The shock to the food chain in the US due to the COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a boon for small and medium-sized farms and distributors. Let’s check out why.
At G. Flores Produce, in eastern Virginian peninsula also known as the Northern Neck, Broccoli is harvested at a 50-acre farm in Virginia. The Flores family grows a large variety of crops that are traditionally sold at farmers markets. The food chain troubles in the US has been an advantage to the Flores family and several such farmers to expand their business.
The newest customer to visit G. Flores Produce is Tom McDougall who was there with the purpose of buying several thousand dollars of Kale, Golden Beets and Kohlrabi for 4P Foods, a company founded by him in 2014. He sells fresh produce from farms to chefs, consumers and groceries who want to buy foodstuff grown in the mid-Atlantic region but don’t have the resources or time to travel all the way down there. Thus the mid-Atlantic produce, like Broccoli fetches a good price in the cities of Northern Virginia and Washington D.C.
The Broccoli, in addition to an exotic German cousin of the cabbage and cauliflower, also represents the vast array of nutritious and easy-to-grow cultivars that are left out by the American food chain built around a few species. The COVID-19 pandemic has spread chaos in the agricultural supply chains of the US in spring and is expected to do so again as the number of cases and deaths continue to rise. As the US was hit by the first wave of disruptions, 4P rapidly scaled up its direct-to-customer business. As a result, since the beginning of this pandemic, 4P’s subscription revenue has jumped by 1100 per cent and general revenues jumped by about 500 per cent. They have also been able to employ six times more people than before.
According to the owner McDougall, the COVID-19 pandemic can enkindle a thriving regional alliance of wholesalers, farmers and customers. If this succeeds, several operations like 4P would benefit hugely.
Shock to the US Food System
The problems brought by COVID-19 pandemic to the US started in early March when almost all the farms that were supplying fresh vegetables and fruits to restaurants and foodservice industries had to start rapidly delivering to a populace that had shifted to cooking at home. This has led to a dramatic and traumatic change as farms across the US lost their negotiations and contracts overnight.
The US food chain is basically a matrix of crop producers, processors, distributors and consumers (mostly commercial kitchens demanding raw materials and not private homes). Entire plants are “fabricated just to make products for the restaurant business”, said an economist. The two-pronged crisis i.e. closure of all commercial and public spaces and infection and death of a large number of workers forced commodity farms to tend to domestic needs rather than commercial ones. This change of system provides a means of success for regional agriculture. Farms have rapidly shifted from selling at local markets to online sales which are giving them unprecedented success and by far, the best year yet.