While many businesses that depend on people gathering saw their doors close in the days leading up to widespread stay-at-home orders, farms that supply grocery stores saw the complete opposite impact. Nick Wishnatzki says his family’s Wish Farms in Plant City, one of the region’s berry growers, saw a huge spike in demand as people flocked to grocery stores, stocking up on anything they could get their hands on. The pandemic hit in the middle of strawberry season, so supply was high, but Wish Farms still had to go to work to meet the demand.
“For a good week or two, we saw a giant increase in demand, and it was hard for us to keep up with it. Our team was working overtime to try and supply all of our retail partners,” Wishnatzki explains.
Then, as people began to settle in at home, demand dropped off a cliff.
“All these folks went to the store and bought everything off the shelf and hoarded a lot of nonperishable stuff so that they didn’t have to go out to the stores,” Wishnatzki says. “There just was not a demand for fresh produce because people were realizing [they] wanted something that’s going to hold up for two weeks.”
In the sudden chasm that opened up between supply and demand, the Wish Farms team saw an opportunity. Between March and April, the company donated a quarter of a million pounds of berries — the equivalent of nine semitruck loads — to Feeding Tampa Bay, the United Food Bank of Plant City and other local nonprofits, which don’t often receive donations of berries. They also hand-delivered 8,000 pounds of berries to frontline workers at Tampa General Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Tampa Fire Rescue and other organizations.
“Even if it wasn’t a New York-style [outbreak] here, there was still a lot of stress [frontline workers] were feeling. There’s a heavy burden that they were carrying,” Wishnatzki says. “We just wanted to show our appreciation and let them know we were thinking about them.”
It’s easy for harvesters to spread out in the open fields when picking berries, Wishnatzki says, and members of the packing team are wearing facing masks and socially distancing as much as possible on the production line. As the world slowly moves toward a new normal, Wish Farms is finding ways to continue giving back. They plan to begin donating to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to help get fresh berries to older and at-risk people who are more or less trapped inside until the pandemic subsides. Already they’ve gotten the thumbs-up from one Land O’Lakes nursing home, Wishnatzki says.
“They sent us pictures of some of the residents with some of the berries, and it was just so sweet.”