Concern over the survival of family farms during the COVID-19 crisis has spurred food policy and farm groups in Ohio to urge lawmakers to pass policies that would help small and mid-size farmers.
Amalie Lipstreu, policy director at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said one policy move would be to establish clear social-distancing guidelines for farmers markets so they can stay open. She also said officials should let farmers sell their unused produce to the emergency food system, which would help provide food for the surge of unemployed folks turning to food pantries.
"There's an opportunity to keep some of these farmers in business by purchasing products that they don't have a market for any more," Lipstreu said. "And we also have the opportunity to redirect those items to the emergency food system, which is under tremendous stress right now."
She pointed out that Ohio has about 320 farmers markets and more than 75,000 farms, and taking steps now will help those businesses survive for the time being and in the months ahead.
On Friday, the Department of Agriculture is expected to announce directives for distributing $9.5 billion in emergency funds for the nation's agricultural sector through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act. Lipstreu said the money is supposed to go to farmers who sell into local and regional food systems and could greatly benefit the Buckeye State.
"We're hoping that the USDA will offer a transparent and accessible program for the kind of farmers that this funding was directed towards," she said. "And these are farmers who don't get other types of federal financial assistance."
She said aid packages for small businesses are being developed on the state and federal levels, but farmers need clarification as to whether they qualify as businesses that can receive some of that assistance.