Concerns about our food supply are getting national attention. In some cases, farmers and ranchers are facing pandemic-related staff shortages and abrupt loss of markets, resulting in economic hardships for some growers and fresh food that can’t get out to the people who need it.
Here in Nevada County, the impact of COVID on our local farmers and ranchers has been quite a different story, largely due to the benefits of small scale agriculture in a local economy with strong community ties.
“Small farms who sell directly to local communities haven’t had many of the struggles that other farmers are facing with COVID,” says Molly Nakahara, Director of Sierra Harvest’s Farm Institute Program. “Many local farmers have strong relationships with the customers who, through investing in their products, have helped them grow their business over the years. Now, the farmers are there for the customers, providing new options like pre-packaging or online ordering to help keep the flow of local food going from farm to customer. This two-way relationship between farmer and customer is one of the reasons why small-scale agriculture creates community resilience.”
Stone’s Throw Farm in Colfax now offers on-line ordering for farm boxes, eggs and flowers, so you can make purchases at home and simply pick it up at the farm. Starbright Acres Family Farm offers online purchases for their farm stand and veggie starts, so you can easily pick up what you need. Early Bird Farm, specializing in those milled grains that have been harder to find at the grocery store, has also launched an online store where you can shop for what you need and pick up flour freshly milled at the farm.
“For the produce growers that have direct-to-consumer business plans, not too much has changed with COVID, though it is still early in the season” says Chris DeNijs, Nevada County Agricultural Commissioner. “I am concerned about the businesses that rely heavily on restaurant sales.” He has been helping some of these businesses take advantage of Farm Stands and other opportunities to sell direct to their customers.
Ciara Shapiro, who operates AM Ranch with her part Michael Shapiro, is one of those ranchers who rely heavily on restaurant sales. “It was really hard and scary when COVID hit because we had a lot of animals on the ground, ready to go to restaurants,” she said. Ciara and Michael had to move fast to shift how and where their meats were butchered so it could be packaged and sold directly to consumers, and then create a new website for an online store. The outcome of their efforts so far looks encouraging. “We have reached a lot of new customers, especially those who are feeling insecure about going to the store or wanting to secure a reliable source of meat,” Ciara said. “This experience has opened our eyes of new ways to operate and sell to customers, and in case this ever happens again, we have a back-up plan to keep the business going and keep people fed.”
While some agricultural businesses like vineyards and cow-calf operations may face bigger challenges later in the season as they rely more heavily on labor and market trends from outside the county, the COVID crisis may indeed have long-lasting positives impact on local agriculture. “COVID is bringing greater awareness to consumers about where their food comes from. It’s giving Nevada County growers an opportunity to shine, to show that they can produce healthy, nutritious food that is better than what you will find in chain grocery stores,” said says Chris DeNijs, Nevada County Agricultural Commissioner. “When all this is done, we will have a new outlook of how things can be done in Nevada County. Our growers are nimble and will be able to adapt and survive, and that makes me feel hopeful for the future.”
Support the farmers and ranchers who are working harder than ever to feed our community! Check out the Nevada City or Grass Valley Farmers Markets this weekend, the Nevada County Grown Farm Guide, or our Sierra Harvest Food, Farm & Garden Resource page to find more locally produced food.