By Devora Kimelman-Block, Fair Farms Consultant, and Founder and Owner of KOL Foods
The pandemic has highlighted many vulnerabilities in our food supply system, from transportation failures to supply chain challenges resulting in food shortages. “[It] led to massive disruption for growers, food workers, and consumers alike,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “It exposed a food system that was rigid, consolidated, and fragile.” Food system resilience is needed to combat disruptions of all kinds, including future pandemics and the imminent dual threats of climate change and water shortages. And given the war in Ukraine, one of the world’s breadbaskets, the next supply chain crisis may be just around the corner.
From the transport of food stuff across oceans, to the just-in-time stocking of supermarkets, our current system is truly global. Building resilience into the supply chain may require a more local focus to solve these global problems. While all food supply chains rely on a vast array of elements, a resilient food supply system must include the flexibility to become regional, or even local, if or when a crisis arises. In fact, investing in a local or regional food system may not only be one of the best measures to avoid a crisis or collapse, but can also help make our food system carbon neutral.
What are the elements of a resilient food system that are missing from our current system? We need more local, diversified farms, and ways to move their products regionally into consumer hands. That is to say, we need regional transportation, processing, distribution aggregators, and refrigeration infrastructure that functions on a local scale. Building this infrastructure would circle back and attract local diversified farms.
I own KOL Foods, a kosher grassfed meat business, which has been battered time and again by trying to fit a small-scale business into large-scale systems. The difficulties such as those that KOL Foods experiences are a big disincentive to new farmers. Lack of robust regional agricultural infrastructure can limit broad scale farmer adoption of diverse agriculture practices because without it farmers can’t bring many products to market, including regeneratively raised livestock, diverse grain crops, and more.
We need our supply chain to become more resilient now before the next crisis hits, but methods for aggregating, processing, and distributing food at the local and regional levels barely exist. Comparatively small investments in this type of infrastructure would result in significant improvements, but banks are sometimes reluctant to invest. Heeding this call to action, Fair Farms is requesting that public funds, though ARPA and the USDA, be allocated towards regional food supply chain infrastructure. We also believe that building regional infrastructure is an excellent opportunity for private investment, especially with the leverage of available public funds.