Locally grown fruits and vegetables may be more healthy for you and help cut down on things like transportation costs and resulting air pollution, but some North Denver neighborhood farm stands are struggling. The COVID-19 pandemic was one factor, but not the only possible reason, business has dropped in 2021.
Jon Rodrigues is an owner of Sunnyside Farms, which operates a farm stand on Saturdays at 4512 Vallejo St. The stand debuted last year and Rodrigues said overall revenue is about the same this year as 2020, despite a slight drop in farm stand sales this year.
“The balance of our money comes from wholesale sales to restaurants, which is about back to pre-pandemic levels, and the Saturday stand seems to get fairly steady business,” he added. “It’s an interesting time. Last year it was a set of unusual circumstances that allowed us to open the stand and it turned into a really good year.”
Rodrigues said Sunnyside operated their farm stand in 2020 on Wednesdays and Saturdays but eliminated the Wednesday stand this year due to the drop in sales and the reopening of restaurants that were wholesale customers.
Since 2016, Sunnyside Farms has sold its produce and fruit to restaurants on the wholesale level. Rodrigues added the operation also includes a handyman and landscaping service, which has been highlighted to customers a little more this year.
The types of customers in 2020 were a mix of tourists staying at area Airbnb rentals and residents within a four- or five-block area, Rodrigues added. This year it’s more of a variety, with repeat customers living close by and those who subscribe to a community supported agriculture program. Such programs allow people to pay upfront and stop by the farm each month to pick up locally-grown and harvested fruits and vegetables.
“Seedlings sold well early last year, but they were significantly lower this year,” Rodrigues added. “We could be selling more since we planted more seedlings at the start of the year with the expectation people would be doing more personal gardening. And we specialize in providing produce in the late growing season.”
Rodrigues noted Sunnyside Farms is still learning about the farm stand business.
“Since this is only our second year with the farm stand, we’re still getting our feet under us a little bit,” Rodrigues said. “It will be interesting to learn more as we go along and see how other farm stands make a go of it.”
Meanwhile, Spano’s Produce, 5820 Lowell Blvd., just north of Interstate 70, has seen a sharper drop in its farm stand business this year, according to one of the owners.
“It’s been really weird,” Marie Elliott said. “We’re down over the last two years and I’m not sure what happened. The pandemic was part of it, of course; that made people scared. But we don’t see people stopping by on their way home like we had.”
Elliott estimated Spano’s business had dropped by 50% over the last two years. Spano’s has not had to lay off staff, with just one worker along with family members. However, the operation reduced the amount of produce planted this year, Elliott added.
“Some things like farm-to-table dinners are good,” she said. “Jams, jellies, and the prepared stuff still sells but not the produce as much.”
Customers — most of them regulars — usually want just a few things now, Elliott stated.
Construction work on Lowell Boulevard over the last several years was another likely factor in Spano’s business decline, Elliott added.
The drop might have also been affected by people moving out of the area and older customers passing away, she said.
The stand’s business in the 1970s and 80s was very good, she recalled, with two stands next to each other and steady business all day.
“Nowadays, a lot of people don’t cook like they used to, either,” Elliott stated.