Local Food in the Time of Coronavirus

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The past several days brought worsening news about the coronavirus adding disruptions to daily life. It looks like this pattern will continue for the foreseeable future with more uncertainty the further out we look. As things continue to change it’s important to remember that we are in this together. This means following recommendations from the CDC and state and local health departments for the greater good of our communities as well as our individual health. It’s also a time to think about how you can responsibly contribute to your community. Remember, social distancing doesn’t mean being socially distant. Local food systems across the state bring our communities together and provide opportunities to support each other while staying a safe physical distance apart. Here are some ways for you to engage with your food system while staying safe. Afterall, everybody has to eat, even during pandemics.

Farmers Markets: Farmers markets across the state allow local farmers to sell their products directly to consumers and fall under retail activity just like commercial grocery stores. These farmers rely on sales for their income. It’s expected that small businesses are going to take a hit. Farmers could be impacted from less sales at markets and from restaurants ordering less food. Shopping at your farmers market is one way to support your local economy. Farmers markets are doing their part to provide a safe experience for consumers. Debbie Roos in Chatham County wrote about steps farmers markets are taking to flatten the curve.

As things continue to change check with your local market to see if they are remaining open. If you are nervous about shopping in a market, or think that you may be sick, consider asking a friend or neighbor to do your shopping and drop off the food at your doorstep. Apps such as NextDoor and traditional neighborhood networks or community organizations can help you find assistance if needed. For farmers market managers, refer to state and local health departments and the Farmers Market Coalition for guidance on how to provide a safe experience for your vendors and customers.

farmer pulling carrots. Support local farmers and business owners during the coronavirus.

Support local farmers and business owners during the coronavirus.

Purchasing From Farmers and Small Businesses: Besides local food, look for ways to support other local businesses. Many businesses are offering flexible options for shopping, such as phone orders with curbside pick up, private shopping appointments, flexible payment options, and online ordering. If there is a business you want to support without being there in-person, reach out to them to come up with an option you are both comfortable with. They want your business and to help the community!

This includes farmers. Some farmers are altering CSA delivery options and reducing prices to make their products more accessible. A CSA box is a good way to get a variety of local produce conveniently boxed up for you and your family. Your local county Extension office may be able to offer farmers to consider buying from.

Growing Local Food: Gardening can be another way to reduce stress and anxiety while staying home. Extension has information on how to garden and several publications on specific types of plants. Extension 4-H and Grow For It have ideas for how to make gardening fun for kids.

a variety of vegetables laid out

Consider buying local produce to cook at home with.

Cooking Local Foods: It’s important to continue healthy habits in the event that you get sick, this includes eating healthy. Additionally, cooking new recipes can be a good way to reduce stress and anxiety, and something to do in your home with family members. Cooking with kids can be something fun to do together with school out of session. For ideas and tips, Extension offers farmers market recipe cards and tips for how to cook with local food. Other cooking recipes and tips are offered through Extension’s Family and Consumer Science program.

Food Banks and Food Pantries: Reduced business operations means there will be people in your community who will need assistance from food banks and food pantries. Feeding the Carolinas can help you find your regional food bank. There will likely be other local food pantries or other organizations addressing food access. All of these organizations need donations of money, food, and volunteer time. For ideas, consider Feeding America’s Healthy Food Donation List. You can also donate a share through many CSA programs, talk to your local farmer to learn more.

These organizations provide resources to vulnerable populations in our communities, so consider how you can responsibly contribute to their efforts. Consider promoting these resources through social media or while just checking in on your neighbors in your community so people know where to find food assistance if they need it.

Food Policy Councils: The effects of coronavirus will be felt throughout the community and economy. Local food policy councils work to address policy and equity issues related to the food system. Consider reaching out to your local council for ideas on how to support your community.

At this point, we should all be experiencing disruptions to daily life. This understandably comes with added stress and anxiety. Please take the coronavirus seriously, but also take a deep breath and remember that we don’t have to endure this alone.

For questions or updates email hannah_dankbar@ncsu.edu or go to the Local Food website.