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Farm-to-table becomes farm-to-home

Coronavirus crisis could change our relationship to food forever. See how restaurants and farmers are helping each other fighting the pandemic.

BY RSVP April 29,2020

The stay-at-home orders that swept countries and effectively forced the closure of the restaurant industry have translated to economic disaster, not only for restaurants, but for many of the suppliers that provide them.

Bakers, fishermen, butchers, florists are just a few of the many struggling to find new revenue sources as dining rooms shutter.

Farmers are the ones most affected, however. Although many are still harvesting and putting food on the table, the majority are stuck with undelivered crops. Some are even destroying them.

All over the world, millions of pounds of food is being wasted. Farmers are pouring thousands of gallons of milk down the drain, and crushing ripe fruit and vegetables back into the soil with heavy machinery because they have no way to put it on the market for a profit.

The waste is due to a collapse in parts of the service industry forced to close because of the virus. It means buyers like restaurants, hotels, schools, and sports venues no longer need ingredients, which has in turn caused demand to plummet in some cases to half its regular levels, according to The Guardian.


Farm-To-Table Becomes Farm-To-Home

Orders from restaurants, normally 80 or 90 percent of many farmers’ sales, stopped almost entirely.

With empty hands, farmers are pivoting from restaurant and institutional sales to sell directly to customers who are holed up at home.

The shift in customer base and delivery requires creativity and flexibility, but growers view the changes as an opportunity to expand their businesses.

In a recent Politico piece, it is mentioned that “farmers who sell boxes of meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables directly to consumers are seeing a huge spike in orders as the coronavirus outbreak changes how people buy food.”

Food delivery businesses run by local farmers are flourishing as people grow wary of making frequent trips to the grocery store and choosing to cook at home instead of eating out. The potential danger of a crowded supermarket during the coronavirus pandemic, for both shoppers and workers, and the fragility of the industrial food supply, have people all over the city frantically looking for reliable, low-contact or no-contact groceries.

In Milwaukee, US, there is even a “Drive-Thru at the farm” and shoppers make their way through to pick up fresh food and produce.

Many farmers are hoping that it will result in long-lasting shifts in more people buying from local producers rather than commercial grocery stores.

Restaurants and chefs help farmers

For many of us working in restaurants, it’s about community, the whole community.  We are woven into a city’s social fabric as places for people to celebrate, negotiate, argue, or fall in love. That is what hospitality does best — bring people together. 

For chefs, dinner is never just something served on a plate. Done well, it is an expression of love and thanks by everyone in our world from the farmer to those at the dinner table.  

To help farmers, several restaurants and bars in different countries have converted some or all of their operations to makeshift grocery stores.

It’s a win-win. The restaurant-turning-grocery-store trend is helping restaurant suppliers keep revenue flowing at a time when chefs aren’t ordering ingredients for their kitchens, and it is providing consumers with staples at a time when they’re scrambling to fill their shopping carts at conventional supermarkets.

In Berlin, restaurant Ernst was selling delivery boxes with seasonal and organic vegetables, fish and meat from their suppliers. (They announced they are going to stop the boxes because of the safety of their chefs).

Chef João Rodrigues, from Michelin-starred restaurant Feitoria in Lisbon, has created a website that showcases some of their producers. Projecto Matéria is available to guests and chefs that want to buy directly from Portuguese farmers.