Friday, December 4, 2020

Farms find high demand for their harvests during COVID

By Rosemary Gonzalez

            Due to raising COVID-19 cases,  Gov. Andrew Cuomo had announced a restaurant restriction that requires all restaurants to close at 10 p.m. With this second wave many businesses must continue to adapt to this new way of life, until things get back to normal. However, a business that seems to thrive is the farming business.

Courtesy WestSide Tilth
         Jeanette Koncikowski , executive director of  Grassroots Gardens said Grassroots is one of the few businesses that has been very fortune during this time. Grassroots Gardens, is an organization with over 100 gardens focusing on land conservation and providing agricultural needs in places where food is scarce in Buffalo and Niagara Falls

            “We saw an increase in demand and we stayed open,” Koncikowski  said. “People were very interested in gardening and worried about food this year.”

            With supermarkets also closing early, farms are selling directly to consumers. Yet, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), farm businesses have experienced difficulties in production due to the labor shortages and lack of resources.  

            Before COVID-19, “consumer spending on food in the United States had been remarkably stable, growing by around 4 % over the previous five years,” according to  Mckinsey & Company a management consulting company that advises on strategic management to corporations, governments, and other organizations.

            “Total sales were roughly split evenly between retail outlets, such as grocery stores and supermarkets and food-service companies, such as restaurants, hospitals, and schools,” according to McKinsey.

            Now there is a decrease in people going to restaurants, as people are stocking up on groceries and eating at home, increasing revenue for grocery stores the month by 29% over the previous year whereas, sales plummeted at restaurants, fast-food locations, coffee shops, and casual-dining locations by 27%, according to McKinsey.

            Carrie Nader, the owner of WestSide Tilth Farm, said she has experienced a decline with restaurant orders.

            “Restaurant sales were almost non-existent this season,” Nader said.

             Nader had to postpone plans for WestSide Tilth.

            “We were unable to establish a farmer’s market, as planned for 2020. This is something we will move forward with in 2021” Nader said.  “We’ll include local vendors and strive for our market to be a one stop shop for folks, ensuring we make all of the essentials available. We’ll also feature our artisan pizzas and local artists.”

            There have been a lot of obstacles worldwide and the agricultural business is not excused.

            According to The New York Farm Bureau, farms may temporarily lose employees due to COVID-19, as they may have to quarantine and recover. New York’s largest farm organization is looking for “willing and able people to become potential employees” through a Farmers Relief Program.  

            Grassroots Gardens also implemented a program in response to the COVID-19.

             “The Freedom Gardens initiative, founded by long--time Grassroots Gardener, Ms. Gail Wells, is designed to inspire resilience and independence for Buffalo residents most impacted by coronavirus,” according to the website.

            “Freedom Gardens unlike the community gardens where people go and share a plot of land, Freedom Gardens brings the garden to people’s homes,” Koncikowski said. “We together built and delivered 50 home gardens to people during the pandemic for free, so that if they wanted to grow food at home they could safely do so.”

            Koncikowski  said that people cannot directly grow food in their backyard in the city of Buffalo because of the risk of lead contamination.

             “It was important to be able to give people raised beds and clean soil that we brought in that was organic, so that they didn't have to worry about contaminating any food they were growing at home,” Koncikowski  said.

            Another community garden, Explore and More Rooftop Garden, which sits on the rooftop of Explore & More Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Children’s Museum faced some obstacles during this pandemic.

            “We have been able to incorporate some of that stuff that we grow into our programs” Rebecca Glon, museum tech specialist, said.  “We had plans on using the garden to help educate kids about responsible farming, but because of 2020 reasons we weren't able to do that.”

            Koncikowski said the need for healthy, free, fresh produce is “critical.”

             “Food is a human right,” she said, “and you shouldn't have to worry about where your next meal is going to come from.”