Lean on small farmers for vibrant, resilient local food system
The first week of April I went grocery shopping in Duluth and picked up one of the few cartons of eggs left on the shelves. Eggs are still coming into stores, but in attempts to keep up stock between deliveries, grocers are raising prices or limiting how many can be purchased per customer.
Compare that to the stories heard from farmers on the North Shore. Small egg producers who typically sell at markets or their workplaces have no one to sell their eggs to. With minimal communication channels to folks outside their immediate communities, local farmers are sitting on surpluses — as grocery stores are struggling to keep up stock. Farm incomes are being cut off at the same time people need food.
If that’s not evidence of an extremely broken system, I don’t know what is.
The novel coronavirus is changing our economy, but we get to dictate how it will change. Gov. Tim Walz is checking in with Land O’Lakes, Hormel, and General Mills to ensure we have a “secure” food supply, rather than throwing support behind small farmers across the state. The University of Minnesota Extension came out with a 14-day emergency food box that contains only prepackaged foods like oatmeal packets, pancake syrup, and canned vegetables. Spam even made the list.
This moment of uncertainty can push us further into dependence on large corporations, or it can push us to buy from our neighbors. We need to build resilience. We need a local food economy, and there’s no time like the present. Let’s build a resilient community to rely on when times are tough and to support when times are good.
If we build a local food system on which we can rely, scarcities we’ve been conditioned to operate under would evaporate. No more running to the store to buy as many eggs as you can because you know your farmer’s chickens will keep laying. Spending your food dollars within the local economy is an easy way to build resiliency, and it is a habit we can all practice now. You’ll find that you get better quality for the same price or even for fewer dollars. The more local foods you buy the more producers will grow. It’s a positive feedback loop.
Ways to get started include signing up for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes from local farms. CSA (csaguild.com) ensures you a certain amount of produce weekly for a lump sum of money at the beginning of the season. Farmers get financial security and you get food security.
Also, do your shopping at farmers markets. Find a local one at minnesotagrown.com/search-directory/.
Use your local market’s webpage to find what vendors they host, then explore each farm’s offerings to find online options or direct-order options. Farmers are changing things up in these times. They just need to know that you want to buy what they grow.
In addition, ask your local food co-op or grocery store to increase the number of local farms they buy from, including fresh produce, fruits, meat, dairy, and packaged products. Insist they label them on the store shelves as “locally grown” so consumers know they are supporting the local food system.
Strive to eat more seasonally, too, so that you are buying local food more regularly. And encourage your friends, family, and coworkers to do the same by posting your stories on social media with hashtags like #localfarmers, #localfood, #foodsecurity, and #togetherwecandothis.
Federica Ranelli of Duluth is a local food systems organizer for the Finland Food Chain (friendsoffinland.org/finland-food-chain/), a project of Friends of the Finland Community to build and expand a local food system, increasing access to healthy foods and building local wealth in Finland and on the North Shore and Iron Range.