Last updated August 5, 2020. This page will be updated regularly with additional resources, action opportunities, and materials as the situation evolves.
As farmers and communities all across the country continue to deal with the impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, NSAC is collecting resources from members, partners, and allies to help mitigate the challenges facing the food and farm system during this crisis. Visit this regularly-updated resource page here.
The rapidly developing COVID-19 pandemic is already causing significant impacts across the entirety of our US food and agriculture system. Necessary measures to contain the spread of the virus have resulted in restaurant, school, and institution closures and farmers losing critical markets and revenue. Food system workers are being laid off or having their hours drastically reduced as retail and wholesale food businesses temporarily close their doors – with others still working at risk to their health and safety. Commodity markets for agricultural products are eroding rapidly, and market disruptions threaten to restrict access to credit for farmers and ranchers, many already struggling from a long-term slide in farm income. Producers, families, and organizations that support them are all feeling the heightened stress of safely managing daily life through great uncertainty.
This pandemic will continue to cause both short- and long-term disruptions to our farm and food system. Many farmers and ranchers have already made production decisions for the year – and the growing season will not wait, nor will birthing animals. Moreover, crises like this hit the vulnerable the hardest: communities of color, those without a stable home or job, elderly individuals and individuals with disabilities or pre-existing health conditions, and workers unable to stay home from work without losing their job. It remains unclear when all of these impacts will recede.
What is clear is that in the months ahead, the resilience of our farm and food system will be an essential factor in determining our success in responding to this pandemic. As a society, we must work with urgency to stem impacts and to advance solutions that will help us weather this crisis together, with a focus on ensuring that those most impacted are driving the conversation and receiving the support they need. Now is a time for collaboration and solidarity. The farmers and food system workers we represent are also our neighbors, family, and friends, sharing our concerns and hopes for the future. Working together, we hold important solutions that can help us not only navigate this major challenge but take proactive steps toward making our food and agriculture system more equitable, resilient, and sustainable.
NSAC and our 130+ members are coordinating, collaborating, and organizing to support farmers, food system workers, and families. Here’s what that looks like:
Going forward, we will continue to identify and work to implement systems that will serve our society and its food needs for generations to come, in part to help navigate future emergencies and strengthen our collective resilience when crises arrive. To that end, local and regional food systems offer solutions on how to feed ourselves under normal circumstances, but especially during crises, including decentralized capacity to produce and distribute food via direct market channels like farmers markets and CSAs and emergency food assistance channels like food pantries. Local and regional economies are stronger when supply chains are shorter, with both producers and consumers sharing a common economic interest and retaining wealth and ownership within their communities. Our local food system has always ensured food safety practices are implemented and upheld; it utilizes less handling, storage and distance from harvest to the point of sale and will continue to provide communities with safe and nutritious food.
The gravity of the situation warrants a commensurate response from Congress, the Administration, state and local authorities, philanthropy, organizations, businesses, and individuals. This will not be the last crisis our country and its farm and food system faces. We can offer long-term solutions for shifting these systems toward the transformational change needed in the face of increasing uncertainty and challenges.
Today we are highlighting the following urgent opportunities to act to protect and sustain farmers, ranchers, and the most at-risk and impacted individuals in our communities. This list will be updated and revised as the situation continues evolving rapidly and as we coordinate with members and assess needs in the field.
Many small and mid-sized farms, limited resource farms, and farms operated by farmers of color are not well served by existing crop insurance or revenue programs designed for commodity growers and were left out of past Market Facilitation Program payments. It is vital that any legislation considered to address the farm and food sector include specific provisions to assist these producers.
Small and mid-sized farmers often rely on direct sales to the public and institutions, both markets that have been severely disrupted. To ensure the long term sustainability of family farms, federal response should prioritize the purchase of fresh and minimally processed foods displaced from local markets, food hubs, and institutions for emergency feeding operations and acknowledge these enterprises as essential services.
Market disruptions coinciding with spring plantings will restrict access to credit for farmers, especially small farmers, under-resourced farmers, farmers of color, and beginning farmers. Federal response should ensure equitable access to credit and permit the modification of existing loans, provide emergency write-downs, develop novel loan-grant programs, and consider alternative financing structures for small and mid-sized farmers and operators.
Many independent small businesses that rely on small and mid-sized farms for the products they serve (e.g. restaurants) or inputs they develop further will also be affected by the current disruption of markets. After decades of consolidation in the broader farm and food system it is vital to ensure that federal assistance reaches these independent operations, that the dedicated food and farm workforce is eligible for paid leave and other support, and that federal funds for nutrition and food access programs are commensurate to address increased food insecurity.
Quick action by federal, state and local governments to modify programs that support farm and food systems is necessary to ensure that existing structures can meet the new demands created by the pandemic. Agencies should extend current and future grant deadlines, widen sign-up windows for farm and food programs, temporarily waive cost share requirements, and provide all reasonable administrative flexibility to program operators to facilitate their ongoing work.
The weeks and months ahead will be challenging for all of us in unprecedented ways. We are humbled and inspired by all of the actions already taking place nationwide, and we are committed to doing our part to carry this work forward. Please be assured that a vibrant and growing community of sustainable farming and food system advocates has been, and will be, working hard to assure new systemic solutions and a better world for all of us. The food we eat, and soil upon which we tread, will help bind us together and carry us forward in this challenging time.