Without open-air markets, restaurants, and seasonal workers, local farmers are struggling to make ends meet. Here’s how you can help.
Here’s what happened to me.
In early March, I was walking down a street in Ixelles, Belgium when a series of signs on a restaurant window caught my eye. It was a plea to support the farmer that supplied this restaurant pre-Covid-19. Since the lockdown, demand for his fresh produce had dwindled so he was offering baskets for pick-up.
I jumped at the opportunity for fresh, and even foraged, produce. I eagerly emailed the chef to place an order.
Two days later, I rushed back to the restaurant to pick up my cornucopia. Leeks! Leafy greens! Radishes! Edible flowers galore! I was in local produce heaven. The possibilities started spinning through my head: a lovely little dijon dressing with those spicy radishes and leafy greens; a custardy leek pie; or maybe a grilled leek jam to spread on my toast in the morning!
As I gloried in the produce, the chef approached. We started speaking in a mish-mash of French and English. Me: thanking him for this wonderful opportunity. Him: thanking me for supporting his farmer. He clarified that he was making zero financial profit from these sales and all the returns went straight to the farmer. “Belgian farmers are having a rough time in this lockdown” he explained, “they no longer have restaurants to supply, open-air markets are shut down, and some are losing their seasonal workers.”
As I skipped away with my bag bursting with greens, I reflected on my experience with a smile. Although I spent a little more than I would have in a big-brand grocery store, knowing that my money was going directly to a local farmer made the extra three euros worthwhile. And, the deliciously fresh produce made it a steal!
Here’s how farmers around the world are rising to the challenge.
From Norway to Poland, farmers are figuring out innovative ways to get their produce to people like you. Despite recent studies showing large financial hits for diverse farming industries, farmers and food-lovers around the world are digging new tunnels to get their fresh goods to your eager belly. In Norway, farmers are using Facebook groups to sell their produce directly to the consumer (you). Online local produce sales in Poland have had a 200% boom since the start of the crisis. German farmers have started selling directly to local shops. And, truck drivers have collaborated with local farmers in rural Nova Scotia to deliver their produce straight to your doorstep.
The world is also stepping up to help farmers. Belgium, the UK, and France are continuing to offer unemployment benefits for people who help out farmers lacking seasonal workers. In the United States a 19 billion relief fund has been announced. And, Credit Canada is offering loans, deferrals, and credit lines for farmers in need.
It’s important to keep in mind that helping these farmers isn’t your personal responsibility. It can be overwhelming to think about all the people Covid-19 if hurting. If you are having a hard time right now (like most of us!), know that governments, people, and NGOs around the world are also helping out. But, if you do feel that you are in the right place to help, I have outlined some suggestions below. Try starting with one or two of these options.
Here’s a cheat-sheet with ways you can help.
- Don’t feel like moving? Ask the internet.
- Google to see if there are any local initiatives near you. Search key phrases like “buy from local farmers [insert city/region]”.
- Search Facebook with similar phrases. Try acronyms for regional and city names.
- Google local farmer advocacy groups. They will probably have helpful links. If not, send them an email saying you want to help. It doesn’t have to be complicated. A sentence or two is all it takes.
- Sign a petition. Google is your friend here once again.
- Need to get out of the house?Ask the food people.
- Ask your local green-grocers, food-stores, and restaurant owners if they know any farmers looking to sell their produce. No harm in asking!
- Ask your farmer’s market friends. Maybe they know a farmer who needs your help.
- Have a little money to give? A little goes a long way.
- Donate to a local advocacy group fighting for farmers’ rights. Google “[insert city/region/country] local farmer advocacy groups”. Go to their about page and see if their ethics align with yours. These groups have the expertise to lobby governments to help farmers with their big financial burdens. Remember: every dollar helps. You don’t need to make a huge donation to help create impactful change.
- Know a local farmer already? Get social.
- Post links on your social media of any local farmers looking to expand their customer base.
- Post links about advocacy groups for local farmers needing donations.
- Stories, Instagram live, Facebook, whichever platform floats your boat. Anything helps.
- Have some time to spare?
- If possible, volunteer or work for a local farmer. Help pick the spring harvest and ensure nothing goes to waste.
- Offer your time to local advocacy groups. Anything from managing social media to administration – your skills will be useful. Send them a quick email saying you want to help. Or a DM on Instagram – they’d love your help in any form.
- Feeling ambitious?
- Write or call your government representative. Ask for scale regulations, support initiatives, and low- or zero-interest loans. Make sure relief efforts are tailored to small farms. Consult your local advocacy group and farmers so you know what to ask for. They’ve done the specific research on how to help most effectively.
- Go down an internet spiral. There are lots of lobbying letter templates out there. Local advocacy groups often already have templates ready to send out. Find one you like. Advocacy is fun!
- Or don’t. This route takes more time and you might need that energy for yourself. Take a breath. No worries. Circle back to an option that’s within reach.
What does this mean for the future?
Right now, most of us are focusing on the present. Covid-19 has made daily life more of a struggle by blurring and breaking visions of the future. But let’s take a moment to reflect, and let me share some of the insights that I take solace in.
Covid-19 is breaking down global food chains. Food instability is forcing us – individuals, cities, regions, and countries – to reassess the way we eat. It is good that this crisis makes us think about the faces behind the food we eat.
Investing in local farmers allows you to see the direct and ethical returns on your money (not to mention the benefits of enjoying the freshest food). When you buy local, you are supporting the livelihoods of these farmers. The extra dollar you spend is going to someone who needs it – not a huge corporation with dubious ethics.
Next month I will be getting tangled in the roots of these ethical food issues, but right now I want to leave you with this quote from a retired agriculture professor, Deborah Stiles from Canada’s National Observer:
“The key to the future is rebuilding regional foundations of self-sufficiency,” she urges. “Living locally now doesn’t mean not occasionally having an avocado or orange, but eating more consciously, and more often, from what our farmers grow here.”
Remember: every little bit helps. Small shifts in the way we eat can have big impacts on those around us.