As the COVID-19 pandemic closed restaurants across the world, many farmers faced a stark choice: letting their crops rot or using scarce capital to invest in freezers.
Bob Jones, farmer at The Chef's Garden in Huron had a different idea. The Chef’s Garden grows an expansive array of vegetables, greens, lettuces, herbs and edible flowers served in restaurants around the country. The farm lost 80% of its revenue when restaurants closed.
Jones worked quickly to pivot sales online and begin home delivery. He also reached out to Ohio University Procurement Technical Assistance Center (OHIO PTAC) for help with government contracting. Karen Wivell, procurement counselor at OHIO PTAC’s Cleveland location, updated The Chef’s Garden federal contracting registration and set them up to receive daily bid notices from OHIO PTAC.
When the Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers sent out a notice about an emergency procurement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farmers to Families Food Box Program, she notified The Chef’s Garden immediately, as bids were due in less than a week. Working with OHIO PTAC, the company was able to submit their bid package on time and was awarded the contract.
The Chef’s Garden now sends 1,000 family-sized boxes of produce weekly to OHgo, a non-profit in nearby Sandusky, which is feeding six times as many people as it had before the pandemic.
“When clients reach out to us and let us know about the areas where they need help, we can assist them better in finding opportunities,” said Wivell. The Chef’s Garden was awarded $180,000 for May 15 through June 30. They can qualify for three more option periods until the end of the year, potentially earning almost $1 million in total.
“With this contract, we’re able to protect not only our own employees from facing food insecurity because of layoffs, but also multiple other people who may be vulnerable,” Jones said. “These dollars are having impact beyond the original intent.”
As part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, the Farmers to Families Food Box Program partners with suppliers whose businesses have been affected by the closures of restaurants, hotels and other food service businesses.. USDA will purchase up to $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat products that will be packaged and transported to food banks, community and faith-based organizations and non-profits.
Kendra Faulkner said this is the first time since she co-founded OHgo five years ago that she has received a huge quantity of fresh fruits and vegetables to distribute. Each box contains mixed greens, beets, turnips, zucchini, sweet potatoes and other produce. The best part, Faulkner said, is the included instruction sheet with a couple of recipes per vegetable. This is especially helpful because many do not know how to cook some of the more specialty vegetables, she said.
OHgo clients are happy, too. One of the clients messaged Faulkner and said, “I’m grateful for all you have given my family to eat. I can and bake. I have shredded and frozen zucchini for bread over the winter. I canned pickled beets when you gave out fresh beets. I was given a bushel of tomatoes and canned sauce. 11 quarts. Nothing gets wasted.”
Wivell said that by winning the Farmers to Families contract, The Chef’s Garden will be able to build its profile and use its performance to apply for bigger government contracts and expand in the market.
“Multiple opportunities exist for contracting in the government realm, and we’re so happy to know that The Chef’s Garden was able to take advantage of those opportunities,” Wivell said. “They are now helping feed multiple at-risk families in Erie County.”
If that comes to pass, Jones knows where he’ll turn.
“We would not have been able to complete the required forms without assistance and guidance from OHIO PTAC,” he said. “This is not a process that is easy to navigate in a rush. Thus, it becomes crucial you seek help from professionals.”