From sunrise to sunset, we are being bombarded with COVID-19 news from all angles and all sources. Each day brings the effects of this coronavirus closer to home for every New Yorker, whether in a rural hamlet near Niagara or in the borough of Queens. The pandemic is affecting life as we know it, as seen through school closures, at-capacity hospitals, grocery store scarcity, and unemployment claims in the millions. A coveted flour and yeast stash in the pantry makes one the object of envy amongst us bread bakers, while some of us are still on the search for that ever-elusive bottle of hand sanitizer.
By now, we’ve seen how this unprecedented situation can and will continue to challenge and strain our current food system. As restaurants and schools close their doors and are no longer able to absorb costs, some farms are losing over 50% of the sales from their institutional customers. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition estimates a 10% loss ($61.3 million) nationally of farm to school sales based on COVID-19.
As we anticipate the effects of COVID-19 on our national and global food system, we want to stress that now is the time to acknowledge the importance of eating locally. Our state’s at-risk populations need access to healthy fresh foods now more than ever, and farm-to-institution efforts, including farm-to-school, are critical in getting nutrient-rich and locally sourced products to our New York communities. Our farming communities are equally disrupted, grappling with navigating the new norms in growing, selling, and distributing their products while continuing to sustain their farms and staff. How can continuing the production and consumption of local food help strengthen our communities? What ways can schools and institutions stay connected to local foods and farmers through these uncertain times? These are questions American Farmland Trust is wrestling with, as are our partners and colleagues.
Yet in times of hardship and crisis, societies and the hardy people in them have an uncanny way of persevering. We’re seeing examples of resiliency in communities across the state, and innovative partnerships have sprung up to ensure residents and families are getting fed. School staff are improvising in their cafeterias to provide meals for their students. Producers are working directly with emergency food providers to offer surplus produce to communities across New York state.
These are unexpected and unusual times, and we hope that you and yours are staying safe and healthy in your respective communities. Thank you, supporters of FINYS, in recognizing the importance of local food systems and championing for their continued resilience for the benefit of our farmers, institutions, and everyone across the supply chain.
The FINYS Team - Stephanie, Mikaela, Ashlea & Erica