It’s an incredible understatement to say that global pandemics are humbling. They force us to step back and pinpoint what we deem “essential,” to acknowledge the people and services we cannot function without. Farmers – specifically those who grow nutritious food for their community – undoubtedly fall into this category. And they have already been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local farmers are tightly woven into the Viroqua area’s rich local food and farming culture. The closure of schools, farmers’ markets, and restaurants, however, eliminated significant income streams for farms, causing harsh financial hardship. Farmers must now make difficult decisions about the upcoming growing season and whether they can find new markets for their product. A group of analysts at Agri-Pulse, a food and agriculture policy journal, estimate an economic loss of up to $1.32 billion between March and May 2020 due to local and regional food market closures.
At the same time, a strong local food system is precisely the answer to creating a self-sustaining, nourished, and healthy community. As extreme situations highlight the importance of indispensable resources, this global pandemic has shown how crucial local food systems are and will continue to be. Decentralized local producers and distributors have proven to be more agile than their national counterparts, quickly pivoting in response to this crisis. In addition, a shortened supply chain helps us ensure that fewer hands touch our food. Buying from a local farmer allows us to ask what specific precautions they are taking to ensure on-farm safety.
So what can you, as a consumer, do to sustain our local food system while staying safe and healthy?
- Buy Locally Grown Produce and Products When You Shop: Look for the green local signs throughout the Co-op.
- Become a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Member: Joining a CSA is a fantastic way to buy local food directly from a farmer. You purchase a “share” in early spring or summer which helps the farmer pay for supplies, seeds, and employees. Then the farmer delivers a box of their products to you regularly throughout the growing season. Farms offer both traditional farmer-selected boxes and customizable options. Find a CSA farm and available options at csacoalition.org and use the Farm Search to narrow down your options based on location, season, share size, home delivery availability, and more. VFC is a drop site for local CSA Small Family Farm located outside of La Farge.
- Participate in Farmers’ Markets Innovations: While farmers’ markets in Viroqua are closed until June 13, there are alternatives to buying locally, such as the Viroqua Virtual Farmers Market Facebook Group to order local food directly from local farms. Many local farmers are now using online ordering systems and home delivery. For news about the market reopening, see the Viroqua Chamber Main Street Facebook page.
- Support Local Food Pantries and Organizations that Help Distribute Local Food to those in Need: Local food pantries Living Faith Food Pantry (Viroqua) and Bethel Buttikk Food Pantry (Westby) are super important organizations to help get food to those in need. Additionally, Community Hunger Solutions (Viroqua) works with area farmers to get produce seconds to those in need.
- Patronize Programs That Give Back: For example, buying “Neighbor Loaves” bread made with at least 50% locally grown grain from participating bakeries like Kickapoo Café – Viroqua. Neighbor Loaves are distributed to local food pantries.
- Viroqua Stronger Together Relief Grant Fund: Consider making a donation to this fund to help local businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Thus far they have distributed $45,000 to help keep local business in Viroqua open. Learn more: https://supportsmall.net/pages/stronger-together-relief-grant
This time urges us to go back to our roots, before we made assumptions that any food we wanted would always be available. Just as we hold our friends and family close (through video chat) and look out for the neighbors we previously considered acquaintances, the same goes for our farmers. When we feel nearly powerless to stop this health, economic, and emotional crisis, it is vital to realize that we can have an important impact. We can strengthen our local networks of food growers, producers, and distributors – not only to serve our immediate needs while we tread water, but also to prepare us for life moving forward, with or without a global pandemic.
by Johanna Doren, FairShare CSA Coalition