Following the Path from Concern to Hope

May 29, 2020

by Bruce Derksen

As COVID-19 took hold in North America, Alan and Carolyn Fredrickson, along with grown children Erik and Anna, of Top of the Hill Farm, Wolfeboro, N.H., joined the general population in level of concern. The family raises purebred Hereford cattle and normally makes their presence felt in different showrings, but competitions were being cancelled. A separate commercial herd is used for direct-marketed Top of the Hill Farm Beef, but adding to the anxiety, a partially completed farm-store building designed to increase sales, suddenly stood quiet and empty.

With the winter farmer’s market closed, the Fredricksons accessed a social media strategy to bolster pickup service and to offer deliveries of homegrown beef to current and potentially new customers.

“We needed help to keep the business going,” said Alan. So, biweekly, they packed a refrigerated truck with mostly prepaid orders and delivered meat to their customers. The results were staggering. “I’ve never seen sales like this at this time of year. And pickups are thriving too.”

Although the bump in business was welcome, Alan says it brought more challenges, as the small family-run packers could only process limited animals. Winter processing dates were in place a year in advance, but the family’s supplies were running low. “We stock our walk-in freezer for our summer sales, but in the last month it’s pretty much been wiped out. Right now, I could sell anything I have.”

Alan says the processing plant is working overtime and has allowed extra animals, but capacity is limited. “We could reach a point where we don’t have stock to provide for the customers.”

He believes the market growth comes from supermarkets running empty of all meat products plus a general unease regarding consumer safety. “People are coming to us because we are a local product and they believe we are a safe place.”

Alan is thankful New Hampshire and Maine have designated farmer’s markets as essential businesses, so summer markets will open as planned. Limited numbers of customers will be allowed, and social distancing directives will be in place, but he says the Fredericksons and their customers will get used to the process.

When the threat of COVID-19 passes, he believes the business will be helped by new customers who have discovered the Fredricksons’ local product. She admits the family faced anxiety and concern early in the pandemic, but with some creative positive thinking, it became opportunity, reward and, eventually, hope.