Farmfront Board Director
Finding Food in a Pandemic
I remember back in March overhearing my husband talk to his sister on the phone. As a mother of a little one she was worried about all sorts of things in their grocery stores flying off the shelves in the wake of the COVID-19 panic. She wasn’t sure what they would do if they ran out of food. I shook my head and later told my husband that there’s always the local farms and farmers markets where you can find locally grown food.
“Um, yea. But you grew up in the country,” he rebutted. “She’s stuck in the suburbs and we’ve only lived in the suburbs. How’s she supposed to know what you do?”
I admit he had a good point. Honestly, more people in the US are like my sister-in-law and less like me. Being one part country kid and one part Anthony Bourdain acolyte, I’ve been obsessed most of my life with who made food and how I could get it in my mouth.
Now that we can see quite easily how fragile our nationwide food system is, it is more important than ever to talk about ALL the different ways we can find food.
The following information is to give you some guidelines, not hard rules, for expanding your food shopping to include locally grown food.
Prep Yourself with a Grocery List
- Make a grocery list…this will help you from getting overwhelmed or forgetting something you need.
- Focus on non-processed foods (Like your doctor has probably been suggesting for some time now anyway. Okay, maybe it is just my doctor.)
- Don’t be afraid to add things like jams, salsas, honey, maple syrup, or even peanut butter!
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to ONLY buy local. Depending on where you live, some of your options may be limited. Maybe you just cannot find a local source of peanut butter for example, so get the peanut butter at Walmart. Maybe you’ll come across a local, farm-produced alternative later. If not, it is OK!
Okay, so now that we have an idea of what we want and need in our kitchen…
For most folks, purposefully shopping local is a mental switch. We’ve been trained by one-stop-shops like Target and Walmart. I know I have.
So how is this going to manifest? Well, that list you made? It is going to apply to multiple businesses instead of just one. Expect a business to have specialities in one thing rather than have everything. Assume, for example, that a cattle producer just has beef. Burgers and steak? Check. A veggie stand will not likely have fruits grown from trees like apples even if they are also selling something like strawberries. Cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries? Check. Apples? Better find an orchard. We’re dealing with vastly different kinds of cultivation and skills now.
Plus, we’re also dealing with seasonality. So don’t expect tomatoes in January from your local market unless you’re in the right climate for it. This affects produce in particular. It doesn’t affect farms that rely on some form of processing to sell their products though. They often have the logistics of storage to help you out at almost any time of year. A veggie farm might not have your carrots, but they may have canned salsa. A pig farmer is often harvesting at regular intervals throughout the year. He’s going to have bacon for you.
Where you can research
I love some good ol’ google-fu sometimes. The trick, of course, is using the right words. Start with something simple. We want something local. So, put your town name and state first. And we want “farms”, so there’s the other search term. Simple. Google uses your IP address to handle the context of what “local” means.
We can also kick our search up a notch. Let’s say we add “cheese”. You may find Google suggesting “farmers cheese” though because that is a type of cheese (soft, fresh-tasting stuff, but not what we want).
Go to your local farmer’s market Facebook Page or website and use it as a launch point to look up the farms that are vendors there. You begin looking for such pages by going onto Facebook, simply searching with the term “farmers market” and Facebook’s algorithm will often push your most local options up to the top.
Especially if you don’t have a local farmers market, use Facebook for Facebook Groups to find local farms (really!)
Especially in the wake of COVID-19 coming to the United States, farms began appealing to their online networks to try to handle massive logistical issues on their end. Check out last week’s article where we talk more about that for the meat industry. Facebook has become especially popular for farms to try to reach out to other farms and consumers.
In order to find these groups, they luckily all have similar names. Often it follows a template like “Shop [Name of State] Farms”. Sometimes groups will focus on specific regions like the upper peninsula of Michigan.
When you’re ready to buy
Especially since COVID-19 hit the United States, farmers there have upped their efforts like never before to help folks shop online. Using the methods above, I found a local vegetable source I use for my household’s veggies called Theodora Farms.
Naturally, a small business is rarely going to act like Amazon so I cannot just order whenever. We’ve got to work together when it comes to shopping directly from farms. Personally speaking, it is a worthwhile experience.
So I have made my veggie shopping part of my weekend routine. I take my shopping list (remember that thing that I mentioned earlier?), swap all the veggie needs I can with what Theodora has, and they deliver right to me that week because I’m in their delivery area.
Because they are run by an experienced, well-managed staff, I get regular delivery updates from them and a huge variety of veggies available to me that are in season.
Every delivery so far goes like this. Maybe it is time in quarantine talking, but it always feels like such an event! I hope you can have your own fun experiences as you check out your local farms!