Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is putting a lot of strain on our country, as well as shifting society as we know it. Many of us are adjusting to “social distancing,” businesses are struggling to adapt and our daily lives are changing in ways we have not seen in a hundred years. To make it through this crisis, vital services become that much more important as people need access to water, medical services and other crucial infrastructure. This includes our food system and the industries that support them as many have rushed to stock up on supplies. The urgency for food makes sense, because without a safe, reliable system, our society could see some real hardships overnight. Luckily, federal, state and local entities are working together to ensure this does not happen.
Grocery stores are working diligently to keep shelves stocked, as well as adjusting hours to better meet the demands of consumers. Many are even dedicating periods of time strictly for senior citizens. The change is due to the overnight surge in demand as many of us made sure we had the proper amount of food for several weeks. This quick reaction by the general public has put an immense strain on our grocers. Fortunately, many of these businesses are tackling these problems head-on by mitigating the spread of the virus as well as serving the most vulnerable. What we the average citizens to do is simple; shop normally and stop hoarding crucial items.
At the state level, we must work with federal and local partners to ensure that farm and food manufacturing workers remain part of the crucial infrastructure needs. Animals and people alike need to be able to freely travel and work to keep the food supply flowing. Livestock and farmers’ markets need to continue to operate. At the same time, we need to do as much as possible to protect these entities from the spread of viruses, as well keep in check regular safety measures. At the federal level, they have already granted a temporary hours of service exemption for agriculture product haulers which will allow truckers to work overtime on delivering necessary food. These people are going to be overworked, exhausted but unable to quit. We need to do everything in our power to support them in their crucial duties.
With increase purchasing of food at grocers, the closure of dine-in for restaurants and haulers working overtime, we as a society must look at all food options; do not forget about your local farmer. This is a crucial time for these businesses. Many are just starting to plan for the growing season. If they know there is an increase demand, they can plan accordingly and step up during this crisis. Buying directly from the farmer will help those who have lost orders with the closure of restaurants and now face a potential surplus of product. Your support of these businesses is crucial to them, as well as the food system.
I am proud of how our food industries have responded during this crisis. They are working day and night to make sure food can get to the consumer, while maintaining a safe food supply. Keeping nutrition at a premium is how we beat this pandemic and we should show our gratitude is by supporting them in any way possible. Remember, don’t panic, plan accordingly and shop local as much as possible. We can get through this, but it will take all of us plowing the row. As the Commissioner of Agriculture, I am advocating that all livestock, farmers’ markets and other agriculture-based remain in operation. I hope you join me in supporting them.
Kent A. Leonhardt
West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture