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Why We Need to Think About Farmers Now

How the pandemic is impacting agriculture

Maggie Borden

May 12, 2020

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Serenbe garden photo Clay Williams
Photo: Clay Williams

ICYMI, this spring we're hosting webinars as part of our Industry Support learning series. For over a month we've held talks on motivation in times of crisis, re-opening safely and sustainably, the state of food journalism, and more. Below, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and newly minted 2020 James Beard Award nominee chef Abra Berens share insights into the impact of COVID-19 on small restaurants and local agriculture, as well as efforts on a federal level to provide economic relief.

1. Much like the restaurant industry, COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on farms and farmers. It's clear that the public is eager to help local farmers and the rural economy. But first the government needs to invest pandemic relief funding in farmers who are selling to local markets, because they are the individuals building a new infrastructure for us all.

2. The outbreaks of the virus at industrial meat processing plants are an indication of an overly consolidated farming and processing industry. In response, Pingree and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) reintroduced the PRIME (Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption) Act to make it easier for small-scale farms and producers to reach customers.

  • Under current federal regulation, if farmers want to sell individual cuts of locally-raised meat to consumers, they need to have the animal slaughtered at a USDA-inspected facility. There are only a limited number of facilities nationwide who will accommodate smaller-scale producers, which means sometimes farmers have to transport their animals hundreds of miles to reach a slaughterhouse.
  • The PRIME Act would allow for in-state distribution of custom-slaughtered meat to grocery stores, restaurants, and direct-to-consumer sales, so local small- and medium-sized farmers can process their livestock through nearby facilities.

3. The viability of American farms is an issue that crosses political party lines. Pingree and Berens think there are opportunities to reimagine our current food system. The public needs to hear from small farmers, restaurant owners, and chefs about what they are experiencing firsthand, and the ways we can diversify avenues of food access and production.

Watch the full webinar for more on the impact of COVID-19 on farmworkers and immigration.

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

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