Edible Monterey Bay

Farming and Eating in the Time of Coronavirus

March 17, 2020 – I am writing this on the evening the Shelter in Place ruling for Santa Cruz County was put in place, with Monterey County likely follow suit. Now more than ever, this experience shows us that we are all in this together; we all have the same fears and are all increasingly overwhelmed as our basic needs are being threatened and access to food is impaired. 

As a farmer who sells mostly at Farmers’ Markets, the last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster. Three weeks ago the Farmers’ Markets were empty and very little money was made. People were obviously scared of being out in public, but at the same time there were lines around the block at Costco and many items couldn’t be restocked fast enough. Some of the busier local farmers’ markets closed down, and surprisingly some of the smallest did too. Restaurants are also feeling the lack of customers and since many buy produce from our local farmers, this combination can quickly put a small farm out of business—especially during the typically lean months at the end of winter. 

After a good promotional effort by local producers and farmers’ market associations, informing consumers about how the markets were responding to this pandemic with new safety protocols (no sampling, no seating and more space between vendors), the public quickly realized that the safest place to get the most nutrient dense food is direct from farmers out in the open air of the farmers’ market. Demand grew once again to the point that we and other farmers sold out of almost everything this past weekend. Eating fresh, organic produce is one of the best ways to boost your immunity. People are even looking at winter squash in a new way; I’m hearing “this will last a long time, right?”  

The language of the Santa Cruz County Shelter in Place mandate states farms, farm stands and Farmers’ Markets are essential services, vital to our food security and shall remain open. If that isn’t validation for our hard work, I don’t know what is. 

As time goes on we really don’t really know what will be available, and it may be that things like coffee and bananas are hard to come by. But what we do know is there are hundreds of small and medium-sized farms that sell direct to the public via farmers’ markets, farm stands, Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions and U-Picks in close proximity, if not right in our own backyards, growing a diverse array of fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts. Collectively these farmers —many that you know and trust—will be the ones feeding us when times get tough, if they are supported now. Now more than ever is a crucial time to support your local food shed so it can support you. 

Many farmers and food producers are already changing course to meet the need for grab-and-go, freshly prepared food and creating new delivery drops in areas of need. Personally, I resurrected my farm’s CSA program in response to a few weeks of Farmers’ Markets being dismal. People signed up like crazy; the funds helped me pay for all the seeds I needed for the rest of the season, which I will continue to plant as long as people need to eat. 

Farmers, we are part of the solution to this problem and if you aren’t already doing so it is time to innovate. Talk to your other farmer friends and food producers that grow or raise different things than you do, so you can offer diverse items and help each other. It is important to locate those areas in a food desert that might not be able to get the fresh food easily and create convenient drop spots. 

As a medicinal plant grower friend said to me as we were discussing the importance of the local foodshed , “It is our turn to shine. We were meant for these times.”  Truly, I have always felt that growing healthy, organic food for people was important, but in crisis I am more proud than ever to feed my community nourishing food that will keep them strong and healthy. 

As an eternal optimist, I also ponder whether these times might spark an eating revolution and a revival of Farmers’ Market customers—that was honestly starting to dwindle as people clicked that button and ordered everything online instead of making a connection with the farmers that grew their food. 

Maybe this crisis could change the government subsidies from funding soy and corn mega farms and instead help out the small farmers that actually grow the food humans need to thrive. 

Maybe people will not question the price of a $3 bunch of carrots but instead understand its value because they planted a garden during these uncertain times. 

Maybe cooking regular meals becomes the norm, not just a niche hobby as it has become in our society. And in turn, people get healthier and eat meals together at the table. 

Maybe we realize what is most important in life—health, family and community—which in turn makes us have more empathy for others that aren’t as fortunate and more likely to lend a hand. 

One thing I know; collectively we are a creative and resilient bunch of people. We live in this beautiful area of California that requires us to work our tails off, yet come up with so many interesting ways to generate income while still honoring the things we value. Farmers and food artisans are some of the most optimistic and toughest people I know. I know that we will be resilient in these times, and in turn so will the consumer because we are all in this together. Let’s support each other the best we can and when we come out of this we will be forever changed, hopefully for the better. 

And I leave you with this beautiful passage from Kitty O’Meara: 

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.”

“And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.”

“And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”