January 28, 2021

For the Farmers Who Supply Restaurants, the Pandemic Has Upended Business

“My pessimistic view is that this is going to change the behaviors of everybody in terms of how they dine out and how they buy food,” he said. “People are not going to buy a $300 plate of food, and that trickles down to us.”

At other times, he is optimistic and thinks he ought to plant as many tomatoes this year as he always does. “Maybe we’ve got this all wrong,” he said, “and as soon as we open the floodgates we probably won’t have enough stuff people want.”

Others are simply giving up for the spring, and waiting things out.

“Lots of farmers I work with are just furrowing their crops and turning them into compost,” said Naomi Pomeroy, a chef who has temporarily closed Beast, her restaurant in Portland, Ore., and helped create the Independent Restaurant Coalition, which is pressuring Congress to tailor aid specifically for restaurants that aren’t part of big chains.

Waste has become an issue for larger dairies and produce growers, too. Driscoll’s, which produces one-third of the berries sold in North America, is in the midst of a great California strawberry season. But as much as 30 percent of the crop could be lost because institutions and restaurants are closed, and shipping space on planes to global markets is at a premium, said Soren Bjorn, the company’s president.

Food banks or other relief efforts would be a logical place to send the berries, but many are telling the Department of Agriculture that they don’t have the resources to buy them or the space to store them, Mr. Bjorn said.

The farm-to-table set is competing with behemoth growers like Driscoll’s for part of the $9.5 billion in relief money that Congress recently set aside for farmers who grow specialty crops, supply farmers’ markets and raise livestock. But both groups find themselves on the same side when it comes to pushing the agriculture department to use food relief money to help farmers get unsold crops to feeding programs, and to relax federal requirements that stand between farmers and people in need.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/09/dining/farm-to-table-coronavirus.html

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