I was delayed in learning about the COVID-19 pandemic because I was on an urban farm that week of March. The entire pandemic has been marked by food for me.
COVID-19 is a disaster in that it caused a disruption between society and socioeconomic conditions. During the pandemic, we saw empty shelves in the grocery store and limited opportunities to connect with one another. The pandemic revealed our vulnerability. I propose that we respond to what we saw by embracing an economic system that is local and community building. I believe that by supporting a community-based economic system we can build our resiliency in preparation for future disasters.
I asked my professor and goat cheese maker Carol Coulter, owner of Heritage Homestead Goat Dairy, about how High Country Food Hub was impacted by COVID-19. She told me that when everything shut down, sales increased more than 600 percent. Carol told me that with a dip in farmers’ restaurant business, the increasing Food Hub sales saved many farmers’ livelihoods. The beauty of supporting the local economy is that those increased sales won’t be funneled out to the pockets of some far away millionaire, but rather circulated between you and me.
Not only does supporting the local economy build our resiliency through continuity of service, it also strengthens our social ties. In a year that has put up barriers to connection, once a week I get to see familiar faces when I pick up groceries at the Food Hub, Stick Boy and Benchmark Provisions. The benefit of an economic system with this level of care and connection is experiences like I had in January when some soup I ordered didn’t make it into my pick-up basket. I figured it was a lost cause, but when I emailed the Food Hub they reassured me that my soup was sitting in the fridge with my name on it. It is within a small economy that we are able to have moments where we care for one another.
Disasters present us with an opportunity for change and I propose that we change by building up an economy full of encounters with our neighbors. In my experiences supporting local food systems these encounters have felt real and profound. Just this week, I met Shane Hillman from Community Well Organic Chocolate Bars who makes the best oatmeal in town. I decided to go to school at Appalachian State because I wanted to go somewhere that I could have relationships with my farmers and food makers. My dream came true and I am better for it. I think we would all be better for it. If we choose to go this way, the way of supporting one another, we can increase our resiliency to prepare for future disasters by building up our collective agency and strengthening our social ties.