After Decades of Progress, “Farm-to-Table” Hit Hard by Pandemic

Bloomberg writer Adam Minter reported last week that, “Shepherd’s Way Farms are located on 44 acres an hour south of the Twin Cities. It’s a small plot in a region where corn and soybean farms can sprawl for thousands of acres. But Shepherd’s Way doesn’t require much space to raise the few dozen sheep that help produce the farm’s award-winning cheeses. What it needs, co-owner Steven Read told me beneath a shade tree recently, are consumers, farmers’ markets and — above all — restaurants that buy locally grown food.

“Read isn’t alone. Across the U.S., small farmers who built businesses marketing locally grown produce are struggling to stay afloat during Covid-19. They aren’t the largest source of America’s food supply. But they’re undeniably important, both to the economy and to the development of healthy and robust food systems. So far, though, the federal government has largely overlooked them in favor of larger farms and agribusinesses.”

The article noted that, “These days, farm-to-table, as the movement came to be known, is premised on the idea that bringing producers and consumers closer together ensures fresher, more flavorful food while supporting local economies and reducing environmental harm. As of 2014, locally and regionally produced food was the fastest-growing sector of American agriculture, with more than $11 billion in sales and annual growth rates exceeding 10%. Farm-to-table restaurants, farmers’ markets, co-ops, and direct-to-consumer farm-fresh food deliveries have become key components of the movement. Their growth not only supports communities across rural America but powerfully influences the diets of millions.”

Mr. Minter explained that, “Then Covid hit. In May, a nationwide survey of 500 small farmers selling direct to restaurants and markets found that on average they’d lost more than half their revenue during the first eight weeks of the pandemic compared to the same period last year. If sales remained similarly depressed into August, a third of those farms thought they could be out of business by the end of the year.”

So long as Covid shutters restaurants and keeps consumers away from markets, there aren’t any easy solutions to this problem,” the Bloomberg article said.

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