SWFL farms begin to see business as restaurants start reopening

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Credit: WINK News.

Leaves of lettuce aren’t the only green thing local farmers are seeing these days. With restaurants getting ready to reopen for the coming week, cash is starting to slowly flow in again. The coronavirus pandemic caused some farmers to lose as much as 90% of their business.

Now, farms in Southwest Florida, such as East Fork Creek in south Fort Myers, are gearing up for restaurants to open their doors Monday as part of phase one to reopen the state.

“Our chefs are still a little careful,” said Frans Kox, co-owner of East Fork Creek. “Everybody is reaching out and going, ‘Hey, do you have something?’ We harvest twice a week, Tuesday and Friday. People are making reservation for the Tuesday harvest.”

East Fork Creek mainly grows different varieties of lettuce.

“We are growing, trying to get more shade houses ready,” said Jana Telecka, co-owner of East Fork Creek.

The farm’s main clientele are chefs in restaurants and country clubs.

So, when the coronavirus shut down dine-in service at restaurants, it affected East Fork Creek considerably.

“All of a sudden, 90 percent of our market changed,” Kox said. “It disappeared. Restaurants closed. Country clubs were no longer allowed to do business, and we’re growing 8,000 heads of lettuce a week. All of a sudden, what do you do?”

East Fork Creek found relief in its own market, selling its own produce and produce from other local farms to everyday shoppers. The owners even began selling their lettuce to restaurants that had their own pantry projects, and it took off.

“What we hadn’t expected is the success of our little market,” Kox said.

Now, restrictions are slowly beginning to lift. Starting Monday, restaurants can start dine-in service again at 25% capacity with social distancing in place.

East fork creek plans to keep its market and delivery service going as restrictions begin to lift.

And East Fork creek is seeing the orders come in.

“Our regular customers are coming back,” Kox said. “Some of them are closed, but most of them are definitely coming out.”

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