Food security is the most pressing concern in the post-COVID-19 world for us – and for farmers, too.
Since mandatory stay-at-home orders began, people have stocked up on food and other essential supplies because they’re unsure which staples may never return to store shelves when they’re gone.
For now, though, there is no reason to worry.
As Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation said, “Empty shelves are frightening, but empty fields and barns would be devastating.”
To be sure, farmers are doing their part.
But they’re struggling. Millions of pounds of dairy and produce normally distributed to major industries are now being wasted as the largest consumers of these goods – the food service industry – struggles to reopen.
In Homestead, farmers are also struggling. A spinach farmer and his family there lost 80% of their crop in March. While their yield was healthy and ready to sell, they were unable to transport their product anywhere.
Across greater South Florida, the agricultural sector – second only to tourism – saw a $522.5 million loss of crops through mid-April (FDACS, 2020). Among the loss leaders are farmers who lost $24 million in cabbage and those who saw prices for zucchini and squash drop a whopping 93 percent. But tomato farmers fared worst, losing $165 million between March and April despite being able to sell 46 million pounds of tomatoes.
To help connect farmers with individual families in need of fresh produce, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried created an online portal (https://flfarm you.fdacs.gov/consumers.aspx) where farmers can sell fruit, vegetables, field crops, shellfish and dairy to anyone who is willing to pick them up.
Dania Beach-based PATCH Community Garden allows people to purchase produce online for pick up.
FIU’s Agroecology Program shares locations on its FIU COVID-19 Local Food Response Facebook page where people can buy direct from farmers.
Efforts like these could help farmers make ends meet. They could also help resolve food insecurity concerns for families that were struggling before the
pandemic crippled the economy.
In South Florida alone, 57 percent of children are at risk of food insecurity. In
Broward County, 64 percent rely on school meals for their nutritional needs. Thankfully, a number of organizations have teamed up to open 51 food distributions sites throughout the county.
No one really knows what the future holds. The Centers for Disease Control has recently urged states to prepare for a vaccine to be ready days before the presidential election. Maybe we go back to normal or maybe we stay in the new normal for a while longer.
Regardless, South Florida’s agricultural sector will respond to ensure we don’t go hungry while taking all necessary precautions.
Amir Khoddamzadeh, Ph.D. is an assistant teaching professor in FIU’s Department of Earth and Environment, Agroecology Program, and Institute of Environment.
Karina Suarez is a recent Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability and the
Environment graduate from FIU.