North Carolinians come together to help farmers feed communities

North Carolinians come together to help farmers feed communities

North Carolina is home to one of the biggest farming industries in America. Our farmers grow crops and raise livestock to provide locally sourced food across the state and nationwide. As the COVID-19 pandemic ripples across the country, farmers have faced major supply chain disruptions.

Many restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses have been forced to close or cut spending. This has left farmers with limited options for supplying their food staples to others.

The impact on farms in Western North Carolina has been particularly staggering.

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At the same time, food insecurity has increased by 60% in the area since March. Without local farms, communities would lose access to fresh produce that is proven to improve people’s health and well-being.

The onset of COVID-19 caused food insecurity in Western North Carolina to increase by 60%, with 250,000 people lacking access to adequate nutrition. The impact on WNC farms was just as staggering.

(Colby Rabon)

In a survey completed by 900 WNC farmers, 80% had reported a decrease in sales and 75% reported that if disruptions in sales persisted for several months, farm losses would result in bankruptcy or closure.

To help local farmers and their communities in Western North Carolina, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) invested $275,000 in the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP).

“We experienced a lot of sleepless nights worrying how we might ride out this storm,” said Carl Evans, with Mountain Harvest Organics farm.

The Asheville-based nonprofit works to help local farms thrive. They link farmers to markets and supporters and build healthy communities through connections to local food.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges facing Western NC’s food and nutrition security,” said Cheryl Parquet, director of community engagement and marketing activation at Blue Cross NC. “We are committed to increasing access to fresh, healthy foods for all North Carolinians, and supporting ASAP’s response efforts to address these challenges by keeping farmers and markets in business and helping to feed residents in need.”

Through its Appalachian Farms Feeding Families Program, ASAP buys food from farmers, and the farms then deliver the food to overburdened food pantries and feeding sites across WNC.

“WNC farmers are innovative and resilient, but they have faced unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Charlie Jackson, executive director of ASAP.

“Eighty percent of farmers surveyed by ASAP have seen a decrease in sales. This program is a way to support both our neighbors who need help accessing fresh food as well as our farmers. An investment in farmers is an investment in our community.”

This initiative is helping to feed 3,000 to 4,000 families a week across 18 counties.

“The impacts of COVID-19 have been felt in all socioeconomic levels,” said pastor Rubi Pimentel, of Hendersonville Spanish Church. “Fresh produce will allow us to help bring some help to our communities and also help stabilize our economy with local farmers. Those affected will feel that they have not been abandoned by society.”

Additionally, Blue Cross NC’s funding helped ASAP support farmers with immediate-need grants, implement safe model operations for farmers markets to open safely during the pandemic and offer double SNAP incentives for eligible farmers market customers.

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