North Carolinians come together to feed their communities
North Carolina is home to one of the biggest farming industries in America. Our farmers grow crops and raise livestock to provide locally-sourced food across the state and nationwide. But as the COVID-19 pandemic has rippled across the country, farmers have faced major supply chain disruptions.
Many restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses have been forced to close or cut spending. This has left farmers with limited options for supplying their food staples to others. The impact on farms in Western North Carolina has been particularly staggering.
“We experienced a lot of sleepless nights worrying how we might ride out this storm,” said Carl Evans with Mountain Harvest Organics farm.
In a survey completed by 900 Western North Carolina farmers,
- 80%reported a decrease in sales.
- 75% reported that if disruptions in sales persisted for several months, losses would result in bankruptcy or closure.
At the same time, food insecurity has increased by 60% in this area since March. Without local farms, these communities would lose access to fresh produce that is proven to improve people’s health and well-being.
To help local farmers and their communities in Western North Carolina, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) invested $275,000 in the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP). The Asheville-based nonprofit works to help local farms thrive. They link farmers to markets and supporters and build healthy communities through connections to local food.
The investment has helped ASAP address the challenges brought on by the pandemic. ASAP has adjusted its services to increase community support options without disrupting farmers’ sales:
ASAP opened a model market with safe operations including pre-packaging food, social distancing and setting up no-touch payments. 90%of farmers’ markets in ASAP’s service area were able to use these practices to open safely during the pandemic.
This online portal makes it easy for people to know where to buy food staples and even order food online. ASAP continues to update the guide to better connect communities to local farmers.
Shoppers who receive SNAP/EBT or Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program vouchers can double the value of each dollar spent at participating farmers’ markets. The impact of COVID-19 caused SNAP usage at farmers markets to triple. ASAP has coordinated additional resources to keep pace with the new demand for this program.
This program puts fresh, healthy food into the hands of people who need it. It also ensures farmers are paid fairly. ASAP buys food from farmers who have more to harvest than the economy can support. The farmers then deliver the food to relief sites and childcare centers. Currently, 28 farms deliver to 26 sites across 17 counties. This program is supporting 3,000 to 4,000 families with local produce each week.
“The impacts of COVID-19 have been felt in all socioeconomic levels,” said pastor Rubi Pimentel of Hendersonville Spanish Church. “Fresh produce will allow us to help bring some help to our communities and also help stabilize our economy with local farmers. Those affected will feel that they have not been abandoned by society.”
With support from Blue Cross NC, ASAP has developed a response to support Western North Carolina’s agriculture community during this pandemic. To learn more about Blue Cross NC’s commitment to improving food security, click here and COVID-19 community support, click here. For more information about ASAP, visit their website.
Photos by Camilla Calnan and Colby Rabon.