Updated: Sep 28, 2020
We all know that farmers are adaptive and creative, and we are definitely seeing this as the COVID-19 pandemic has struck.
In the Western North Carolina region, farmers Sunil Patel and Vanya Wenger are a part of a team of leaders who have fast-tracked the evolution of the Patchwork Online Market into a Producer Cooperative, the Patchwork Alliance.
Sunil Patel is a long time Asheville farmer and chef with Patchwork Urban Farms and has been a leader in creating cooperative urban farming on plots throughout the city, and has always dreamed of a larger collective mission to unite farmer’s power. “We are in a place where there is opportunity and necessity for us to create alternative structures that decentralize power, create new modes of economic exchange, and allow for cross-enterprise collaboration. Structures like the Patchwork Alliance are necessary to test the waters of truly localized, self-sufficient economies in our region.” Vanya Wenger is a current Farm Beginnings student. She had started Callisto’s Garden, her family farm, in 2019, and was developing new marketing and business plans as the Covid 19 pandemic struck. Vanya was already involved with Patchwork Online Market, and quickly emerged as a leader in solidifying farmer strength, while securing an innovative marketing channel that customers are needing.
The Patchwork Alliance is an online market that allows customers to order each week from Friday-Monday, and pick up their orders on Thursdays at regional pickup sites, and also offers home delivery to 2880* zip codes. It has over 35 Producer-Owners, and a variety of meat, dairy, valued added, produce and more.
The demand for more remote ways to access local food has increased due to the pandemic as individuals don’t want to go to stores or farmers markets as much and existing aggregators aren’t able to keep up (see article on Mother Earth Foods.)
This new online market is a reinvention of a smaller scale online market that Sunil Patel has managed for 5 years based at the community Pearson Garden in Montford. The new aggregation site is in Weaverville at Maverick’s Cattle Co. in the King Center, a 3300 square foot facility with coolers, freezers and lots of space to receive, aggregate and distribute food, as well as a potential restaurant and outdoor market for the Patchwork Alliance to grow. The Patchwork Alliance team has developed partnerships with regional businesses, such as the West Village Market, West End Bakery, BimBeriBon, Foreign Affairs Oriental Market, Sovereign Remedies, and Make Space, to be pick-up sites for Credit/Debit Orders. Several of these sites can process payment via EBT/ SNAP so low income residents can utilize their food benefits for this local food, including the Double Up Food Bucks program.
According to Vanya Wenger, “Access to fresh, healthy, local food at this time is not only crucial to our economy, it’s essential for our health, and our sense of connection to our community. We are helping to connect farmers and creators of all kinds to reach their local customers without going it alone in the online marketplace. By sharing and expanding our network, we can strive to combat the imbalance that has plagued our industrial food systems for too long.”