Rebuilding Pennsylvania’s Food Supply Chain Post COVID-19
Benjamin and Karah Davies
Wild Fox Farm
Wild Fox Provisions
Live Testimony can be viewed here: http://www.senatorboscola.com/state-senate-hearing-focuses-on-covid-19s-impact-on-the-food-supply-chain/
We wish to thank Senators Collett, Schwank, and Boscola for the opportunity to testify at this hearing on Rebuilding Pennsylvania’s Food Supply Chain Post COVID-19.
Pennsylvania has a unique place in the national and global food supply chain. Since before this country was founded, hard-working agrarian and trades people in Pennsylvania built the foundational farm systems and food supply chains that would become the life blood of the early American economy. This momentum lead to countless foods, food brands, logistics companies, processing plants, and even designations like “the snack food capitol of the world,” “the mushroom capitol of the world” or “the pretzel capitol of the world.” This is all to say that Pennsylvania has been, and still is, a leader in the global food supply chain.
Karah, and I are both born and raised in PA, and come from PA Dutch backgrounds, however ours are some of those that had lost their connection to farming and food production. Our interest in, and passion for food is what brought us back to the land a decade ago and spurred multiple agricultural business to take shape. As part of a new generation of farmers and food producers, we tend to think a bit differently about food, food supply chains, and farming, but we are the first to admit that we still have a lot learn. On our family farm in Berks County, we produce a wide variety of vegetables, pork, eggs, lamb, beef, hemp and value-added products. We sell these to local restaurants, at regional farmers markets, through our online and on-farm stores, and have worked with a variety of regional food hubs and distributors over the years. We currently employ 11 crew members from the local community.
To help explore the key question of how we can Rebuilding Pennsylvania’s Food Supply Chain Post COVID-19, we reached out to Brian Moyer, who is the Education Program Associate and PA Farm Markets Director at Penn State Extension – Lehigh. He specializes in addressing food supply chain issues and he led us to a paper written by Timothy Griffin, Zach Conrad, Christian Peters, Ronit Ridberg and Ellen Parry Tyler called “Regional Self-Reliance of the Northeast Food System.”
In this paper, the authors argue that “‘regional self-reliance’, meaning how well a given region can satisfy the food needs of its population” is of vital importance in the North East. Put differently, the question is, how well are we supplying our population with its food needs from food produced with in our own region. We feel that a focus on this concept is not always at the forefront of policy and consideration of food matters. It contains the answer though, to how we can rebuild Pennsylvania’s Food Supply Chain Post COVID-19.
Brian recently observed, “from all that we have seen, truly local food systems in PA have never fully broken during this pandemic.” On top of this, Brian shared from his long experience in PA farm markets that “when trust waivers in national supply chains, regional customers turn to their local producers.” We have personally observed this at Wild Fox Farm as our online sales for on-farm, curb-side pickup surged 350% as social distancing and quarantine procedures went into effect in PA. To look at the situation on a different scale, food hubs that we have worked with in the past out of New York City and Philadelphia have been calling us repeatedly over the last few months looking for more and more supply to meet their own ballooning demand.
These local and/or regional food hubs showed that they can aggregate from many farms at once while maintaining safe and resilient supply chains between urban consumers and rural producers. According to a 2012 study by the National Ag Statistic Service (NASS), Pennsylvania ranks number one with the number of farms that sell direct to the consumer. Consequently farmers markets, on-farm markets, and public markets also proved to be safe and resilient. While most public farmers markets are either privately owned, vendor owned, or township owned, all are underfunded, under-managed, and consequentially, under-equipped to deal with pandemic scenario. In spite of this, many were met with community support, loyalty, and membership that rallied around these marketplaces. This allowed them to continue providing local consumers with fresh, safe, and healthy food, that came directly from local farms during the pandemic. These are just a few general examples of success during the time of Covid.
So, how do we move forward? Here are a few fundamental pieces to building regional self-reliance that we see from a boots-in-the-field perspective. Some of these solutions already exist in one way or another on the public and private level. However, many are typically restricted by limited resources, are underfunded or need re-examination through a local or regional self-reliance lens.
1) Grant Funding, Cost Share, and Local Supply Chain Incentivization Programs
a. Incentivize businesses that make concerted efforts to support local food producers and/or that market their products locally.
b. Business incubation and mentorship programs that support regional food producers and food
c. Food safety plan and GAPS education for farmers and food processors to create a safer food system.
d. Programs to bolster existing farmers markets, regional food hubs and local food processors.
e. Rebuilding a network of regional processing and storage facilities for value added and shelf stable farm products. This is particularly poignant in the small to medium size meat processing facility sector.
a. Educating new and beginning farmers, food producers and food distribution business on how products that are nutrient dense and economically efficient can be marketed locally in Pennsylvania and the North East.
b. Educating and equipping existing food and farming business on how to pivot, innovate, and diversify their current businesses in an ever-changing global food economy, so they can be more resilient in the face of adversity.
c. Consumer outreach and education. These play an integral role in how regional consumers find their food and how they attribute value to local products from local businesses. More resources are needed to connect consumers to their local supply chain.
3) More Numerous Food Producers
a. New and beginning farmer education and mentorship programing including agricultural land access initiatives.
b. New farmer recruitment focusing on underrepresented groups where there is swelling enthusiasm but limited opportunity: veterans, women, and marginalized communities of color.
c. New Business Recruitment and Development: Industrial Hemp, for example, is bringing more new and beginning farmers into the local farming economy than any other crop has in decades. It is and will continue to be an enormous opportunity to teach these entrepreneurs how to diversify their businesses into food production.
To conclude, we need to take the yolk of leadership that has been passed down to us by previous generations of farmers, entrepreneurs, and food producers here in Pennsylvania. We already have all the tools at our disposal to continue that legacy and make it thrive. Taking what we have observed during the Covid-19 Pandemic and doubling down on what worked is the only way forward. Focusing on building thriving local supply chains and building regional self-reliance will create resilience in the long term.
Thank you for your time and devotion to this important issue!
- Ben and Karah Davies
Regional Self-Reliance of the Northeast Food System, Griffin, T., Conrad, Z., Peters, C., Ridberg, R., & Tyler, E. (2015).
All Together Now 2020, Guide to Finding Local Food during Pandemic, <https://alltogethernowpa.org/guide-to-finding-local-food-during-pandemic/>
Buy Fresh Buy Local Lehigh Valley, Local Food Map, Viewed 17 June 2020,
Pennsylvania Agriculture, PA's Leading Economic Enterprise, <https://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Pages/Pennsylvania-Agriculture.aspx>.
Pennsylvania Government 2020, PA Food Distributors Receive $50 Million for Farmers to Families Food Boxes, Viewed 17 June 2020, <https://www.governor.pa.gov/newsroom/governor-wolf-pa-food-distributors-receive-50-million-for-farmers-to-families-food-boxes/>
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture 2020, Pennsylvania's Agricultural and Food Supply Systems, Viewed 17 June 2020, <https://agsci.psu.edu/research/food-security/publications/outreach/how-self-reliant-is-the-northeast-food-system-1>.
Penn State Extension, Farm Market Finder, Viewed 17 June 2020, <www.extension.psu.edu/farm-market-finder>.
United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service 2016, Viewed 17 June 2020, <https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Highlights/2016/LocalFoodsMarketingPractices_Highlights.pdf>
Todorovic, V.; Maslaric, M.; Bojic, S.; Jokic, M.; Mircetic, D.; Nikolicic, S. Solutions for More Sustainable Distribution in the Short Food Supply Chains. Sustainability 2018, 10, 3481.
R. LOGAN WILDE & KELLY PEHRSON 2020, UDAF to Allow Private Custom Meat Plants to Slaughter and Process Livestock for Commercial Sale, Viewed 17 June 2020, < https://ag.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2020-4-28-UDAF-Allows-Custom-Meat-Plants-to-Process-Commercial-livestock.pdf>.