Here's how I plan to eat fresh and local during (and after) the COVID-19 pandemic.
vegetables at farmers market
Credit: GETTY / Enrique Díaz / 7cero

It's likely if you're reading this article, you have also perused the aisles of your local supermarket over the last four to six weeks only to witness the absence of toilet paper, paper products and other items on your grocery list. As lockdowns were initiated around the COVID-19 pandemic, panic set in and grocery stores were depleted of edible essentials like pasta, rice and canned goods. Even the meat department started to look a little lean (see what I did there?).

The coronavirus emergency response varies from state to state within the U.S., but if you're in a state that has shuttered most (or all) nonessential businesses, then you're likely in the same boat as me right now. I usually prefer to eat a diet consisting of lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while limiting my intake of foods that contain simple carbohydrates (i.e. bread), sugary foods and drinks. But the current situation has forced me to reevaluate my approach to grocery shopping.

This pandemic escalated just as spring was creeping around the corner. It's put a damper on my ability to seek out farmers' markets where I could buy locally sourced produce. This got me thinking about how farmers are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and how we can support them during this trying time.

How Farmers Are Dealing with the Coronavirus Pandemic

"We started the month of March set to break sales records, and, by the middle of the month, we weren't sure how we were going to make payroll," states Kikki Tucker, co-owner of Tucker Farms.

Prior to the pandemic, Kikki, and her husband Craig, were operating Tucker Farms as they had since its founding in 2010. Over the last decade, they have created a sustainability-focused farm that primarily caters to chefs and farm-to-table kitchens in the Atlanta and Chattanooga markets.

"When the restaurants closed, we were faced with the very sudden choice to either shut down or change our business model," Tucker says. "For a few days, we panicked, watched way too much news and barely slept."

Located in northwest Georgia, the Tuckers built their first hoop house in 2010 and added a hydroponic greenhouse in 2012. Tucker Farms specializes in specialty lettuces, greens, herbs and seasonal vegetables. The hydroponic greenhouse allows the farm to consistently provide lettuces and salad greens year-round.

Like many of us, they struggled to make sense of the new challenge facing them. Friends and colleagues reached out offering to assist the Tuckers in finding new ways to move their harvests with the restaurant industry at a standstill. The group was able to move quickly and put together a plan to offer weekly, no-contact farm boxes.

They added an online store to their existing website. Now, they are offering direct to customers an array of their lettuces, salad greens and seasonal garden vegetables.

"We weren't really sure how folks would respond to boxes built around salads," exclaims Tucker. "But so far, people have been really enthusiastic."

"Despite all the uncertainty, our team has been amazing through these changes," adds Tucker. "In addition to upping our already-strict food safety and sanitation protocols, we've had to stagger shifts and completely change our packaging materials and inventory management processes to accommodate smaller, customized individual orders instead of larger wholesale quantities."

How to Support Local Farmers During COVID-19

The Tuckers are not alone in this plight. They, and likely thousands of other farmers, are struggling to evolve during this ever-changing dynamic that caught all of us off guard. And unlike some business owners, the products that farmers offer have a limited shelf life and how they are able to adapt will determine the difference between a successful and a potentially devastating year.

"At this point, we are feeling cautiously optimistic about the future, and we are continuing to plant twice weekly to maintain a steady harvest," Tucker says. "We're sticking to our 2020 garden expansion plans and are looking forward to delicious summer and fall seasons."

The local farmers' market where they consistently showcase their produce is slated to reopen next month. Tucker says that the market will feature a no-contact, drive-through style market.

"Small farms are still growing food for our communities," Tucker exclaims. "Consumers can secure fresh, delicious local produce directly from local farms, through local farm box and meal kit companies, and by purchasing to-go meals from local restaurants who support local farms."

And, it's not just about selling their product that's important to Tucker Farms.

"We are making weekly donations to different community kitchens and food banks in Atlanta and Northwest Georgia," says Tucker. "They are key partners in ensuring that our most vulnerable neighbors have access to fresh, nutrient-dense food."

How to Find Local Produce During the Coronavirus Pandemic

If you're a fan of locally sourced produce and meats like I am, it's more important than ever to help our local farmers weather this storm that we are all a part of this year.

Have you gone to local farmer's markets in the past? Perhaps you have built a relationship with a particular farm. Consider reaching out to them directly to ask how you can procure their products until we are all able to attend the public markets once again. (Most farms have websites or social media accounts—try searching for your favorite farm to find their contact info.)

Also, contact your state department of agriculture and ask if they have a list of farmers in your area that you can reach out to directly. Some states even have apps in which you can locate nearby farmers from which to buy from directly during this time.