With social distancing taking hold and demand for food spiking to unprecedented levels, we are witnessing dramatic changes in how food is being distributed.
At many farmers markets around the country, the days of casually walking from one stand to the next, mingling with fellow patrons, as well as smelling and touching all of the produce, are a thing of the past.
Last Saturday in Vermont, the Bennington Farmers Market was set up as a drive-thru and shoppers had to fill out vendor order forms in advance via Facebook. Pick-up times were set in half-hour increments.
A similar scene will take place tomorrow in Silicon Valley at the Portola Valley Farmers Market, which had temporarily closed because of COVID-19. The new operation will be a drive-thru market with online ordering, and everything will be picked up in pre-packed bags.
Miami’s urban farm Little River Cooperative is taking things a step further by allowing customers to pre-order vegetable boxes online, and each person is given a designated, unmanned pick-up spot. This way, there is no human-to-human contact in the process. The people filling the produce boxes are all wearing N95 masks and gloves, and sanitizing sprays are on hand to clean the cooler before and after touching its handles.
Yet, farmers markets are hardly the only ones changing the way they operate. Farmers and distributors are now selling directly to consumers.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has put together a directory of farms offering a direct-to-consumer service, and it has partnered with numerous organizations in the state, including the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, to help citizens find and sell food.
In Rhode Island, a normal Thursday for Farm Fresh is to drop off produce to 60 restaurants. With only 3 restaurants having ordered, the company started making home deliveries, and the demand for this service was beyond strong. Food went to 120 homes, and the average order was approximately $100.
Baldor Specialty Foods, one of the largest wholesale importers and distributors of fresh produce and specialty foods in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, is now doing home delivery — for the first time in its 28-year history. Initially, it was only for customers in a 50-mile radius from its Bronx warehouse, but the company announced that it has added delivery to Boston, Philadelphia and New Jersey, all with a $250 minimum order.
Also, in New York City, pressed organic juice chain Juice Press has launched its organic supermarket delivery business. Along with its cold-pressed juices, soups, snacks and salads, it is now offering grains, legumes and a huge selection of organic produce. Delivery is in the NYC and Boston areas.
Not surprisingly, restaurants have also pivoted, adding mini grocery stores and selling wholesale meats.
As these interesting food distribution models have emerged, one unintended effect is that it may draw important attention to some overlooked participants in our economy.
“Not only am I inspired by these new ways of redistributing food, but I’m very hopeful that people will now have a much greater appreciation of farmers and food-chain workers, and will no longer undervalue food distribution in our country. At a time like this, the importance of these individuals becomes very clear; without them, there is no food on our plates,” said Errol Schweizer, a natural food retail and CPG veteran.
These efforts to self-organize and keep our communities moving forward remind us that we are all in this together — a universal truth that we too often forget.
To our readers: If any of this has inspired you or if you know of another organization/initiative that is moving the food system in a positive direction amidst this pandemic, please let us know. We would like to share these stories with you.
Max Goldberg, FounderCollaborate // Contact
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