Photo essay: For local farmers, demand has grown during the pandemic

It’s hard to beat the view for the cattle of GlenDor Farm.

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

Correction: The headline and story were updated to reflect that GlenDor Farm sits just outside the city limits.

A handful of farmers in or around Harrisonburg grow produce and meat to sell directly to consumers. And unlike many businesses, the pandemic has actually driven up sales – exponentially so, for some. 

GlenDor Farm sits on a ridge on Mount Clinton Pike, overlooking the Allegheny Mountains to the west. Black Angus cattle graze in the open pasture on the property. The farm has gone from butchering 15 head a year to about 12 per month during the pandemic. The farm received so such demand for beef that its owners opened a drive-up farmstand in August.

Bryce Blosser

Bryce Blosser took over the family farm five years ago. It was named for his grandparents, Glendon and Dorothy, who started a dairy operation about 50 years ago. When Blosser first took the reins, the farm primarily “backgrounded” cattle – raising them on pasture from calves until they were close to their final weight. Then GlenDor passed them off to another farm that would grain-feed them before butchering.

“Then last year, we really started to get serious about our shares program,” Blosser said. GlenDor butchered 15 cattle to sell shares of each to local families. When COVID-19 hit, he saw beef prices rising in grocery stores, and he began to think about selling individual cuts of beef right from the farm.

“We quickly realized, okay, we can sell our product, it’s better than grocery store, it’s higher quality, and we can sell it cheaper than what the grocery store’s charging right now, and it works out for both the consumer and the producer that way,” he said.

Thaddeus accompanies his mother, Megan Frantz Kaspar, and brother Lev on a trip to pick out cuts of beef earlier this week.
Demand is so great that GlenDor’s farmstand sells about an entire cow each day it’s open.

The GlenDor farmstand is open Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Blosser said they sell about a whole cow’s worth of meat each day they’re open, as well as lamb and pork raised on other nearby farms. 

They’ve been going through so much beef that they’ve had to use two different butchers — T&E Meats in Harrisonburg and Wholesome Foods in Edinburg — to try and meet demand. 

“Modern day farmers aren’t [just] farmers, you know. We’re businessmen, we’re entrepreneurs, you have to look at it from that standpoint in order to grow, and Lord willing, your children take it over one day,” Blosser said.

Bryce’s father, Myron Blosser, also helps out.

Bryce’s father, Harrisonburg High School teacher Myron Blosser, also helps out with the farm. 

“One of the really rewarding parts is to have repeat customers, and a lot of our neighbors are walking over, buying beef from us,” the elder Blosser said. “They say that they’ve been watching our steers, and it’s kind of fun for them to know where their meat comes from.”

Customer Roland Landes.

Roland Landes is already a regular at the farmstand. 

“My wife and I are so glad that we can get some fresh, local hamburger,” he said. “We really taste a difference, yes. Delicious.”

The Park View neighborhood has its own Community Supported Agriculture program.

The Friendly Neighbor Gardens, which runs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program out of the Park View neighborhood, just concluded its second summer season. The CSA also saw a rise in demand for the boxes of produce they provide their customers every week – going from seven members last year to 18 this year, 15 of whom are staying on for the fall season. 

Much of their vegetables are grown in tunnels made from PVC hoop frames covered in plastic sheeting, which traps heat to extend the growing season. It also helps keep excess moisture off the tomato plants to prevent disease.

Stefan and Anna Hess.

Stefan and Anna Hess run the gardens out of their backyard, as well as another rented piece of land close by. The two properties only add up to about a quarter acre, Stefan said. 

They’ve made a few changes to their operations because of COVID-19, including wearing gloves and masks while packing the produce, and asking customers to bring their own bags to cart home the veggies.

Baby mustard greens get their start in dense flats before being transplanted into the ground.

Greens of all kinds have been particularly popular in online orders, which Stefan and Anna introduced this year for CSA members who want extra of a certain product in their box that week.

Greta Kreider picks up her weekly allotment of produce – a festive gourd marking the last day of the summer season.

Both Anna and Stefan said some of their new members joined the program because of the pandemic.

“A few of the people who signed up in the spring said they wanted to get a CSA share to make sure their vegetables were grown locally and they knew how they were being handled,” Stefan said. 

“I think people are home more, and so they’re interested in cooking and taking the time to use whatever vegetables are available in their CSA box,” Anna said, “and also wanting to avoid going in the grocery store as much as they can.”

Farms this year have been as busy as a …

For now, Anna and Stefan are establishing the systems they hope to someday scale up once they acquire more land. 

Stefan, who puts roughly 20 to 25 hours a week into the gardens, also works at the credit union Everence and on another farm in the area. Anna spends about 10-15 hours a week in the gardens, in between teaching piano and finishing her doctorate of musical arts. To run an agricultural business on top of their day jobs and studies is a labor of love and a step toward Stefan’s dream to farm full time. 

Anna and Stefan check their crops.

Stefan and Anna check on the seedlings they have set up under LED lights. 

“I love growing food for people. I have for the past 15 years or so, and being a farmer has been my dream,” Stefan said in an email to The Citizen. “Additionally, I believe that communities need local sources of quality, affordable, fresh food as we head into the future of energy crises, and climate change, I want to be part of the local network that feeds our neighbors.”

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