Effective, Simple, and Resilient: Mason Farmer Succeeds Amidst Market Challenges

Anne Rauscher of Swallowtail Farm is a Michigan farmer who has continued to offer healthy, local produce to her community throughout the pandemic.

Farmers harvest greens.
Photo courtesy of Anne Rauscher

Author’s note: As a member of MSU Center for Regional Food Systems and someone who loves to cook and eat with my family and friends, I am very grateful to farmers like Anne who dig their heels and minds deep to provide their communities with their great produce, even during the most challenging times.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted all of us to reconsider our food system and realize that nothing should be taken for granted. Many small family farmers have continued to provide fresh produce to their customers despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic. For this we should be very appreciative and support our local markets, farmers and their families.

Anne Rauscher is a Michigan farmer who has continued to offer healthy, local produce to her community throughout this difficult time. Rauscher is co-owner and farmer of Swallowtail Farm located in Mason, Michigan.

Swallowtail Farm offers weekly or bi-weekly produce and cut flowers to a couple hundred customers who order online using a simple Google Doc. Each week, Rauscher updates the Google Doc before sending an email notice which vegetables and flowers are available for purchase through the “Salad Club.” Customers pick up their pre-ordered produce at their farmstand or one of several locations, so there is no concern that people are gathering in groups or handling the produce. About 50% of Rauscher’s customers order on a weekly or monthly basis. This works for Rauscher’s farm and market. 

Although there are several software programs that offer “complete services” to support online sales and inventory, Rauscher has yet to find one that meets her expectations. Often an important feature is missing from the service, or the system is too complicated for her or the customers, or the overhead cost is too high.

So, for now, Rauscher uses this simpler approach. She likes that her process allows customers to easily choose and purchase what they want, allowing Swallowtail to base harvest amounts on pre-orders. It also keeps overhead prices low for the farm and maintains an open relationship with her customers. This system continued to go well even when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020 and life as we knew it changed overnight.

It was fortunate for Swallowtail Farm that their marketing approach was established prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which induced an unprecedented demand for fresh, local food. Swallowtail Farm’s fresh flowers have been especially in high demand, giving customers a spark of color during this challenging time.

In the last year, we have come to realize that we can never assume that tomorrow will be just like today. It is wise to build systems that offer flexibility to meet new demands. Swallowtail Farm’s simple ordering system is a good example of meeting changing needs while maintaining sales. Rauscher did not need to transition her sales approach with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic; it already met the requirements and expectations imposed in this time.

In the future, Rauscher may find a more comprehensive system that accommodates her needs, but she is satisfied with the simple system for now.

Rauscher is hopeful that peoples' interest in local food will remain high, even as our lives begin to look more like pre-COVID-19 “normal.”

Visit Swallowtail Farm’s website at https://swallowtailfarm.net

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