Although we have an abundance of food available in the United States, the past few weeks and the coming months have and will demonstrate that our food system is only as strong as the weakest link.
Food can be produced by farmers in vast amounts, but if it can’t be processed and distributed then it is not accessible to consumers.
A food supply that is reliant on a relatively small number of very specialized, efficient processing plants may work well when business is running as usual, but will quickly falter if a wrench is thrown into the system due to its extreme inflexibly.
We have seen this at times during weather events, when trucks weren’t able to reach certain locations, however, during those times, food was still available, it just wasn’t getting from Point A to Point B.
The current situation is different, and potentially much direr, food products are actually not being processed. This is being seen across the board from the milk markets with milk being dumped due to lack of processing capacity to meet the demands of individual consumers instead of bulk purchasers (food service industry), to the meat markets with meat being unable to be processed due to processing plants being closed, to the produce farms with lack of migrant workers to harvest crops.
The current situation in the national food system of our country should really bring home the importance of having a strong local food system. If we are able support local farmers and processors through the purchase of local foods, our community is stronger and more resilient on multiple levels. We not only have more economic security by supporting local farms and businesses and keeping local money local, but we also have a more secure food supply, and I can think of little else that is as important as having a plentiful supply of safe, healthy food.
I have always been a strong proponent of buying locally, but even I have had and eye opening experience the last few weeks when I have realized how truly vulnerable our food system is on a national level.
We are lucky, where I am in Northern New York. We have the resources to produce food locally including milk, meat, and produce and we also have people who are more than willing to do it. However, as consumers, we need to support this production. It all boils down to supply and demand. If consumers ask for it, farmers will produce it.
Food production is not like a faucet that can easily be turned on and off, however. It takes planning and a consistent demand in order for farmers to be able to meet consumer needs. We as consumers must make a commitment to buying locally not only when the shelves in the grocery store are bare, but on a regular and consistent basis.
Buying local food is much more than looking at price and convenience, it’s about the bigger picture – quality, safety, food security, and of course the local economy.
Photo courtesy Tri-County Map & Directory Clinton, Essex & Franklin 2019.