Resilient Local Food Systems

I decided the best way to find out why our local farms are resilient at this time would be to connect with some of the farmers that source their product to the Co-op Food stores.  I wanted to understand the impact of this pandemic on their businesses, and what motivates them to stay with farming – in the best and worst of times such as these.

COVID 19 has reshaped our thinking about life, how we live, what we do, what our future may look like. If you’re like me, you are receiving too much news—which isn’t a good thing. On my way into work this week, listening to another pandemic update, I felt discouraged by the extent of disruption and tragedy. One of my work assignments has been to dig into why our local farmers are so important to us, especially at this time. I welcomed such a hopeful assignment, considering I felt the sky was falling!

This pandemic is a reminder of the vulnerability of our current, global food system – which is affected by long-distance travel for food delivery, loss of nutritional value and quality in transport, and excessive use of fertilizer and pesticide to combat the diseases associated with industrial agriculture. This system has bent and buckled under the strains of this pandemic.

With this I mind, I decided the best way to find out why our local farms are resilient at this time would be to connect with some of the farmers that source their product to the Co-op Food stores.  I wanted to understand the impact of this pandemic on their businesses, and what motivates them to stay with farming – in the best and worst of times such as these.

I talked to several vendors: Root 5 Farm, Laughing Child Farm, Ceres Greens, lēf Farms, Dunk’s Mushrooms, and Generation Farms. Each received my call with enthusiasm and a willingness to answer my questions. What I learned was valuable and informative, and summarized below:

  • Our local and regional farmers are passionate and committed to their product.
  • The health of their community and the environment is what they prioritize in how they manage their farms.
  • All have felt the impact, and each have responded with creativity and flexibility in their marketing and business model. For example, those dependent on restaurant/education facilities have switched to delivery, pick up, and pre-order, and have increased their CSA memberships.
  • Above all else, they all expressed their commitment to their local and regional community.

One farmer stated it well, a sentiment echoed by many of the others: “Our mission is not just about growing greens but about developing community. It is important for us to work with other area businesses to support the needs of the local and regional community, to nurture a healthy, flexible food system, to foster face-to-face connection with customers, and to preserve those trusted, reliable and loyal connections to the organizations, such as food co-ops who market our products.  At a time when millions of Americans are unemployed or furloughed, we care about our employees, the health of our customers and local economy.” 

In a nutshell, this is why we need our local/regional farmers and business owners to survive and thrive.

While we continue to shelter in place, and await the return to some normalcy, it is clear that life won’t return to our “pre-COVID-19” normal.  In fact, we are witnesses to some significant and fundamental changes in the world and the hope is that some of these will become permanent.  When this health crisis abates, we will be in a new world—one in which we will reflect on our food-supply system: what did not work, what did work, and how we will proceed together as a community. 

As Winston Churchill reportedly said nearing the end of WWII, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” While we may not be able to solve the world’s problems at this time, what we can do is to act collectively and address the immediate problem by supporting these local farmers and business owners now and going forward.  

Thank you to each of the local farms. It was humbling to hear your stories. Your commitment to community and environment renewed my belief that individuals can be part of positive change.  It is happening every day in our local region.  We would not be a healthy and thriving community without all of you!

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Laurie Gelb

Laurie Gelb

Laurie Gelb is the Co-op's Member Engagement Specialist. Contact her at LaurieGelb at coopfoodstore dot com.