Demand for fresh food from local farms has surged in recent months, even as the pandemic has sometimes made it harder to get. Many people are looking for healthy ways to avoid grocery store shopping and support local small businesses.
But there are new restrictions at farmers markets and it’s not always easy to find other local sources of fresh and locally produced food, despite the fact that Washington boasts tens of thousands of small farms, many of them certified organic.
A new tool called the Washington Food and Farm Finder brings together dozens of local and regional online databases into one statewide resource.
COVID-19 has changed everything for most local farms. Some have had to start home deliveries or build a website for the first time. Some have lost their biggest customers because of restaurant closures and found new ones in food banks or other local outlets. Some have seen the demand for their products skyrocket.
“I sold the equivalent of 1,500 chickens in a matter of three days this spring,” said Micha Ide, a farmer at Bright Ide Acres in Orting. Her farm specializes in ethically raised meat. She says the swift presale of their frozen chicken boxes was a first. For her, the challenge is finding ways to grow and retain all the new customers.
Not everyone faces those same challenges, but Ide, who also is the manager of the regional Pierce County Fresh branding campaign, says pretty much any farm or small, local producer can use help with marketing. And she says that’s the beauty of listing their products and services on the Washington Food and Farm Finder, which they can do for free through 2021. It makes it easy for shoppers to find them, on a searchable map.
“All you have to do is plug in your city or your ZIP code and it'll narrow your results down to what farms you're looking for in your region,” Ide said.
And she says many farms are now shipping their products, so if a closer source is sold out, you may be able to order it from another county, while still supporting local makers.
Sheryl Wiser, program director with the Tilth Alliance, says the nonprofit's recent survey of consumers statewide showed that people are looking for this kind of tool to provide better access to products from local farms.
“It was very clear from the answers,” Wiser said, “whether they were going to go online, they were going to do neighborhood pick up, they were going to go to the farm and have a pick up. They wanted to know who was open and what they had.”
Wiser says the database is growing as more listings are added to the map. The Eat Local First Collaborative also has some special seasonal offerings. A Holiday Gift Guide is now on the site, compiling dozens of sources of farm goods and value-added artisan goods. There’s also a drawing for a suite of donated prizes for shoppers who take the pledge to shop with local farms this holiday season.