Thursday, January 21, 2021
Pandemic Illustrates the Importance of Buying Local
Shoppers space out as they wait to get into the Ketchum Farmers Market. PHOTO: Karen Bossick
Saturday, September 12, 2020



Katie Zubia walks among the fresh rows of locally grown arugula, plump berries, sweet fruit jams and ripe cheeses, all meticulously placed for customers arriving at the Wood River Farmers Market.

And she thinks about the effort required to bring food into 5B. Now, more than ever, expresses Zubia, board president of the Farmers Market and owner of Wood River Ranch Beef, it is evident that the food supply chain that provides food into Wood River Valley is fragile. What’s more, the pandemic has exploited it.

Salmonella outbreaks caused from onions grown in California and peaches grown elsewhere sickened people in 47 states, offering one more incentive for buying locally rather than a national distributor. PHOTO: Luis Alberto Lecanda

During the self-isolation order this past March, many residents observed shortages in local markets for household goods, bath tissues and cleaning supplies and wondered whether it could happen with food.

This could be a possible outcome if various points in the food supply chain that become disrupted. 

 Stacy Whitman, co-founder of the Local Food Alliance, says that our community relies on national and global food supply chains to provide food for the Sun Valley area. It is a delicate supply chain. And the longer the supply chain stretches from the source of the food to destination, the more hands and distribution points a product goes through meaning the more things could go wrong.

A driver gets sick, a distributor shuts down, global logistics slow down. The more people involved in the way, the greater the risk of disruption.

Peggy Grove, Melinda Springs and Mardi Shepard have harvested hundreds of pounds of veggies for The Senior Connection out of the garden they started to while the pandemic away. PHOTO: Karen Bossick

In July, meat packing and processing plants as close as the Twin Falls area were affected by COVID-related illnesses requiring mandatory shutdowns.

Zubia says the beef industry took a major hit during this pandemic. Demand for beef around the country rose so significantly that areas of the country that had no prior interest were calling to source beef for their local markets. 

There needs to be a higher awareness of our local food supply's importance prior to the next major pandemic, she and others say. Locals should consider supporting local farms for this reason, says Whitman. 

Sara Berman of Squash Blossom Farms says that local food sources will be the county’s most reliable food provider, especially if the more global producers become inaccessible. 

It will take a healthy ecosystem of local farms, local infrastructure, change in consumer buying habits and continued growth in production to support food demand through a pandemic that causes major supply chain disruption. All these variables are interrelated and cause a positive feedback loop. 

Demand for locally sourced food by consumers has shown growth. Alagna Valsesia, employee at NourishMe, says her store experienced its biggest month revenue wise ever in March 2020. Although she attributes some of the uptick to “panic” buying, she notes that their customer base has expanded beyond the regular customers that shopped prior to COVID-19. 

Bellevue-based Kraay's Market, a locally sourced market garden and produce delivery service, also experienced a large spike in demand. During the start of the COVID-19 social isolation mandate, sales surged to the point that Kraay’s had to shut down its online store ahead of schedule one weekend in late March.

Previous to COVID-19, orders averaged around 120 orders a week. Orders rocketed past that amount during that weekend, says Sherry Kraay, co-founder of Kraay’s.

Adoption of technology to offer local food in an online format has continued to expand, especially as the Wood River Farmers Market launched an internet portal. The online portal allows Farmers Market vendors to offer their produce and food products for purchase online. The online system was receiving as many as 90 orders three weeks after it launched.

Customer Anne Kalik says one of the reasons she buys local and is a customer of Kraay’s Market is because having a local food supply is essential to living securely and safely in this isolated mountain valley.

Sherry Kraay adds that consumers have noticed that locally grown food is fresher and lasts much longer than the alternative.

There are numerous other reasons to buy local, says Zubia: First, we know where it came from so we can have greater peace of mind about what we’re feeding our family. In addition, when we purchase a local food product, we are encouraging local food producers to continue their business and make more of it. It is as simple as that, she says. 

In Blaine County there were families that knew the day would arrive when something threatened the food chain, says Kurtis Williams, the main operator of Waterwheel Gardens, an Emmett farm that has brought local produce to the Wood River Valley for years. These families understood how important it was to develop personal and fiduciary relationships with Waterwheel Gardens and others by investing in  MCSA (Market Community Supported Agriculture).

Some local farms run MCSA or a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which allows people to invest money into the farm allowing the farmer to purchase seed and necessary equipment to ensure that the harvest yields successfully.  

There is a perception that local food is thought to be expensive, says Lynea Petty, Food Production Manager at the Hunger Coalition. However, consumers might consider the additional values offered by local food suppliers as they decide whether to buy local to support the long-term sustainability of the community.

Kraay says, with a dash of nostalgia, that people need to understand that buying local is better for everyone, the environment and the local economy.

“We need to get back to the way we used to be.” 

Kurtis Williams poses the questions to consumers: “Who is most likely to care for you during a pandemic?” asks Williams. “It will be the local business that is most likely to take care of you and your family. A local food provider whom you know will make every effort to get the food you need.”



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