NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Where does food come from? Does the U.S. produce enough food to feed all Americans? Let’s stop right there for a minute and go back almost five decades.
In the 1970s, gasoline and other energy prices soared—causing an American economic crisis. Our country was reliant on foreign oil sources. The U.S. economy struggled, unemployment rates soared, and uncertainties prevailed. Yes, fuel is necessary for transporting people, moving products, for industrial processes and heating homes. However, Americans adapted, made changes to habits and adjusted to the shock of high-energy prices. These changes presented many challenges, and Americans persevered. Over time the U.S. tapped into domestic resources and the energy industry developed technologies to make the U.S. less dependent on foreign energy.
Let’s move ahead to today. This time it is not energy supply at risk, it is literally human lives that are being impacted by a worldwide pandemic. Once again uncertainties—this time food supply and health are at the top of the list and causing anxiety for many households. Again, the consumer has adapted their preferences and habits in response to this new challenge. Today, consumers still desire fresh, healthy food, but are forced to adapt shopping habits to include social distancing, shopping online and other methods to meet their dietary needs.
Going back to our original question, “Where does food come from?” the answer may seem obvious, but our food comes from our many American farmers, and even farmers abroad. The New Jersey Farm Bureau coined the slogan, “No Farmers, No Food”. But how can our farmers meet the changing demands of the consumer in response to the Coronavirus pandemic? Just like the American consumer, New Jersey farmers are changing the way they provide delicious, locally produced food directly to the consumer.
Let’s face it—everyone enjoys visiting a local farm or farmers market. Not only can you purchase some of the freshest fruits, vegetables and other products directly from the farmers who produced them, you can enjoy spending some time in the beautiful outdoors. Although most people are familiar with the traditional roadside farm stand selling in-season produce, there are several unique products being sold by other innovative farmers. Everything from farm-fresh cheeses and ice cream, to locally raised meats like beef, pork and poultry, locally produced beverages, salsa, jams and jellies, flour and other products are being produced right in our backyard. Many local farmers have incorporated Center for Disease Control guidelines including enhanced food safety, social distancing and other precautions to help ensure consumer safety. Some farmers are now offering a variety of ordering and payment options and even providing prepackaged delivery to vehicles curbside or to households.
A CSA or community-supported agriculture membership is a great way to purchase products from a local farmer. Much like the stock market, CSA members pay a fee in exchange for a “share” of a farmer’s crop. In exchange for their investment in the farming operation, members receive a percentage of the annual harvest while gaining the satisfaction of knowing where their food was produced and watching it come to fruition throughout the growing season. CSA members are rewarded with delicious yields and excellent returns on their investment in the form of farm-fresh products. Some innovative producers are providing virtual tours of their farms to give consumers the on-farm experience from the comfort of their homes. To learn more about CSAs, check out the Rutgers Cooperative Extension fact sheet, Community Supported Agriculture: A Farmer’s Overview.
If you enjoy New Jersey agricultural products, but are wondering where to find them, here are some resources. Visit the Find Jersey Fresh webpage or the New Jersey Farm Bureau webpage Local Farms – Local Food. Additionally, follow your favorite local farms on social media and check their business websites. Farming is an essential industry and we all depend on farmers to provide our food. Please support farmers – NO FARMERS NO FOOD.
–Michelle Infante-Casella and Stephen Komar, Rutgers Cooperative Extension