Dine-in service is halted for now, and COVID-19 has spurred an unanticipated renaissance in home cooking. Pictures of bread flood our Instagram feeds, soup recipes are exchanged on Twitter, and yeast is nowhere to be found. It’s a stunning departure from our traditionally restaurant-happy culture.
Idaho’s farms are adapting alongside consumers. In Caldwell, Peaceful Belly farm has been growing vegetables, herbs and flowers through Community Supported Agriculture for the past 19 years.
“Our CSA is growing ... exponentially," said founder and farmer Josie Erskine.
She has years of CSA experience under her belt, so the increase in demand isn’t daunting. But that isn’t the case for everyone.
”I think there's a handful that this is going to be their first year doing a CSA and so that becomes kind of scary," said Erskine.
Fortunately, there are educational programs to support small farm operations. Cultivating Success Idaho, a collaboration between University of Idaho, University of Washington and a nonprofit called Rural Roots, is adapting.
Colette DePhelps is an educator with the program. She said the program put out a survey asking farmers about their immediate needs, so they could craft webinars about ensuring health and safety, and connecting with consumers during the pandemic.
"We had a number of people that said they were looking to start a CSA because they've lost their market and they need to know how," DePhelps said.
Many of these farmers would typically sell at farmers markets, said DePhelps, which are delayed or adjusting to the new reality.
For instance, the Boise Farmers Market will open with a drive-through format this weekend. Customers will place their orders online and choose a pick-up time.
But the market only has capacity for 400 orders, which has left Erskine and Peaceful Belly looking for other ways to reach their customers that won’t put them in direct competition with other local farms.
"Usually, you know, we're seeing 10,000 visitors visit that market," said Erskine. "And at 400 if we all list let's say, radishes and you have somebody that could choose from the same radish from eight different vendors. That has the potential to harm some farmers."
Erskine said that CSA systems could become stronger through this.
“Right now is a great time to search out a local farmer, someone to raise your meat or someone to grow your vegetables," she said.
Erskine hopes that everyone who came into this pandemic as a farmer will still be a farmer on the other side.
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