Bare shelves in grocery stores caused concern in communities across the United States as COVID-19 spread across the country. While people worried about whether they would be able to get what they needed, some commercial farms destroyed crops that were destined for restaurants and schools. Food distributions systems are complex and many people did not know that large-scale producers could not easily pivot to providing produce to local communities. But small and mid-size farms and other food producers were able to pivot their operations to address local needs.
Regional food systems were able to adjust their operations to compensate for the breakdown of the centralized food distribution network. Shelves were restocked, food banks received products that were sorely needed, and many people turned for the first time to farmers markets and community supported agriculture groups.
This collection highlights the ways in which local food systems have responded to the pandemic.
A robust infrastructure that keeps production, distribution, and consumption of local foods within a region not only gives residents access to affordable fresh food, but also supports local economic development and can lead to more environmentally sustainable farming practices.
Farmers in Montana forged partnerships to address the high cost of processing food locally, while food hubs in New Hampshire connected food producers to consumers. In upstate New York, small farms were able to quickly turn their focus to helping their community. Smaller fisheries in the Pacific Northwest identified new local markets when they could no longer export their catch. These shifts to local customers could be a bright spot in the pandemic, if they lead to stronger regional food systems and more sustainable distribution of seafood.