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Cultivating Resilience In Our Food System

Darlene Tenes in front of a truck loaded with supplies for farm workers
Darlene Tenes organized a caravan of supplies for farm workers from San Jose to Salinas, California. Photo courtesy of Robert Alberino.

The coronavirus pandemic has introduced massive disruption in America's food system, and has exposed how "big ag" isn't equipped to quickly pivot to prevent food insecurity. We spoke with people from around the country to discover the creative solutions at every step in the process -- from cultivation, to production, to distribution -- and how through food, these helpers are reconnecting us to our community.

San Jose, California

Professional event planner Darlene Tenes found herself out of a job after California instituted the stay-at-home order. She refocused her organizing skills to help migrant farm workers in her San Jose community and coordinated a caravan of food, supplies and protective equipment for these newly deemed "essential workers."

Special thanks to the San Francisco 49ers’ VP Robert Alberino for sharing his staff’s video of the San Jose to Salinas caravan.

Chincoteague, Virginia

Pedro Agostini of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Chincoteague, Virginia, is also focused on serving farmworkers by sharing resources with Spanish-speaking communities on the Eastern Shore. With a megaphone in hand and a hotline number written on his car, every weekend Agostini informs workers of their rights and reminds them that they are not alone.

car with paint on the window
A car marked with the name and number of the Legal Aid Justice Center outside a local market in Virginia. (Photo: Pedro Agostini)

Arkansas

Meatpacking employees are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus because of the close working conditions in the plants. In Arkansas, Magaly Licolli started Venceremos, a worker-based organization to defend the human rights of the state’s 30,000 poultry workers. She’s been working closely with these employees to petition the companies they work for to provide paid sick leave in the event that they contract the virus.

Pinetops, North Carolina

Small farms may be best equipped to handle food disruption caused by COVID-19, argues North Carolina farmer Kendrick Ransome owner of Golden Organic Farm. Both Ransome and Laketa Smith of RAFI USA’s Farmers of Color are working to deliver crops directly to the people through working with small farms to develop CSAs and utilize creative online marketing.

Finger Lakes Region, New York

Large farms are also struggling to offload surplus animal byproducts, like milk, that are typically sold in bulk to schools and restaurants. Pete Mesmer is the owner and head cheesemaker at Lively Run Goat Dairy. In an effort to turn potential waste into -- well cheddar -- he crowdsourced money via a GoFundMe campaign to help purchase excess milk from local farms. The company then distributed the saved cheese to local food banks.

Oakland, California

Laura Tilman, a journalist based in Mexico City, brought us the story of Dominica Rice, the owner and chef at Cosecha Mexican restaurant in Oakland, California. Instead of doing curbside take-away, Rice has focused on maintaining the community aspect of her restaurant and has partnered with Candice Elder of The East Oakland Collective to deliver meals to hospital workers and homeless encampments. 

Richmond, Virginia

What is it like to be a grocery store cashier when every day could put you in contact with the virus? Joi Bass, a junior at Virginia Union University kept an audio diary and shares what it feels like to suddenly be a frontline worker in a pandemic. 

Boulder, Colorado 

Nicole Civita is a professor of sustainable food systems at the University of Colorado. She helped us think through ethical questions around food delivery and personal shoppers. Civita is part of a team working on a website called The Essential Workers Project, which is updated frequently with information on how to stay safe as an essential worker, and how you can help to keep essential workers safe. These grocery shopping tips are a great start.