We know that everyone will be impacted by COVID-19. Many will lose their lives; many more will suffer personal and financial hardships. As this unfolds, it is impossible to predict the long-term impacts; only to do the best we can in the moment. At A Greener World our team quickly adjusted to meet present needs: working remotely, not collecting on invoices for farmers, and completely shifting focus to support those in our orbit struggling in this new environment.
We are mindful and respectful of those most vulnerable, as well as the many losses people are facing. Being an agricultural organization we also want to highlight a group who will need every support we can offer during this time: our farmers. Many have seen their market disappear overnight–or will lose them in the coming weeks and months and have no way to stop it. Farmers who have worked hard to build relationships with amazing restaurants; farmers at the cutting edge of sustainability building a robust regional food system. While some with online sales are seeing increased sales, other farms are hanging by a thread. I know they support the necessary efforts to contain the virus that has sent the world into panic — but we can’t let them be collateral damage. There is a very real chance we could wake up six months from now with most of our independent farmers out of business.
In my role as Executive Director of what many claim is the leading certifier of high-welfare, pasture-raised, grassfed and non-GMO animal products, I am humbled to have direct and open conversations with many about this situation. During a call yesterday, a farmer let me know that two thirds of their production is sitting unsold on the farm — a number likely to increase to 100% next week. Other farms are holding animals previously destined for happy customers at leading restaurants in their area, having just learned those restaurants are closed for the foreseeable future.
Farmers are facing heartbreaking decisions: slaughter animals with no market and store products at significant cost, change the animals’ diet hoping the market returns quickly (highly unlikely), or effectively dump products into the commodity market at a price below production. In summary the only choice is how much money to lose and for how long. Animals that stay on the farm will need feeding, more housing, more space and more pasture. Farmers plan years ahead and animals will be giving birth to animals that take months and years to grow. Most farmers go into debt to finance the beginning of their year, taking a hit right now like losing a job and adding a mortgage payment in one fell swoop. All while facing the clear and present threat of a virus that is especially lethal for the elderly and immunocompromised, recognizing that the average age of farmers is nearing 60 years old and many are caring for aging parents. We know well how these challenges can multiply to sink a farm and destroy lives — and we’re rallying everyone we can to help make sure that doesn’t happen here.
Our marketing team is laser focused on supporting farmers to help them weather this crisis — and helping consumers understand the importance of their purchases right now. We’re sharing information on how to buy certified products online (nationally and regionally), highlighting farmers and businesses on the ground, finding new markets for struggling farms and, in general, making sure independent farms are here when the world as we knew it returns — because it will, and we need them.