called Chesapeake Harvest Talbot, is slated to have pickup locations in counties across the Eastern Shore, each with its own retail market specific to that area. The name, says Lloyd may become an issue upon expansion.
On the plus side, the online platform has received a lot of support from the community, he said. The retail market is about eight weeks old and is open 24/7.
“These farmers are literally in tears, ecstatic for the sales,” Lloyd said recently. “This is a whole new layer of revenue, and one that many didn’t expect.”
Not intended to compete with the Easton Farmer’s Market, the platform, Lloyd hopes, will one day support the market and attract even more buyers.
Another issue raised at last week’s meeting was delivery. Currently, the cutoff for buyers using Chesapeake Harvest Wholesale is Wednesday morning, with Thursday designated as delivery day. For the retail end, orders are cut off on Tuesday, with pickup on Friday. Beat the Rush Delivery is available for wholesale and retail orders.
Some local producers voiced concerns that the one-day-per-week delivery system was challenging, and they were encouraged to make deliveries on the days that worked for them. This flexibility is purely optional and will not be expected from all Chesapeake Harvest growers .
As the platform continues to grow, said Lloyd, delivering on multiple days will become easier.
The group acknowledged that this growth will come with the expansion of products on the platform, which in turn would attract more buyers. At the same time, Lloyd pointed out that maintaining integrity of the product also is essential.
“I truly believe that the food we produce together on the Eastern Shore is superior to many places across the nation,” he said. “I really believe in the integrity of the product.”
“New members are registering every day, and there are more sales each week,” he said. “I only see this going up.”