It is October and we are now six months into a global pandemic. In Durham, most interactions with local farmers occur through the farmer’s market, locally owned restaurants who tout farm-to-table menus, and a handful of boutique grocery stores that pride themselves on stocking their produce, dairy, and meat aisles with food grown and processed in the Piedmont region. Early in quarantine, the farmer’s market closed for a not-so-insignificant period of time. Restaurants shuttered, some temporarily, others for good.
The visible and commonly understood presence of our agribusiness was and is seriously threatened. Those who are surviving have had to pivot. For many of our local farmers, staying afloat meant going online or selling to major supermarkets - neither of which are without their barriers. Difficulty navigating technology is not limited to pivoting to the digital space for payment, subscription services, and delivery. GAP certification & FNS EBT licensing is not a straightforward process. COVID-19 has illuminated ways in which our local government could better provide life-saving support to our agribusinesses.
If we experience future quarantine events of this scale, the necessity of pivoting could be reduced if we provide the technical assistance to agribusiness owners, allowing them to enter more markets and diversify their sustaining sources. With such assistance, more of our local farmers could sell to major supermarket chains where the majority of Durhamites shop. They could provide for such chains where shelves have been rapidly depleted due to out-of-town supply chain shortages. More would have the opportunity to provide food for institutions such as schools, hospitals, and jails.
Whomever fills the Durham County Soil and Water District Supervisor role is uniquely positioned to provide such technical assistance and expand existing programs to ensure our farmers can continue to provide for our community.