Local demand for fruits and vegetables raised by Nichols Farm and Orchard is growing online customers and an explosion in the Marengo farm’s subscription members since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“CSAs (community supported agriculture) – it’s the best year ever for them. It’s big growth. That’s hopeful,” Todd Nichols, farm owner and operator, told FarmWeek. The McHenry County Farm Bureau member estimated a 600% to 700% increase in the number of people who bought upfront shares of the farm’s seasonal production.

The farm’s online sales with home delivery to Chicago and the suburbs also continue to grow with about 100 daily orders. Nichols charges a flat $12 delivery fee with deliveries three days each week. However, Nichols said weekly deliveries will soon increase to five days.

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton highlighted Nichols Farm and Orchard recently as part of her Cultivating Our Communities campaign on farm diversity. Visit {nicholsfarm.com} or the farm’s Facebook page.

The three-generation family farm, started by Lloyd and Doreen Nichols in 1978, raises a variety of vegetables and fruits from berries to apples on 300 acres and in 22 greenhouses. Early in the growing season, the farm also sells plants.

While Nichols is seeing growth in some markets, he also lost others. About 40% of the farm’s produce was sold to restaurants. “Restaurant sales have ‘dried up,’” he noted.

The farm also relies on farmers’ markets, typically selling at 15 to 16 markets each week. Nichols estimated he’d lost 15 market days already this year. “A lot of the farmers’ markets are still up in the air,” he said. “Evanston opened up, and the turnout was good.”

Meanwhile, online orders are going strong. “The online store has got a lot of potential,” Nichols said. No orders are taken over the phone. CSA sales for either home delivery or pickup locations are strong with “more interest than ever” from McHenry County residents, he added.

As for coronavirus safety practices, “we’re doing our best at keeping safe, wearing masks and gloves, and encouraging everyone to stay safe,” Nichols said, noting more masks and gloves recently became available for purchase.

Nichols wasn’t sure if the recent upswing in local food interest would continue.

After 20 years as a trend, “I’ve seen it (local food) plateau,” Nichols said. “This has given it a kick. It’s good for small growers.”