Feeding Ourselves in a Pandemic
By Alex Smith
Let me just start with the elephant in the room: we’re living in strange times. School closures, stay at home orders, wearing masks in public… It’s far from normal. One consequence is that we’re seeing how important certain aspects of our lives are and how critical some people are to the functioning of daily life. I see signs in my neighborhood supporting emergency workers, transit drivers, grocery store workers, and others on the front lines who can’t just stay home and away from the public. These people deserve every ounce of that recognition. One profession that seems to be getting lost in all this gratitude, however, is our farmers.
While healthcare workers keep us alive and well at great risk, and grocery workers are the face of the food system, farmers are quietly working away at ensuring we have food in the coming months. It’s hard to know what the future will hold in terms of food. The vast majority of food we consume comes from the Central Valley in California, or from other countries. This reliance on imported food makes it such that we have to simply trust supply chains to keep working seamlessly. In other words, blind faith in a system we have no control over.
In the midst of all this, we have another option. We have a vast array of local farms selling directly to consumers. Instead of relying on produce coming from far away, having been handled by dozens of people, we have the opportunity to buy directly from the person who harvested the crop. Fewer hands touching our food means fewer opportunities to spread disease. And buying from local farms means we have more direct control over our food supply. This concept, which academics refer to as food sovereignty, is the backbone of a truly sustainable community.
A big question that has been arising is, “How do we get our food in the safest manner?” I’m not an epidemiologist, but I do listen to them. The current guidelines, which may change by the time you read this, are to avoid social gatherings, stay at least 6 feet from other people, wear a mask in public, and only leave the home for essential purposes.
These guidelines provide a framework for some different models of food distribution. One model is the farm share or CSA model. A farm share or CSA is an arrangement between a farmer and member where you buy a subscription to a local farm in advance of the season. The farmer uses the up-front funds for everything needed to grow the food. In return, the farmer delivers your weekly “share” of the harvest. Participating in a farm share is the most powerful way we can support our local farmers, but there are also many benefits to you and your family. It’s often cheaper to buy a farm share than it is to get the same items in the grocery store, and also, you don’t have to go to the grocery store.
Another option is pickup sites. Farms have started creating sites where you can choose from pre-bagged selections of local produce and staples such as bread, meat, and cheese. Follow your favorite farms’ social media, newsletters, and websites to know where to go. Also, the Bellingham Farmers Market will be operating as a pickup site during its normal operating hours, 10am-3pm Saturdays, starting on 4/11. Customers can pick up pre-packaged produce and other essential items directly from vendors. Be sure to read the regulations on the Bellingham Farmers Market website before going, though. This is not a normal market and safety is paramount.
Another safe option is to find farm stands. There are a plethora of farms scattered throughout the county selling eggs, produce, and even meat and dairy. These stands offer a non-crowded alternative to grocery stores and often have comparable prices while offering higher quality.
The situation with COVID-19 is constantly evolving, and we want to keep everyone updated. That’s why we have made a separate section on the Eat Local First Food Atlas with resources that we will keep updated constantly. For the latest information, go to eatlocalfirst.org and you’ll find up to date information on where you can access food from local producers in the safest and easiest ways possible. We’re working overtime to create new, innovative models for getting local food in this tough time.
More so than ever, it’s important to buy from local food producers. In the short term, it provides us with nourishing food to strengthen our bodies and find some pleasure in a challenging time. In the long term, we’re supporting the people who grow our food and ensuring that they will still be growing food when we return to normalcy. Stay tuned as we continue to pass along updates and work with the community to find innovative ways to access local food. And above all, stay safe and healthy.