The arrival of COVID-19 paired with destructive “solutions” at the hands of many local and state governments will no doubt be felt for years to come. We’ve all heard the stories and likely know someone whose life has been forever altered either by the loss of a job or unneeded closure of their business. Like many calamities throughout history however, we often find later that a silver-lining emerged that redefined normal for some. No doubt 2020 will have those as well, whether it be the mass acceptance of video conferencing and teleworking or better sanitation measures at restaurants and other public places.
However, one of the most significant and long lasting changes will likely be how people obtain food for their families and its impact on retailers on main street that have existed for generations.
Even prior to Covid, over the past few years we have seen a dramatic shift in food and how we access it. The onslaught of subscription-based companies like Blue Apron, that deliver ready-to-cook ingredients and recipes, and delivery services like Door-Dash and UberEats have also removed a barrier for many consumers by delivering food from a favorite restaurant that normally doesn’t offer a delivery service.
However, despite significant innovations over the past few years it seems that many in America and particularly North Carolina are longing for the ways of years past and are either producing some of their own food for the first time or are seeking out local farms to provide for their families. This trend is unlikely to slow after the pandemic and that is good for producers and local economies across our state. Shopping neighboring farms will not only keep your dollars turning over locally, thus helping everyone, but it will help to ensure that future disruptions in the market are mitigated due to less dependency on national and sometimes international supply chains.
The Civitas Institute is currently conducting a study of the impact of COVID-19 on small farms in North Carolina. Although data collection is not yet complete, early analysis shows that over half of small producers responding have seen an increase in sales while some have seen no change at all. However, the most staggering data point thus far is how few have seen a decrease in sales over last year. Although a portion of many farms sales were to restaurants, many of those farms quickly transitioned to other market streams like farmers markets and on-farm sales.
Although the negative impact of COVID-19 has been catastrophic for far too many, the rush by consumers to “know their farmer” by buying direct will perhaps be considered a renaissance in local food, the likes we’ve never seen before. As we continue to pray for those affected and fight those that want to needlessly keep our economy closed, let’s venture out this weekend to a local farm or farmers market and help our neighbors feed our state. After all, we will need them to be strong and vibrant if and when the next disruption happens.