By ,
Senior Farmland Project Manager

I’ve never seen anything like it.

In the initial weeks of the pandemic, as consumers grew concerned about national supply chain shortages and contaminated food, demand for local food went through the roof as people clamored for home delivered Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, as well as fresh produce and meat from local farmer’s markets. These essentials have never been more appreciated, and farmers have had to act quickly to meet the rapidly escalating demand.

But not all farms experienced this sudden financial boost. Farms dependent on wholesale buyers, institutions, restaurants and u-pick operations have struggled to stay afloat. The future of their businesses remains uncertain, and they are still working to pivot their business models, build more direct relationships with consumers and secure new revenue streams.

Farmworker harvesting strawberries at Blue House Farm - Local Food
Farmworkers have never been more essential and have continued to put themselves on the front lines during the course of the pandemic. The investments POST and its partners have made in farmworker housing (see below) are absolutely critical for the viability of our local farms, particularly in light of a regional housing shortage. Photo: Andrea Laue

This crisis has made it clear that the farms with the most direct relationships with consumers and a diversity of products are more resilient in the face of uncertainty. I think the farming community is now more awake to that and, many of those that weren’t already, are working to adapt their businesses accordingly — at least for the short term. All of this makes me wonder: Are we witnessing a resurgence in the local food movement?

I know for myself that the pandemic has forced me to slow down long enough to take a good look at what’s important in my life and has instilled a greater desire to get back to basics, to deepen my understanding of where my food comes from and to limit the number of hands touching the food I put in my body. And I don’t see this changing for me anytime soon, but I guess time will tell.

Set Up for Success

During these challenging times, it became clear that the investments POST has made in protecting local farmland and improving the aging agricultural infrastructure on the San Mateo Coast is truly paying off. We recognized early on that for these farms to thrive, they need more than just access to fertile soil. A successful farm business needs barns, pack houses, irrigation, reservoirs, roads, bridges, farm stands and more — the right tools to get the job done.

Alongside key partners and our farming tenants, we have made significant investments in agricultural infrastructure over the past few years, including refurbishing barns at Root Down Farm and Johnston Ranch, building new reservoirs at Blue House Farm and R&R Fresh Farms, rebuilding a bridge that provides vital access to and from fields at Fifth Crow Farm and much more.

Improvements like these provide farmers with a foundation from which to build their operations and the stability they need to meet unexpected challenges. These local farms are more resilient and able to meet the increased demand for healthy, local food, in part because of the investments we made.

POST recently replaced the failing bridge at Cloverdale Ranch, pictured here, providing vital access to and from fields at Fifth Crow Farm. These investments complement the organization’s work toward farmland preservation along the San Mateo Coast.

Of these investments, some of our most important work has been the construction of low-cost housing for farmworkers and their families on three farm properties on the San Mateo coast. Completed in partnership with San Mateo County Department of Housing, the seven housing units we helped to build, complete with 22 bedrooms, provide safe and affordable housing for farmworkers, an absolutely critical resource for the viability of our local farms particularly in light of a regional housing shortage. Housing security helps farmers recruit and retain essential members of their teams and our community —people we rely on to grow and harvest our food.

Ribbon cutting ceremony for newly installed farmworker housing.
County Supervisor Don Horsley celebrates the completion of newly installed housing at Blue House Farm on farmland protected by POST.

Housing for farm employees is just one example of our efforts to help these businesses build resiliency and stability. As in nature, resilience comes from the ability to grow deep roots. For our farming tenants, we offer long term leases, some with the option to buy the land outright. Structuring agreements like this gives these farmers time to plan for the long term, to diversify revenue streams and grow their businesses from the ground up. Our work gives them the space and time they need to fully commit as stewards of the land.

After living through the initial wave of the pandemic, it’s evident that our investments in farmland protection and critical infrastructure are paying off. Each acre protected and each season of growth is another small step toward building a more resilient local food system so that, in times of need, when the essentials become that much more essential, we have local farms to turn to for one of the things that matters most — food for our families.

                                           

Learn more about POST’s farmland program here.

                        

Want to participate in the local food movement?

Download our guide to local food below:

Availability maybe limited due to COVID-19, so please call ahead of time.

 

Local Food Guide - POST

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About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 80,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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