The local farming world post COVID-19 is thriving as people are waking up to a world where food insecurity is at their doorstep. For the last eight years, I have worked hand and hand with local farms to produce special dinner events in fields across New England serving over 10,000 customers and raising over $125,000 for farming communities.
COVID-19 has changed the game for the food industry. As social distancing and masks have become a norm, we work to pivot our businesses to keep up with an ever-changing landscape of pandemic-stricken communities. My company, The Farmers Dinner, works with more than 30 local farms across New England to purchase food and host farm-to-table dinner events that help educate the community about the local farms that exist.
Since COVID-19, I have reached out to many of the farms we work with asking how we can support them during this time. Many of the same stories started to surface. Most of these farms are seeing a massive uptick in sales as grocery stores struggle to keep up with the ever-increasing demand of consumer hoarding. Many local farms are finally able to move product and develop a sustainable base of customers for the first time in their history. Why did it take a pandemic for us to support local farms?
Before COVID-19, the global supply chain moved along like it did for decades, orders came in and a handful of major companies would fill the orders. The pandemic put a stress on a supply chain that was controlled by a small number of corporations. Amidst processing plant shutdowns and consumer hoarding, the average person turned to local farms to fulfill their grocery needs.
Local farms became a salvation for the fearmongering that ensued as consumer demand for meats and proteins continued to rise. This demand has rippled into the fabric of our communities with a hopeful ending to the story. As we support the local farms in our community, we develop an infrastructure that can support us and provide for so many in times of systematic breakdown. When we support local farms, we aren’t just supporting the local economy, we are supporting holistic change.
As chefs that are facing reopening, we have entered into a “post-pandemic” world that has fundamentally changed our industry. The real fears of a second wave, customer anxieties and the polarization of ideologies have created a virtual cornucopia of fear that effects everyone who thinks about dining out. Now is the time where we can rally around local community farms and help them by pledging our support and purchasing product to help move forward a new narrative; local farms supporting the local community.
In the last decade of working with farms across New England, I have seen a major shift in the public demand for locally-sourced food. This movement has changed the landscape of my communities and many communities across America. As chefs, we vote with our dollars. You have the power to change your communities with a simple decision. Pledging to purchase just one item on your menu from a local source puts immediate change into action. I don’t know what “post-pandemic” America looks like but I do see this moment in time as an opportunity to shift the reliance on a fractured food system toward a community-centric approach where farms help feed the community rather than factories.
This isn’t a utopian dream, we hold the power in our pens to write the checks that change lives. Our decisions now will impact those around us in profound ways.
Chef Keith Sarasin is founder of The Farmers Dinner, which hosts upscale dinners on local New England Farms. Since 2012, The Farmers Dinner has fed more than 17,000 customers and raised more than $125,000 for local farms. Chef Sarasin is also the author of Perfect Turkey Cookbook: More Than 100 Mouthwatering Recipes for the Ultimate Feast (Cider Mill Press, 2018) and The Farmers Dinner Cookbook: A Story in Every Bite (Cider Mill Press, 2019).