April 27, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the heroes among us that many took for granted in the past: healthcare workers, grocery store employees, truck drivers, utility workers, and many others still working hard to keep us healthy, bring food to our tables, keep our homes warm and lit, and keep us safe in this new, uncertain world we are in. When we think of all those providing food for our tables, let us not forget about where it all starts – on the farm.
So many things we enjoy come from farms. It’s not only the food we eat, but our clothing and household goods – even items so critical in fighting COVID-19 like latex gloves, pharmaceuticals, and detergents –that come from farms. Less than 1 percent of Americans work on a farm. Yet with that one percent is where so many things we depend on day in and out begin.
The COVID-19 pandemic should raise awareness of how critical agriculture is to our world and to our daily lives. As grocery stores scrambled to manage their inventories and restock shelves, many Americans for the first time ever began to worry about having enough food to eat. But the truth is, Americans do not have to worry about having enough food to eat. We are fortunate to have the most safe, abundant food supply in the world. That is because of our farm families across the country and others across the supply chain who are working hard every day to keep food moving safely to the marketplace.
Unfortunately, these farmers often do not get credit for the work they do. Even in many of the COVID-19 tributes airing right now, farmers seem almost forgotten. But as director of a non-profit serving agriculture, I have witnessed their extreme heroism, not just in the past few weeks, but every day in my 25-year career within the dairy sector.
Like many of us, the dairy farm families I work with have seen their world turned upside down by this pandemic. With restaurants and institutions closed, dairy farmers alone have seen a 10 percent decline in the demand for their milk. At the same time, the demand on our charitable food system has been unprecedented. Even while losing money themselves, Pennsylvania’s dairy farm families have sent more than 125,000 gallons into food banks across our state to fill the glasses of families who need it most.
In the few short weeks since the COVID-19 outbreak, the price farmers receive for their products has also fallen through the floor because of the market disruptions and business closures. Yet, farmers are the eternal optimists. They plant crops in the spring and hope for a harvest in the fall. They help a cow birth a baby calf and spend two years raising and caring for her in hopes that she will one day be a productive member of their herd.
Today is no different. Despite knowing the price they will receive is well below their costs to produce it, farmers are still producing milk, growing produce, and planting crops in hopes that the market will recover. They know people will always need to eat, and they are passionate about their role in feeding a hungry world. While other businesses are closed and worried about when they can reopen, farmers continue to work, even with the uncertainty of whether they will ever recoup the time, effort, and money they are investing.
As we celebrate the heroes among us, let us not forget about our farmers, the hidden heroes who are feeding America, and helping to keep us safe, healthy, and comfortable. Like I said, farmers are the eternal optimists. They hope. They work hard. They give back to others. And they are still farming, working long hours and endless days to keep America’s food supply strong, despite tremendous uncertainty about the future of their business. They will not stop farming for you.
So, how can you help these farmers? Keep buying their products. Even though you are not eating out at a restaurant, you can still include cheese and butter in your recipes. Even though your kids are not going to school, they still benefit from the nutrition a glass of milk provides at lunch. You do not have to get your milk, meat or produce at a farmers’ market to support local farmers. Keeping your refrigerator stocked with fresh produce, meats, and dairy from the local grocery store helps, too.
As we work together to navigate this pandemic, stay strong, stay healthy and don’t forget to thank a farmer by choosing dairy and other products from local farms – in Pennsylvania and across the country. We are all in this together.
Director, Center for Dairy Excellence