Take a look at 10 things state departments of agriculture are doing to keep Americans fed during these uncertain times.
1. Ensuring 46 million food and agriculture workers remain essential so that we can continue to feed America
As more states adopt shelter-in-place measures to protect our communities, state departments of agriculture are working to ensure that food and agriculture workers can still get to work. The Department of Homeland Security has provided guidance to the states identifying food and agriculture as a critical infrastructure workforce.
“Telecommuting is not an option for these workers, they are reporting to work as always while taking all necessary precautions to protect our health and the health of their co-workers. Agriculture and food production remain an essential industry that feeds our communities and the state’s economy,” Oregon Director of Agriculture Alexis Taylor says.
NASDA Members continue to work with their governors and local law enforcement to provide the resources necessary to ensure every employee in our food chain gets to work safely and stays healthy.
2. Ensuring food stays safe
COVID-19 has not changed the safety of the American food supply. SDAs remain committed to upholding and protecting food safety standards for all Americans during the COVID-19 outbreak. SDA staff are continuing to conduct all food safety, dairy, and plant inspections to ensure public health.
Employees working in SDA labs are adjusting working hours to ensure social distancing measures are met.
3. Ensuring those in need can get access to food without additional burdens
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture and others are temporarily relaxing income requirements to allow people to receive food from food banks. “Our citizens have enough to worry about than where their next meal will come from,” Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Ryan Quarles says.
Other states are ensuring that farmers who have lost their distribution channels to cruise ships, restaurants, and hotels, are now matchmaking with local food banks and other feeding organizations to reduce food waste.
4. Working with farmers and the federal government to ensure our foreign labor workforce remains available
NASDA continues to work with our federal partners to ensure that farmers and ranchers have a sufficient workforce to keep their farms afloat.
As U.S. consulates around the world close to protect the health of employees, foreign agricultural workers could not take the necessary steps to reach U.S. farms and ranches for work. NASDA, together with the agricultural community, worked with the U.S. State Department to expedite processing of H-2A applications and lift in-person interview requirements for both new and returning workers. This helps ensure farmers have access to the labor they need to ensure crops reach our grocery store shelves.
5. Feeding kids
Florida, Texas, Nevada, and New Jersey state departments of agriculture have the responsibility to feed millions of school children every day. With schools shuttered, SDAs worked swiftly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide flexibility to ensure kids still had access to healthy, nutritious meals.
In Florida, Commissioner Fried activated a 2-1-1 call/text line to find free meals from more than 1000 locations. “For so many of Florida’s children, school meals are the only meals they can count on – that’s why we’re now providing even more ways to secure healthy, nutritious meals for kids,” says Commissioner Nikki Fried.
Nevada is embracing social distancing by offering drive-thru and grab-and-go style meals to keep food workers, parents, and children safe.
6. Keeping farmers markets and other forms of community-supported agriculture operational
NASDA members are doing everything they can to keep farmers markets and other forms of community-supported agriculture fully operational. Some markets are offering curbside pickup, pre-packaged produce boxes, and online ordering. Maryland has even launched an interactive map to help residents locate local agriculture and seafood products.
“Our administration is working hard to keep the food supply chain intact and identify new ways to connect Marylanders with restaurants and small businesses,” Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder says. “Buying directly from producers and ordering from restaurants that offer carry-out and delivery services are great ways to support industry workers who continue to provide food during these unprecedented times.”
Remember to shop responsibly. Food is and will continue to be available.
7. Keeping pesticide applicators certified with social distancing in mind
Most state departments of agriculture have the responsibility to educate and certify pesticide applicators to keep our communities and environment safe. While those trainings and certification tests usually happen in large groups of people, states are quickly changing to online testing or learning opportunities with groups of ten people or less. Keeping pesticide applicators certified ensures our farmers have the tools necessary to produce abundant and safe food and keep household pests at bay.
8. Protecting consumers against price gouging
Some state departments of agriculture have consumer protection responsibilities. These range from ensuring your rideshare service fees are accurate to protecting you against credit card skimmers at the fuel pump. In Wisconsin’s case, they’ve already acted against sixteen companies who are unlawfully raising prices during the pandemic. This includes companies like n95sales.com who are price gouging N95 masks that are critical to the safety of our healthcare workers on the front-line.
9. Keeping food animals healthy
SDAs continue to safeguard our nation’s animal health efforts as animal health inspections and disease response continue to operate with slight modifications that comply with CDC guidelines. Veterinarians remain available and, in some states, are stepping up to help on the front lines of the human health crisis. Animal health diagnostic laboratories also remain operational and will continue to analyze essential cases.
State animal health officials continue to play a large role in protecting our nation’s food animals, companion animals, and others from COVID-19 as we continue to learn more about this zoonotic disease.
10. Reminding rural Americans that COVID-19 is in communities of every size
State departments of agriculture are using their voice to remind the food and agriculture community to heed all guidance related to handwashing, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders. Remember, there is currently no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Our food supply is safe and abundant so there is no need to hoard food or other supplies.