Agricultural Op-Ed Regarding Coronavirus
May 2020 - The Fresh Fork summer season is just 4 weeks away. And yes, we are still taking signups for our 12th Annual Summer Season. Demand has been up and we have locked in our prices and supplies, so weather permitting, it will be “business as usual.”
Full details about the 2020 Summer Season, including our new easy weekly payment plan, available at https://freshforkmarket.com/summer-farm-share/
Reflections on our Food System
I’m involved in every aspect of the food business. I farm by day, cut meat on the weekends, and coordinate thousands of weekly deliveries of fresh groceries to Cleveland families. I care for the soil that grows your produce and feeds your cattle; I see the pigs and calves born and again on the cutting table; and I oversee the preservation of our harvest’s bounty as it gets canned, frozen, fermented, dried, and baked. I am a very fortunate person.
The last two months have been incredible. Incredible in the sense that failures to our food supply system are now evident – something many of us have been shouting for years.
Corona has unveiled that just-in-time-inventory is fragile, particularly for essentials such as food, and that the consumer takes for granted what it takes to put food on the shelf of the grocery store. Increasing supply is not easy. At the shortest turn around, a head of hydroponic lettuce requires about 40 days, and to calve and fatten more steers for beef, you are looking at a 3 year turn around.
The news is polluted with stories about food shortages. Meat counters nationwide are empty, prices are climbing, and people are without work, without money, and without food. It is criminal. The virus has shaken the nation’s supply chain as large food production facilities, packers, and even farmers suffer due to infection ravaging their workforce and their ability to get labor.
Farming is a bizarre industry. Think about it. Would you consider growing a crop – be it for human consumption or animal feed – without knowing the end price and who is going to buy it? That’s a majority of the market. Once the farmer has the product in his hand, the buyer has the leverage. The product is perishable and the farmer has to move it at some price – to the buyer, the lower the better. This system has discouraged production and put us at risk.
At Fresh Fork, we work directly with local farmers – nearly 75 of them, including myself. I raise beef, hogs, chickens, and turkeys, in addition to operate a state licensed canning facility. What we do is small scale. Very small scale. This year I’ll fatten out maybe 300 hogs and slaughter 30 cattle. By comparison, there are feedlots in Iowa and Nebraska with over 100,000 heads on one property.
Our farmers rely on your commitment as a member to guarantee that there will be a fair-priced market for their products. Based on economies of scale, factory farming practices, and even the cost of land, Ohio farmers can’t compete with the commodity markets on prices, particularly for red meat.
What we can do though is create a direct supply chain to the consumer. One that is so strong and bonded that a virus can’t disrupt. Throughout this virus, you may not have recognized that Fresh Fork has not risen any of its prices. Our farmers recognize that their cost of doing business is no greater today than yesterday, and that this is just business as usual.
We thank you in advance for joining us for our 12th Annual Summer Season. Your commitment to buying local and supporting healthy, organic production has helped to create a sustainable – and secure – local food system in Northeast Ohio. The small farmers of our network say “Thank You.”
Founder/Owner, Fresh Fork Market, Ohio City Provisions, and Wholesome Valley Farm
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