Pivot seems to be the operative word in the food and beverage industry these days, and a recent collaboration between Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) has had to do just that.
What should have been a celebratory spring for CFSA has turned into a scramble to support small farmers across North and South Carolina during the Covid-19 pandemic. This year would have marked the 25th anniversary of the nonprofit’s wildly popular Piedmont Farm Tour, an event where farms across the region throw open their doors and gates to visitors. Highlights often include live music, planting demonstrations, and plenty of baby farm animals.
CFSA Education Coordinator Mary Beth Miller had already partnered with Fullsteam to create a special beer for the occasion. A golden ale made with one hundred percent Carolina barley and 300 pounds of strawberries from Lewis Farms in Rocky Point, NC, and based on Fullsteam’s popular Big Tent ale, the beer was meant to raise proceeds for CFSA’s mission of supporting small farms and sustainable agriculture.
“Fullsteams is such a huge supporter of local farms,” Miller said recently. When it became clear the tour would need to be canceled, both CFSA and Fullsteam leapt into action.
Fullsteam founder and Chief Executive Optimist Sean Lilly Wilson got together with Miller, who was already in the process of transforming their interactive farm tour Google Map into a resource for consumers to find local farms who were delivering or offering on-farm pickup.
“When Sean realized we had to cancel he changed the label” to include a QR-code directing consumers to the map, Miller explains. “Instead of a celebration it was now a call to action.”
“Our local food system is cracking,” she adds.
CFSA has also ramped up its small-farm advocacy during the outbreak. In addition to lobbying the Departments of Agriculture in North and South Carolina they’ve also hosted a webinar for farmers’ market managers on best practices for operating during a pandemic.
“My hope is that we can fill in the gaps between farmers reaching consumers, especially in the more rural counties,” Miller explains.
Lilly Wilson agrees. “The timing is unfortunate but allows us to highlight the importance of local food systems.”
He notes that times are just as rough for craft breweries as they are for restaurants and small farmers.
Most small breweries are dependent on on-premise taproom sales to sustain distribution, he explains. “We are trying to be nimble and responsive,” he says, but “business is down 70% and we are not the only ones.”
“This is my life and livelihood,” he notes. “We’re going to push through this as best we can. I see a light at the end of the tunnel, I just don’t know how much oxygen is left in that tunnel.”
To date the CFSA online map (which can be accessed here) has had well over 26,000 visits. Those interested in picking up some cans of the Big Tent Strawberry collaboration beer can find it in the Triangle at the following businesses:
• The Glass Jug, South Durham
• Weaver Street Carrboro
• Weaver Street Southern Village
• Weaver Street Hillsborough
• Weaver Street Raleigh
• Durham Co-Op
• Whole Foods Chapel Hill
• Craftboro, Carrboro
• Pelagic Beer + Wine, Raleigh
• Craft Beer Cellar, Cary
• Triangle Wine Holly Springs
• Bottles and Cans Wine Shop, Cary