Stories / Impact

COVID-19 and the Weaknesses of the Food Supply Chain

How the pandemic disrupted the farm to table connection

Morgan Carter

July 16, 2020


Heather Anne Thomas
Photo: Heather Anne Thomas

For the past few months, we've been hosting webinars as part of our Industry Support learning series. Topics have covered all facets of the current crisis, from deciphering government relief options, to gatekeeping in the hospitality industry, to relief kitchens, and more. During our webinar last week, we spoke about supply chains and how COVID-19 has impacted how our food gets from the field to the kitchen. 

1. The COVID pandemic caused a ripple effect in our food supply chain across various levels. 

  • Longstanding regulations and infrastructure needs inhibited the growth of locally-based food systems in native and impoverished communities. This ultimately led to food apartheids. As a result, members of communities who don’t live in centralized areas had to travel long distances just to gain access to food, what A-dae Romero-Briones calls a long-distance supply chain. Often, these groceries stores were already sold out of essential supplies once they arrived.
  • Businesses that supply food for local restaurants (such as farmers and butchers) faced large-scale cancellations due to shuttered restaurants, leading to product backlogs. On the other hand, grocery stores were running out of various goods due to high demand. 
  • The increased demand for takeout supplies, such as utensils and to-go containers, coupled with personnel furloughs on the distribution side, caused major delays.
  • With schools and colleges closing across the country, many programs were unable to supply food-insecure students with consistent meals. 

2. In real time, industry folks had to quickly adapt to stay afloat. 

  • Restaurateur Adrian Lipscombe noted that restaurant owners had to not only adjust to revamping their businesses to takeout or delivery only, but they had to learn and work with local zoning codes to close off streets for outdoor dining. Restaurants switching over to marketplace models helped to close the gap between local farmers who had surplus goods and communities whose grocery stores were unable to keep up with demand.
  • Working with a network of over 300 colleges across the United States, Andrew Greene of Chartwell Higher Ed coordinated manufacturers to donate over 120,000 pounds of food to local food banks and non-profits. 

3. In order to strengthen supply chains for the future, long-term changes need to be implemented:

  • Moving forward, the food industry should refocus on growing foods on a local scale versus a national one. 
  • Indian country and other disenfranchised areas need to be incorporated into the conversation about supply chain and given a platform to share their culinary history and roots.
  • Consumers should be educated as to what is in season in their respective areas so they can shop accordingly.
  • Vote with your dollars. 
  • Reduce food waste by keeping local food banks on speed dial. 

Watch the full webinar.

Check out what's on-deck for our webinar series and find past recordings here. 

Our team would like to know what topics you would like us to cover. Please email us at with your suggestions on speakers, resources, and issues you would like us to host.