By ALAYNA DEMARTINI
In the early spring days of hoarding toilet paper and milk, not only did shoppers strain to find certain items on store shelves, some farmers struggled to sell what they had raised.
Farmers' markets across the state closed temporarily. Meat-processing plants shut down for a while, crippled by scads of workers sickened with COVID-19. That left some producers of chickens and pigs without buyers. Certain dairies were told to dump their milk because the milk processors weren’t buying it, hampered by the drop in wholesale demand. And at food banks, supplies dwindled.
Producers and the public alike felt the vulnerabilities of a food system that had, for years, dependably delivered meat and produce from farms to dinner tables.
Determined to repair the gaps, a CFAES task force formed to generate solutions so that Ohioans can get the food they need, and the state’s farmers can continue making a living raising it.
“I’m not concerned about us running out of food, but I am concerned about how the pandemic is hurting Ohio farmers’ ability to make it—in the short-and long-term,” said Shoshanah Inwood, an assistant professor who chaired the CFAES Lean on Your Land Grant Food Supply Chain Task Force with Zoë Plakias, also an assistant professor.
Some CFAES faculty and staff involved in the group work with representatives from other state agencies to try to get more Ohio-grown food into nursing homes, prisons, and schools.
In early summer, CFAES material scientist Judit Puskas created a polymer face mask for farm workers that’s more comfortable for working in the heat than standard masks. Webinars have been offered and advice delivered in fact sheets on how farmers can directly market their products and how farmers markets can best operate in this new age of COVID-19. Work is being done to help Ohio farmers just starting out so it’s feasible for them to stay in the field.
“If we don’t encourage the next generation of farmers, all of our food is going to come from somewhere else. That is a concept I’m not comfortable with,” said Christie Welch, a task force member and CFAES specialist of direct food and agricultural marketing.
CFAES researchers are studying, among other topics, how to better diversify what farmers grow in Ohio.
“Our goal is to try to create a more resilient food system,” Inwood said. “So, if another disaster hits, we are better prepared and have systems in place that allow farmers to continue to produce,” meaning that all community members would then have access to that food.