This story is part of our Cavalcade special edition on local businesses. Read the rest of the stories here.
PARMA — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Idaho last year, many Treasure Valley restaurants closed their doors or were limited to takeout and delivery, which in turn sliced the sales of local farmers who sell product to the restaurants.
That is what happened to Groves Country Mushrooms, a family-run mushroom farm in Parma. Mason Groves, co-owner of the farm, said all of the restaurants that carried his mushrooms canceled their orders last March.
"We lost about 70% of our revenue," Groves said. "It was a bit of a panic."
Even so, Groves said the mushroom farm saw an increase in retail sales at the same time restaurants were dropping the farm. People were heading to grocery stores and farmers markets instead of eating out at restaurants, he said.
Groves' wife, Tia Groves, started an online farmers market in the Treasure Valley in order to keep up their retail sales. Tia Groves started a Treasure Valley "REKO Ring," a local branch of REKO that is a Facebook-based sales model that was started by a Finnish farmer in 2013.
The objective is to connect consumers directly to local small-scale producers. Tia Groves started Reko - Treasure Valley Idaho last year in March, just as the pandemic hit Idaho. The way it works is people interested in buying from local producers are part of a Facebook group. The vendors post a weekly call out in the group and people post their orders in the comments. Once each week the vendors set up in Boise, Meridian and Nampa, and customers come and grab their orders.
"It is an exchange of goods on site," Tia Groves said. "It is time saving, while the traditional farmers markets take eight, six or 10 hours every Saturday, REKO is a 30-minute turnaround."
When the vendors know exactly how many people are ordering and what products they are ordering, there is no waste, Tia Groves said. Also the market is year-round. Though some vendors may drop off in the winter, some still sell winter crops during in December through March.
The pandemic has changed a lot of the way Groves Country Mushrooms is run. Mason Groves said they are focusing on retail and wholesale and placing less of an emphasis on restaurant sales. He said they are putting a lot more mushrooms in grocery stores these days.