The Dirt Issue # 50 – Support Local Farmers (in the era of COVID-19)

Posted on April 18, 2020
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While living under COVID-19 protocols, we’ve all made adjustments in order to cope. We’re taking care of our families, ourselves, and looking beyond to the greater community. There’s been a lot of creativity coming up with ways to help, but when it comes to supporting our local farmers in this uncertain time, the solution is simple: BUY!

With many restaurants and institutional buyers like schools temporarily shut down, the revenue stream from the wholesale market has been severely impacted, if not stopped altogether. Farmers and ranchers, however, haven’t stopped. Planting, livestock management, harvesting, all the usual functions continue. As the year progresses and more and more products come into their peak sales time, farmers and customers will both profit from the remarkable resilience of the local food system.

Here’s How It’s Done
The answer lies in direct sales. The advantages to the consumer are enormous: healthy, fresh, nutritious food direct from the source, with only a bit of effort to get it.

In Skagit County community farmers’ markets typically don’t open until late May or even early June. When—and if—they do, the method of operation may be changed. Fortunately, there is a lot to learn from the practices of farmers’ markets that are already operating in warmer climes. With a few sensible precautions in the areas of hygiene and social distancing, these open-air markets have been safe and, dare we say, uplifting to the local community.

In the meantime there are local farm stands already in operation. An online search for “Skagit County farm stands” yields several sites that provide names and locations, often with contact data and social media references. Another great resource to find local farm stands and other resources for fresh local food is Sustainable Connections’ Food Atlas.  If you already have a relationship with a farm, contact them and ask what’s available and where/how you can purchase it. Some farms use social media to keep customers informed about the state of their operations and what’s ready to buy.

A very powerful, direct sales tool is a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. This is the term for a subscription service. You pay a set fee on an ongoing basis for a predetermined share of the farm’s output. When the produce is ready you get a weekly distribution throughout the production season. Many farms provide a number of CSA options covering cost, quantity and diversity of products. The farmer benefits from a steady source of income and predictable sale of output while the consumer benefits from access to the best the season has to offer at the peak of its flavor. If you’ve never used a CSA before, now would be the perfect time to start.

A Brand New Opportunity
The Puget Sound Food Hub was established to help farmers, especially those with smaller farms, to sell to wholesale buyers. But in response to the current decline of that market, the Puget Sound Food Hub is for the first time allowing direct sales to residential customers. The buyer can select from some fifty member farms for a minimum order of $250. That sum might be daunting, but with the pandemic has come a shift in food buying habits. In an effort to minimize being out-and-about, customers are buying greater quantities at one time (often with an eye toward preserving and freezing) and are frequently buying for more than just their own family.

To learn more, go to pugetsoundfoodhub.com and follow the menu from Home to Buyers to Residential Order Pick Up. On offer are freshly harvested vegetables, baked goods, beverages, butter, cheeses, ice cream, eggs, fish, flours and grains, fruit preserves, meat and poultry, mushrooms, flowers, and much more. Orders are placed online for pickup direct from the Puget Sound Food Hub loading dock.

Let’s Not Overlook the Obvious

When you shop your favorite grocery, look for what’s local and buy it. If you have a chance to talk with the store manager, let them know you appreciate their efforts to buy what Skagit County has to offer. Sometimes a little thank you does wonders. The same goes for a restaurant providing drive-through or curbside pick up or delivery; if you know they buy local, thank them.

Whenever we can, in whatever way we can, let’s do our part to support local farmers and make Skagit agriculture not only continue but also thrive. Just BUY!