We have witnessed scenes that haven’t been seen by the American public in more than a few generations. Dumping the milk that can’t be sold, plowing under crops and tossing the produce was a part of the American experience during the Great Depression but not since.
All of this is the consequences of the breakdown of the food chain due to the corona virus pandemic and the economic recession that will came about from it. However, at some parts of the country things are not that bleak.
“We had a reporter call here and say, ‘We want to see some produce rotting in the field and milk going down the drains,’ ” said Judith Redmond, a longtime farmer in California’s Capay Valley, northwest of Sacramento. “And I said, ‘Well, actually, that’s not what’s happening in the Capay Valley.’ “
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it’s a movement that has found followers all over the US, with such farms coming about everywhere from California to Maine. It’s interesting that these farms don’t experience the problems that the traditional ones do and therefore it’s important to study their model in this difficult times.
The interest in these farms, their way of work and the produce that they offer has grown significantly since the corona virus epidemic.
Most other businesses that work in food supply, including farmers and restaurants have seen their profits go down and they are working with bleak prospects. CSA on the other hand have seen an increase in demand that measures in hundreds of percent.
Coming to prominence
CSA aren’t a new venture. They have been around for a few decades but they have never been a part of the mainstream aproach to agriculture. The mainstream was always about large commercial farms that work in monocultures and that are easy to scale upwards when there’s more investment in them. This system had its advantages mostly in being rather profitable, but its downsides are more than obvious now.
“In all the time that we’ve worked with CSAs, which is several decades, we’ve never seen a surge as quickly as we have of the last few weeks,” said Evan Wiig with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, which supports and lobbies on behalf of CSAs across California.
The corona virus pandemic has only helped expose the problems with the food supply system that were there long before. The problems are numerous starting with the high specilizatio0n of the process, which means that way too many people are involved in the production.
This isn’t safe in a time of a pandemic and it means that if one part of the system breaks down so will the rest of it. That’s what’s happening across the US these days and it’s felt by almost everyone who don’t have a steady supply of local food.
“We think people’s habits will shift because of this” pandemic, said John Tecklin, who runs the CSA Mountain Bounty Farm, serving the northern California communities around Truckee, Nevada City and Lake Tahoe, as well as Reno, Nev. “For a lot of them, it’s kind of a wake-up call: ‘what’s really important to you?’ “
New programs, collaborations and ventures are being formed right now as a response to the pandemic. This is happening across the country and many small CSA are now working together in a more collaborative fashion in order to use the resources they have and to deal with the new demand and the new reality.
This is also happening for those who used to rally on the restaurants and closed markets as their main source of income and the biggest buyer for their products. Those businesses are now struggling and they are moving towards a different CSA model in order to stay afloat.
The government is also taking note of the CSA businesses and they are incorporating the needs of CSA and local farmers into their overall relief efforts. It’s safe to say that about $3 billion of the aid set out to help those affected by the corona virus will go towards helping farmers who produce local and fresh food.
The question remains how much of this help and these changes will be long lasting since it’s currently just a response to the pandemic and the way to deal with the public’s response in a way. CSA owners would most likely have wanted the push towards more sustainable food practices to go beyond that.
“When the lockdown or shelter-in-place started in March, people were just a little panicked,” Redmond said. “And what we’re trying to do is turn it into a longer-term relationship with our farm and those members so that they see that there’s a tremendous advantage of getting food locally from people that they know.”