With restaurants, hotels, and schools either closed or functioning at limited capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic, farmers across the nation are left with hundreds of millions of pounds of surplus food they have no choice but to destroy. According to the New York Times, nearly four million gallons of milk are being poured into lagoons and manure pits each day, over 750,000 unhatched eggs are being smashed every week, and millions of pounds of produce are being plowed back into the ground.
You’re probably wondering why they don’t donate it to the needy to help offset the hunger crisis. The answer is it’s not that simple. Large farms are set up to produce literally tons of food to sell in huge quantities. It is not economically feasible for them to harvest, process, and transport milk and produce in small amounts, especially after they have lost more than half of their paying customers. Although many farmers have taken it upon themselves to donate to food banks and Meals on Wheels, these organizations lack the capacity to accept and store large donations. Exporting excess food is not feasible either because international customers are also struggling through the pandemic and recent currency fluctuations make exports unprofitable.
According to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, large-scale family farms and industrial non-family farms account for only 4.8% of farms, but 58.3% of production. Small-scale family farms represent nearly 90% of US farms, but only 21.1% of production. The federal government awards farms $20 billion annually in subsidies to offset economic crises and price fluctuations. But according to Mises.org, last year 39% of America’s 2.1 million farms received most of the funds while smaller ones were left to battle for the remainder. The lion’s share of aid always goes to the largest producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice, but many farmers believe the allocation of funds isn’t justified as it costs almost six times more to harvest fruits and vegetables as it does to harvest other crops.
Farming is Florida’s second-largest economic driver, generating $155 billion in revenue and creating over two million jobs. But with significantly reduced demand and virtually no federal assistance, many of our Florida farms are struggling to stay in business.
What can we do?
First, spread the word about the problem. Second, support our local farms by purchasing food either directly from them or at establishments that carry their goods. Florida’s climate is ideal for growing a wide variety of crops and our local, family-owned farms need our community’s support and business. Many farms have times to pick your own product while others offer online orders and curbside pickup of freshly harvested crops.
You can find lists of Florida farms that sell directly to consumers at https://www.floridafarmbureau.org/florida-farms-selling-direct-to-consumers/ and at https://www.clickorlando.com/news/local/2020/04/09/updated-list-how-to-buy-straight-from-floridas-farmers-hurt-by-coronavirus-pandemic/
Lists of Orlando-area farms can be found at https://orlandoonthecheap.com/orlando-farms/
Information on Orlando-area farmers markets that have Covid-19 safety protocols, including online ordering, and curbside pick-up can be found at https://orlandodatenightguide.com/2020/04/local-farms-in-orlando-and-virtual-markets/