Affirmative Agroecological Responses to Coronavirus

Reader Contribution by Steven Mcfadden and Chiron Communications
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Driven by the shuttered economies and supply chain disruptions provoked by the Coronavirus, and our basic human survival instincts, people have churned up a tsunami of affirmative agroecological activity toward securing garden seeds, growing food cooperatively, and otherwise connecting with local farms. 

Good thing. Pay attention. On March 26 the Director General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu, stated that “the COVID19 pandemic is affecting food systems and all dimensions of food security across the world…”

It’s not just the pandemic that’s making things dicey. Tough restrictions at the US-Mexico border have observers suspecting that skilled farmworkers may be in short supply, undermining the capacity of farms to be productive. Shocks to the food system are possible.

But thanks to the work of a wide network of agroecological enterprises, there are many pathways for people to help develop and accelerate a wave of affirmative agroecological farm-and-food responses for enhanced food security. Your participation in building the wave of affirmative agroecological responses can make an important difference, not just for your household but for your neighbors and the nation.

According Simon Huntley of Harvie, a website that connects farmers and consumers, for the sake of healthy food and food security “it’s a good time to be in local food. Demand for local food, at least based on Harvie farms has tripled in the last few weeks. It’s an exciting moment where we can serve our communities in very important ways.”

In addition to the outstanding array of resources in the archives of Mother Earth News, other pathways are rapidly opening up.

Cooperative Gardens Commission

The New York Times has published an article about the new, rapidly developing Cooperative Gardens Commission. In response to the pandemic, Experimental Farm Network (EFN) is urging people to establish “cooperative gardens” to grow as much food this year as they possibly can.

EFN initiated their effort on March 18, 2020 under the name Corona Victory Gardens. Within days hundreds of people and groups responded and began organizing to build a movement. In less than a week, over 1,000 people came forward to either request support or to offer resources. At that point the network officially changed its name to the “Cooperative Gardens Commission.”

Working at computers, 400 self-quarantined volunteer organizers formed 14 working groups: Outreach, Education, Fundraising, Media Relations, Policy, Tech/Logistics, Work & Livelihoods, etc.

Their intention is to build the commission into a broad-based, inclusive, and lasting agroecological movement for people and groups who have resources to share, or who need resources to grow food. The Commission has three aims:

  • Support people in cities to take over defunct community gardens and vacant lots and fill them with life once more.
  • Support people in towns and suburbs who normally strive to keep their lawns green to instead rip up grass and plant vegetable gardens.
  • Encourage farmers who normally grow fields of commodity crops to set aside a portion of their land and labor to grow fruits and vegetables for their neighbors and for those in need in nearby communities.

Community Supported Farms (CSAs)

 Now – with a pandemic and increasing shadows of environmental catastrophe – it’s time to expand exponentially the vision and reality of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). That calls for Awakening Community Intelligence.

CSA is a social and economic arrangement in which specific communities – neighborhoods, churches, workplaces, and so forth – willingly share responsibility with specific farmers for producing, delivering, enjoying and honoring the food that sustains them. The community supports the farm, and the farm supports the community.

While there are thousands of CSA farms in America, new CSA farms mature and prosper through the interest not just of farmers, but also people who live near them. That takes time. But the CSA form is worthwhile, a strengthening element linking people around the most basic of needs for good, clean, healthy food. 

In this year of the Coronavirus many CSAs, but not all, also experience a surging wave of interest and participation. Here are three online venues for  checking out whether membership in a CSA is a possibility for your household this year, or whether you need to begin now to establish one for the years ahead.

The Local Harvest website offers a searchable database of CSA farms, with basic information on each. The USDA’s local food directory spans the nation, and includes some CSA farms. And Modern Farmer magazine has begun this year developing a list of CSA farms.

Additional Resources

USDA Rural Development has launched a COVID-19 resource page to keep stakeholders continuously updated on actions taken by the Agency to help rural residents, businesses, and communities impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future’s Food Policy Networks project has compiled a list of resources, models, and shared practices in response to COVID-19. It’s intended for food policy councils and other groups working at the local and state level

Food Safety and Farm Relief

As urban farms and community gardens discuss strategies to maintain or scale up the safe production and distribution of fresh produce to those who need it, there are a number of food safety considerations.

University of California-Berkeley, Coop Extension points to a resource page including a presentation on COVID-19 and Safe Food handling Practices.These guidelines are based on information from the CDC and WHO. The page also lists materials & supplies, and daily checklists that can be tailored to particular farms or gardens. While some policy references are specific to San Francisco, many apply widely.

The American Farmland Trust has launched a Farmer Relief Fund to provide cash grants of up to $1,000 to small and mid-size direct market producers impacted by the coronavirus crisis. The trust has information, resources, and applications for farmers in both English and Spanish. Applications will be accepted through April 23, with grants starting to be made around May 1.  

Independent journalist Steven McFadden is rooted in cyberspace at Information about his wider work and all of his nonfiction books is available at You can read all of Steven’s Mother Earth News blog posts here.

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