Editor’s Desk – Covid-19 and the food supply

Sam Fromartz talks about FERN’s coverage with Kasie Hunt on MSNBC.

You’ve probably heard about the way Covid-19 is spreading within meatpacking plants, as we’ve reported extensively. Now, other food production facilities are being hit, affecting workers and the food supply.

FERN staff writer Leah Douglas reported that workers at three fruit-packing plants in Washington State have walked off the job. The mostly Latino workforce is demanding greater protections, hazard pay, and testing, and intervention by state authorities. They are worried that they will follow down the same path as meatpacking workers, who now have more than 14,000 cases of Covid-19 and at least 55 deaths.

Leah has been tracking cases throughout the food industry and farmworkers only showed up in her database last week. Now more than 370 farmworkers have tested positive. As for meat, Chuck Abbott, editor of FERN’s Ag Insider, reports that consumption is on track to fall by 10 pounds per person this year.

Our stories have been getting a good deal of media attention. I’ve talked about our reporting on  MSNBC and CNN, and Leah appeared on Univision. Michael Pollan noted our reporting in his essay on coronavirus and the food system at The New York Review of Books.

We’ve also opened the paywall on FERN’s Ag Insider where we’re publishing a steady stream of daily news stories. And we’ve seen the results of making this essential reporting more available – our audience has increased five-fold in a matter of weeks!  But just because we’re not charging for our work, doesn’t make it any less costly to produce. We know times are uncertain, but any help you can provide will support our coverage at this critical time.

Here some other recent stories:

Small meat producers having their moment
As Covid-19 hobbles the industrial meat industry, Stephen Miller reports how small livestock producers selling direct to consumers are experiencing a boom. “We were growing slowly and steadily over the years. Now we’re not able to keep up with demand,” says one producer. The question is how long the boom will last.

A burst of home-grown food, farming, in Alaska
The coronavirus pandemic underscores Alaska’s vulnerability to food disruptions, Miranda Weiss reports, since imports account for 95 percent of the food people eat. The crisis is renewing calls for local agriculture and inspiring residents to grow their own food. One thing going for them: Climate change, which has extended the growing season.

Trump order greenlights offshore aquaculture
Last week, the Trump administration made a major announcement about offshore fish farming. With a late-afternoon executive order, Leah Douglas reports, the administration laid out a pathway for the approval of ocean aquaculture in federal waters, a controversial departure from existing policy that could reshape the country’s seafood production.