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Ripple effects form a wave affecting the food system

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When the CSA box arrived on our doorstep the other night, it caused me to reflect on how much our lives had changed in the past three months.

Like many Californians, we subscribed to a community-supported agriculture service for the first time, prompted by two imperatives—to reduce our trips to the supermarket during the pandemic and to support local and regional farmers.

As we shelter at home to try to avoid the novel coronavirus, my wife and I have made other adjustments to the new reality, adjustments many others have made. We have for the first time ordered groceries via website and app; we have ordered takeout meals from local restaurants that we once frequented in person; we have donned face coverings to visit the nearby farmers market; we have ordered wine from wineries whose tasting rooms had been shuttered until just recently.

We recognize that each of those actions has come with its own ripple effect on the food system, adding to all the other ripples that have brought waves of change, uncertainty and, in some cases, opportunity to farms, ranches and agricultural businesses.

Since the pandemic erupted into consciousness earlier this year, Ag Alert® has published close to 100 stories, commentaries, From the Fields reports and other accounts describing how the food chain has been affected.

For one thing, our reporting has underlined how the concept of “food chain” itself isn’t wholly accurate—how, in fact, there are a number of different food chains that, during normal times, complement each other. When the food-service chain abruptly shut down, the chains to retail outlets and food banks suddenly became oversubscribed. They’ve been striving mightily to cope ever since.

The morning after the CSA box arrived, my wife returned home from an early-morning trip to the supermarket and reported empty shelves in the meat case and, of course, in the toilet paper aisle. But she was able to find most everything else we needed.

We recognize we remain among the lucky ones. We have stayed well. So have our family, friends and colleagues. We have not lost jobs and been forced to wait hours in line at overwhelmed food banks. For us, so far, the pandemic has meant a series of life changes and inconveniences—not horrifying illness or sudden, unforeseen loss of income.

For our fellow Californians who have trouble finding nutritious, affordable food, the pandemic has added burdens and swelled their ranks. Farmers, ranchers, processors and others in the food business have donated products; Young Farmers and Ranchers members and other volunteers have distributed meals; new government and private initiatives have arisen to move surplus food to those who need it most.

Even as the economy slowly reopens, it appears those sorts of efforts will be needed for some time to come. Emerging from the pandemic-induced recession will take longer than it took for the recession to start.

That also means continued disruption for farmers, ranchers and agricultural businesses. Working safely will remain a high priority as harvest seasons accelerate in many parts of the state. Farms, ranches, packinghouses, processors and other agricultural operations have been evaluating, modifying, equipping and training to achieve the social distancing, sanitizing and other protocols intended to make sure farmers and their employees go home healthy so they can continue the essential work of providing food and farm products.

While Farm Bureau has worked to provide farmers, ranchers and their employees the most up-to-date information about how to complete their tasks safely, it has also worked to document the effects the pandemic has had on rural California—and to make sure actions by elected officials and regulators serve to ease essential on-farm work and the flow of food and farm products to market.

At the county, state and national levels, Farm Bureau has continued to operate during the pandemic and, in parts of the state, now transitions from work-at-home to reopened or partially reopened offices. At the California Farm Bureau Federation offices in Sacramento, employees have returned on staggered schedules designed to ensure social distancing in the work environment, and with routine sanitizing of surfaces and areas people frequent.

The Farm Bureau policy process continues, as well, including Issue Advisory Committee meetings this week conducted partially online but with on-site participants at the CFBF building required to undergo a brief health screening before entering, and to maintain social distancing thereafter.

All of us have had to adjust and adapt, to a greater or lesser degree. We’ve got a long way yet to go. Those of us at Farm Bureau hope the second half of 2020 will be a time of recovery.

(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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