Faculty and staff from WSU Extension’s Food Systems Program are working to better assist farm and food businesses, and consumers during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. By leveraging the existing networks of their team, the Food Systems Program created the COVID‑19 HUB, a compilation of online resources for food systems stakeholders across Washington.
The need for information and resources regarding Washington food systems became apparent during the beginning of the COVID‑19 pandemic. The United Nations projected that because of COVID‑19, the number of people facing severe food insecurity worldwide could double to 265 million. Farmers of all sizes across the United States, from dairy farmers to green bean farmers, have been forced to pivot their business models amid a severe change in consumer demand which stems from the closures of restaurants, schools, hotels, and other food service outlets. However, food banks, food pantries, and other food security outlets have unmet needs, highlighting that the issue is not supply, itself, but matching that supply with a demand, and getting food to where it’s needed most.
In response to the evolving community needs, and to create a space for collaboration and resource sharing, the Food Systems Program created the COVID‑19 HUB.
The HUB is a multi-faceted resource on the Food Systems website that connects WSU and partners working across the food system to collect and update COVID‑19 related resources that support the Washington food system.
Each week, as part of its HUB, the Food Systems Program hosts a public action-based networking meeting to convene leaders from across WSU and the Washington food system to leverage each participant’s unique skill sets to better collaborate, and to assess and respond to farm, food business, and consumer COVID‑19 related needs on a continuous basis.
As the COVID‑19 pandemic continues to change the landscape of the food system, the Food Systems Program is working to help farmers navigate new business models that fulfill the needs of the community through the Food Systems Needs Assessment Tool (NAT).
The NAT is a resource for both internal and external users that provides a space for farmers to connect with Extension experts dedicated to supporting their community’s food system. The Food Systems Program is widely promoting the NAT throughout Washington to collect and assess needs related to food safety, production, food security, and economic impacts. The NAT can be taken weekly to inform decision making and resource allocation, and track changes over time in order to build a more resilient statewide food system during COVID‑19, and beyond.
While Extension and the Food Systems Program have worked with local groups, individual citizens, agencies, and businesses for many years to support sustainable production systems and increase access and usage of small farms, among other projects, there are still large gaps in Washington’s food system, particularly during COVID‑19. The pandemic has impacted every aspect of Washington’s food system, forcing the Food Systems Program to focus on resources, producers, processors, and distributors with shorter supply chains within specific regions of Washington.
Extension’s Food Systems Program delivers multidisciplinary expertise across academic, research, and extension, providing specialized resources for farmers and food systems contributors.
Food Systems works with communities throughout the state to foster viable farm businesses, optimize sustainable natural resource stewardship, and to promote scaled processing and distribution, always in the pursuit of access to healthy food for all.