With farmers losing access to customers and many people facing food insecurity during pandemic, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project offers a solution.
As “congregate living settings,” migrant farmworker camps have been listed as high-risk locations for virus transmission — not just by counties throughout Western North Carolina, but by state health officials and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although gleaning dinner from nature inherently offers some freedom from the social framework, COVID-19’s disruptions still reached many locals who normally take to the outdoors in spring to gather ramps, morels and other seasonal morsels.
Launched in mid-May, the program is a $50 million commitment to help local independent restaurants open and get back to work.
In many Western North Carolina schools, cafeteria kitchens have never been busier as districts stepped up to continue providing meals to students through the end of the calendar year, then transitioned to summer feeding programs tweaked to meet current needs.
“A lot of my work right now is in helping people organize themselves and understand how they might create collaborative means of accessing meat,” says author, butcher, chef and instructor Meredith Leigh.
The impacts of COVID-19 on demand, supply and distribution for local hunger relief organizations were immediate and profound, thrusting MANNA FoodBank and its smaller partner agencies into a triage response.
As retailers face potential shortages of large-scale commodity meats, Asheville consumers look to local farms and butchers.
The okra selected for the 2020 project, Aunt Hettie’s Red, boasts both regional roots and modern acclaim. Last September, the variety was crowned the best of 54 in “The Single Biggest Chef-Centered Okra Tasting Day Ever” contest staged by the Utopian Seed Project.
At an April 21 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners lent their unanimous support to designating 16,000 acres of the Pisgah National Forest in the county’s northeast as the Craggy Mountain Wilderness and National Scenic Area. And on April 28, Duke Energy unveiled the most detailed public explanation to date of how company leaders are thinking about the longer-term future.
“I’m trying to convene people who care in a way that will help the folks who are being left out, because there’s a high percentage of our friends and neighbors who won’t make it.” says Hunter about her work in response to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
The We Give a Share Program helps both small farms and local families struggling to put food on the table.
“I feel like right now this COVID virus is forcing people to slow down and, hopefully, look internally and not just at their phones,” says Percoco, the Firefly Gathering’s new executive director. “It’s interesting how something like this can come in and show us how vulnerable we are.”
GAP co-founder and Asheville business owner David Anderson brings the national disaster relief organization home, setting up a mobile kitchen in West Asheville.
A partnership between the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville and Green Opportunities is bringing together local chefs to cook meals for home-bound residents.
Kristin Weeks, managing partner and co-owner of the Asheville location of Fifth Season Gardening Co., says business is booming in the wake of COVID-19. “People are coming in and spending a lot more money; the average invoice has gone up, too,” she says. “People are kind of just coming in and going for it.”
As coordinator of Bountiful Cities’ Asheville Buncombe Community Garden Network, Whitaker manages communication, educational programming and resources such as free seed and tool libraries for more than two dozen local gardening efforts. And after COVID-19 began impacting life in Western North Carolina, he’s seen an increase in the number of local residents interested in starting new community gardens.
Business for the Asheville-based produce and grocery delivery service has tripled with COVID-19 social distancing measures in place, allowing it to support more local growers.
Educators will ask the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners for nearly $87,000 in additional funding to ensure meals keep flowing during the April 6-10 break. Approximately 12,000 meals are being provided daily to children ages 2-18, helping meet critical nutrition needs for kids whose families are under stress from the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout.
Market organizers have gotten creative, quickly setting up new systems and online platforms.
Myriad nonprofit and community groups are springing into action to help locals persevere through the crisis. As existing organizations adjust their work to focus on COVID-19 needs and new efforts begin to knit neighbors together, community resilience is blooming throughout WNC.