With the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, chef Dan Barber and his restaurant Blue Hill surveyed 240 farmers. The central finding: Covid-19 is “a generational catastrophe”—and without intervention, many will not survive through next spring.
It seems an oasis of good news in a desert of bad: Small farmers who saw restaurant sales evaporate and farmers’ market sales erode, in the wake of Covid-19, have found alternative ways to sell produce. They contribute to boxes sold by shuttered restaurants, sell their own boxes out of their trucks, even offer delivery. And they’re selling retail, not wholesale, so the money’s good.
If chef and restaurateur Dan Barber asks how they’re doing, the unanimous answer is, “Great.”
But Barber has only to look a few weeks down the road to see bad news coming. The current model won’t survive the peak summer harvest, says Barber, who for 16 years has run the farm and restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, about 30 miles northeast of New York City, in addition to the 20-year-old Blue Hill, in Manhattan. Unfortunately, he has numbers to back him up. ResourcED, a project he and his colleagues created to sell market boxes at both restaurants, has launched a survey of small farmers, concentrated at first in the Northeast but expanding coast to coast. Between 30 and 40 percent of them predict that they won’t be able to keep up with increasing volume. They will lose the extra, essential revenue that always comes with a bountiful seasonal harvest. And while most of the farmers grow produce, the same dark predictions hold true for respondents who grow grain and raise animals. The current boom is a sweet illusion; the bust is coming fast.