As shoppers clear grocery store shelves and concern about the national food supply hovers, there are steps we can take to support our local food systems and the communities they feed.

Hope in the time of coronavirus? Yes, there is. In the last month or so, I’ve found inspiration in watching the businesses that feed my little western Massachusetts community give what they have, however they can. Restaurants and bakeries are providing free lunches for healthcare workers or for families that rely on now-shuttered schools for regular meals. Farmers who normally sell seedlings at farmers’ markets are suddenly setting up shop to make young plants, and soon, fresh produce, available online or through improvised farm stands with no-contact payment set-ups. These are just a few examples of things I have witnessed, but they’ve been a balm.

They’ve also made me think a lot about Ali Berlow’s The Food Activist Handbook and the ideas, big and small, that book offers for strengthening, supporting, and growing our local food systems. I asked Ali to help identify a few ways we can take action right now to feed ourselves and our communities, even in strange, uncertain times like these.— Emily Spiegelman, Marketing Content Editor

black and white illustration of a vegetable garden

Illustration © Becca Stadtlander/The Bright Group International,
Ltd., excerpted from The Food Activist Handbook

1. Keep Community Gardens Growing

Community gardens can be an oasis of life, cooperation, and food access. While COVID-19 threatens our very social fabric with mandated distancing, these spaces are the kinds of coexistence we need now, safely. The Wareham Community Garden in Wareham, Massachusetts, offers up-to-date information about best practices, including how to schedule access with social distancing protocols. Visit their blog to see their COVID-19 Guidelines for Safe Community Gardening, which “includes science-based updates on the virus and tips on how to harvest, share tools, swap seeds and manage work flow.”

2. Keep Farmers’ Markets Essential

In the upheaval of COVID-19, there’s ample confusion as to whether farmers’ markets will be considered essential and allowed to operate. These decisions will be made on a state and local level. In many parts of the country, farmers are planting now for the season while grocery stores remain open. Visit the Farmers Market Coalition for information about best market practices, resources and updates. Most importantly, connect with your state’s department of agriculture to ensure farmers’ markets are deemed essential. For SNAP Online Pilot Program information, visit the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service website.

3. Bake it Forward: Neighbor Loaves

Neighbor Loaves is a new initiative from the Artisan Grain Collaborative, based in Madison, Wisconsin. The program is designed to address bread shortages while keeping the local and regional grain supply — from farmers, millers and bakers — open and paying workers a fair wage. Participating bakeries bake bread with 50% local flour and eaters can buy a loaf to be donated to a local emergency food program. “Right now, farmers are planting grain and they need to know they’ll have a place to sell this year’s crop. At the same time, bakers are facing reduced revenues, emergency feeding organizations are in need of donations, and many people are sitting at home looking for ways to support their community. It was a natural fit to connect these pieces,” says Alyssa Hartman, executive director of the Artisan Grain Collaborative, who conceived of the program.

Neighbor Loaves is a replicable program. Bakeries that would like to start or participate in Neighbor Loaves and eaters who would like to donate can find more information here.

4. Join a Community Supported Fishery (CSF)

CSFs operate like community supported agriculture (CSA), only for fishermen. Members buy in upfront and in return, receive a share of fish. Go to LocalCatch.org to find one that is near you, or one that delivers fish you prefer. Community-based owner/operator fishermen, like small family farmers, are facing uncertainty and disruptions in the supply chain. Buying direct from fishermen will help them through these difficult times, and in return you’ll get some fresh, delicious fish for your table.

5. Amplify Your Voice for Food Equity Now

Feeling overwhelmed? Me too. Everywhere I turn, it seems, there’s grief and fear and uncertainty. But if there’s one thing I’d like to offer you, it’s your voice and a sense of purpose. We are so lucky that there is a frontline of policy first-responders protecting food workers, farmers, fishers and ranchers. These are the groups that amplify your singular voice into a collective many when you participate in their sign-on letters and Action Alerts. These are organizations like Farm Aid, HEAL Food Alliance, the National Family Farm Coalition, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, WhyHunger, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, which, for example, partnered together early on to lobby representatives to bolster local and regional food systems poised to feed communities.

I still get nervous when I make a call or write a comment but once I do that, clarity and strength ensues. A comment will have significantly more impact when it’s personalized and I encourage you to speak from your heart, experience, expertise, your conscience — always respectfully. Using your voice is critical in these times, and just as importantly, it’s good for your soul, too.

Ali Berlow

Ali Berlow is the author of The Food Activist Handbook and The Mobile Poultry Slaughterhouse, and the co-owner of Edible Vineyard magazine. Berlow founded and served as the… See Bio

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The Food Activist Handbook

by Ali Berlow and Alice Randall

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