Contrary to popular folklore, you can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear in this pandemic. People are seeking out locally grown vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, cheese and products made with local ingredients. So much so that many small-scale farmers throughout the region are doing better than they ever expected when the bottom fell out of the economy in April.
Not that shift was easy. Many farmers had to know how to use technology and social media. They had to create new market strategies at the same time they were planting their crops.
Many created online ordering services or consumer-supported agriculture options so people could subscribe to a weekly box of produce. Some launched delivery and curbside pickup services to make it easier for people to buy produce.
People have purchased so much custom-cut meat from local ranchers that there is now a shortage of capacity to process the animals.
Farmers markets are doing well.
Katy Lee, manager of the Spokane Valley Farmers Market, says the market, only in its second year, is on track to do better than it did last year even with the limitations for social distancing and on the number and types of vendors who could be at the markets.
People are looking to locally produced food for a variety of reasons.
Grocery stores are crowded; farmers markets and farm stands aren’t.
“I am a longtime supporter of the Spokane Farmers Market,” said Maria Harthorne as she shopped with Elithorp Farms last Saturday at the market. “I love how fresh everything is and the variety of produce and herbs you don’t find in the grocery store.”
Local farmers are also feeding local hungry families. Both LINC, a farmers’ cooperative in Northeast Washington and a team of ShareFarm and the Inland Northwest Farmers Market Association are providing upward of 900 weekly boxes of produce to local food banks under grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The farmers get paid for their produce so they can stay in business and hungry, out-of-work people get fresh, nutritious produce.
In the long term, people also are realizing that our local and statewide small-scale producers are important in the food system and to thrive, they need long-term support and acknowledgment from the broader community.
You can help in this effort.
Locally, the Spokane Food Policy Council and their partners just launched a Community Food Needs Assessment survey to assess the needs and structure of our local food system.
The survey will help set priorities for a community farm and food plan. The survey is available to anyone involved in food consumption, production, processing, marketing, distribution, rescue and waste management.
Statewide, the Eat Local First Collaborative, a group of statewide public and private food system organizations is working to create the Eat Local First Washington Directory that will merge various online local farm finder guides into a single, easy-to-use platform. Farmers are encouraged to sign up their farms in the directory.