For 10 years, the Foodshed Alliance has worked to rebuild our local food system for many reasons: local food is fresher, healthier, tastes better and supports the local economy. The dollars we spend at local farms stay in our communities. But the overarching reason for rebuilding the local food system is to make our communities more resilient and able to withstand disruptions to the global food supply chain, such as those caused by hurricanes, widespread power outages, and pandemics. Now more than ever, we need our local farmers.

We checked in on four northwest New Jersey farms and found they seem to be doing okay—so far. Farmers are used to working with unknowns. They never know what the weather will bring, what pests might come, how consumer preferences might shift, or what competitors might enter their market. But the farmers we talked to said the current coronavirus pandemic is adding a whole new dimension of uncertainty and stress.

While the farmers are doing what they normally do this time of year–seeding plants, preparing the soil for planting, pruning fruit trees and vines–they have all taken action to modify how they deal with the public, putting safety precautions in place.

At Race’s Farm Market on Rt. 94 in Blairstown, they remain open daily from 9am-6pm but they had to rethink how they do things.  “At the store, we have hand sanitizer and disposable gloves for our customers’ use while shopping and we stress physical distancing,” said Jeanny Race.  “We are getting deliveries on a daily basis to keep up on the demand of product–fresh produce, milk, eggs, meats, fish, fresh ravioli, homemade soups as well as olive oil, canned goods and more—and the store has been much busier than normal.”

Windy Brow Farms on Ridge Road in Newton has modified its retail operation where it sells baked goods, ice cream, eggs, vegetables, and specialty pantry items to no longer offer in-person on-site shopping.  It has set up an online ordering website and all products can now be pre-ordered and picked up at the farm. “Orders will be packed and ready for pick up at the order window at the far end of our building,” explained Jake Hunt, Windy Brow Farms. “We ask that customers approach the window one person at a time, maintaining safe distance between others. They just give us their last name, grab their bags and go.”

Pick-up procedures for people who have year-round CSA shares have changed at the Community Supported Garden at Genesis Farm in Blairstown as well. Instead of having members select vegetables from several bins, the farmers now pre-sort each share into baskets left in the distribution center. “We limit the number of people in the distribution center to four at a time. They transfer the contents of the baskets into their own bags,” said Smadar English, Community Supported Garden at Genesis Farm. “This process limits who touches the food and minimizes contact at pick up.” The farm is planning to launch an online ordering website to sell surplus and value-added items for pick up at the farm.

Kittatinny Mountain Farm is giving a lot of thought to how it will handle distribution when its CSA season starts in June. “In the past, we did a market-style pick up, where members can choose what they want in their basket. We are thinking we might have to make up the boxes for our members and have them ready for pick up at curbside to minimize who handles the food,” Dave Zelov explained.

Kittatinny Mountain Farm is also considering adding an online ordering system so their farmers’ market customers can pre-order and pick up pre-boxed packages. “Obviously, at farmers’ markets, it is a very social environment where people get up close and personal with the food and with each other,” Dave said. “Now we are looking at the overall way we distribute our food, to make it as safe as possible for everyone.” They might have to install more handwashing systems, or hire more staff to handle transactions.

While we are just weeks away from the opening of many outdoor farmers’ markets, and farmers’ markets are “essential services” that are allowed to be operate, farmers are concerned that market managers may postpone the markets or reduce hours. Even if the markets are open as usual, it’s unknown whether customers will come.

All the farmers agreed that their number one priority is to produce food for their communities as safely as possible. In times of societal disruption like this, our farms are growing healthy, delicious nutritious food right around the corner. When supermarket shelves are bare, farms in our communities are working to feed us all.

So far, the farmers doing retail are reporting strong sales and the CSAs say member sign-ups are on par with last year, if not a little better.

We encourage you to support our local farms, not just now in these turbulent times, but all the time. It’s the best way to make sure farms thrive in our communities and are always there when we need them.