America’s Small Farms Could Be Decimated by COVID-19

“If 30 to 40 percent of them go, that’s a generational catastrophe,” said chef Dan Barber

Tomatoes at a farmer's market stand
Small farms might be weathering the storm now, but it's only going to get worse.
Anne Preble/Unsplash
By Alex Lauer / May 20, 2020 7:00 am

Facing the complexities of the global food market — an industry complicated by issues of big agriculture, organic produce, GMOs, animal suffering and climate change — there is one thing all Americans can agree on: we need to support our country’s remaining small, independent farms.

Even during the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, many have found a way to do that, whether it’s through established farm shares or new farm-to-table boxes that have popped up as a result of decreased restaurant demand. But as The Counter writes, “The current boom is a sweet illusion; the bust is coming fast.”

Speaking with Dan Barber, the renowned chef behind New York’s Blue Hill restaurant and the accompanying farm-restaurant outpost Blue Hill at Stone Barns, The Counter took a look at what could happen to our farming industry as a result of the coronavirus. 

In a survey that has so far comprised 240 small farmers in the Northeast, Barber and his colleagues found some distressing news: “Between 30 and 40 percent of them predict that they won’t be able to keep up with increasing volume. They will lose the extra, essential revenue that always comes with a bountiful seasonal harvest.” 

“If 30 to 40 percent of them go, that’s a generational catastrophe,” wrote Barber.

What’s the plan to save them? Barber mentions the help that some lawmakers are attempting to usher through in terms of loans, but the real answer is much more complex, one that involves potential government intervention, buying agreements from larger companies, and yes, the choices you make as a grocery buyer.

If you haven’t been to your local farmer’s market recently, maybe it’s time to put on a mask and head back.

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