NJ farmers hope you shop local to limit COVID-19 impact
Jersey Fresh products are still growing and being harvested, but how much of the haul will go to waste?
Farmers throughout the Garden State are experiencing an "early spring" due to a relatively mild winter — and are now left waiting to see how long the public health emergency caused by the novel coronavirus keeps a number of their typical consumers out of commission.
About 30% of farmers' "normal channels" — hotels, schools and restaurants, for example — have been limited or shut down by the pandemic, according to New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher.
"If you look at this across the country, there's been disruption in so many channels," Fisher said. "It's a total upheaval of the amazing machinery the American food system has in place."
Nurseries, farm stands and garden centers remain open, however. Supermarkets, which handle the majority of the $1 billion industry's product, continue to operate as well. Fisher is hopeful there's more demand this year for fruits and vegetables from supermarkets than ever before.
"There'll be plenty of Jersey farm-fresh products available in the next few months, and we're hoping that the public will support these farmers," he said.
Ed Wengryn, research associate for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, said consumers who shop local may be a "saving grace" for farmers losing their traditional marketing outlets.
A major concern heading into the warmer months, he said, is workforce availability as more crops become ready to be plucked for distribution.
"Our normal labor channels are light, particularly foreign workers coming into the country," Wengryn said. "Labor is the stress point, but the planting, the growing, is proceeding on schedule, if not a little ahead of schedule."
Crops grown over the winter, such as kale and spinach, are launching earlier than usual at New Jersey farms thanks to a winter of mild temperatures. The growing process is underway for Garden State staples such as blueberries and peaches.
Wengry and Fisher, among others in the industry, believe pick-your-own operations will be permitted, as long as sites are enforcing any social-distancing measures still in place.