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Goucher’s Farm Market family pulls together to press on in pandemic

Jeffrey Goucher and Amanda Stanton of Goucher's Farm Market in Wilmot said the business enjoyed an increase in retail sales during 2020 but also faced several unique challenges due to the COVID 19 pandemic. - Contributed
Jeffrey Goucher and Amanda Stanton of Goucher's Farm Market in Wilmot said the business enjoyed an increase in retail sales during 2020 but also faced several unique challenges due to the COVID 19 pandemic. - Contributed
WILMOT, N.S. —

The year 2020 ended with a pleasant surprise for Goucher’s Farm Market in Wilmot – a 30 per cent increase in retail sales.

But that good news was tempered by the stress of facing several unique challenges to staying in business during the COVID 19 pandemic.

“The year went exceptionally well regarding revenues, especially the summer was very busy for us. We noticed we had a lot of different customers coming in from various areas,” Amanda Stanton, of the management team, said during a recent interview.

“Financially, it was positive. Mentally, it was a little challenging for everybody because there were so many questions, especially when it came to the farm and temporary foreign workers and how u-picks were going to operate. It definitely brought challenges.”

The farming operation that supplies the popular fresh produce Goucher’s is known for relies on the arrival of temporary foreign workers from Mexico to bolster the crew of local farmhands.

The 10 workers who eventually arrived for the 2020 growing season were bogged down by the usual visa restrictions and faced travel restrictions and health regulations after they arrived. Goucher's management wasn't exactly sure when, or even how, many would arrive at all.

“It was really scary at the beginning of the season,” Stanton said.

“It was like walking on eggshells until the final harvest was done.”

Jeffrey Goucher became the fourth-generation owner-operator of the family business in 2016.

“It was especially important when we pick our strawberries. We need all our workers because that’s when we are really busy, so we were getting a little bit behind,” he said.

His father, Gerald Goucher, began selling produce off the back of his truck, or sometimes a wagon, on the corner of Highway 1 and Stronach Mountain Road in Wilmot in the late 1970s.

Decades later, the farm market on the same corner was recently recognized as The Valley’s Best Farm Market by the Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Once the temporary foreign workers arrived, emergency plans had to be in place in case of a COVID outbreak and regular monitoring and health questionnaires.

“The foreign workers were definitely a big stressor for us,” Goucher said.

Goucher said retaining local staff both in the fields and in the farm market became challenging during the pandemic.

“It was harder to retain people because, at home, they were not putting themselves at risk,” Goucher said.

Like many businesses, Goucher's took steps to comply with health regulations, including supplying personal protective equipment such as masks and visors, installing plexiglass shields and providing hand sanitation equipment. They also instituted a curbside pick-up service.

“It seemed to make everyone working for us more comfortable,” Goucher said.

“We were willing to accommodate whatever people wanted to do to make them feel safer.”

Goucher and Stanton also wondered if the availability of government benefits such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) may have been a factor in staff shortages.

Stanton said a silver lining appeared when young family members stepped in to fill the spots left when some staff did not return to work, giving them a chance to develop social skills and gain work experience.

“Jeffrey and I had to step in more, and our kids got involved,” Stanton said.

“We had to come together as a family to make that work.”

In the coming year, Goucher's Farm Market wants to add new products including jams and jellies, in addition to meat products and flour and yeast, as customers prepare to cook more meals at home and prefer a one-stop shopping experience.

Goucher and Stanton said they appreciate the continued loyalty of their customer base.

"We appreciate people supporting local business, and shopping local," Goucher said.

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