Farm Food Facts

Coming Together Around the Table in a Time of Uncertainty

April 07, 2020 USFRA Episode 71
Farm Food Facts
Coming Together Around the Table in a Time of Uncertainty
Farm Food Facts
Coming Together Around the Table in a Time of Uncertainty
Apr 07, 2020 Episode 71

Erin Fitzgerald, CEO of U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, talks to Phil Lempert about how coming together around the table in times of crisis reminds us that our food supply is strong because of all the individuals and companies that are getting food on the table from farm to fork. Also, there are things we can do now to keep food flowing to those less fortunate.

Show Notes Transcript

Erin Fitzgerald, CEO of U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, talks to Phil Lempert about how coming together around the table in times of crisis reminds us that our food supply is strong because of all the individuals and companies that are getting food on the table from farm to fork. Also, there are things we can do now to keep food flowing to those less fortunate.

Phil:   0:01
Farm Food Facts. Where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to Farm Food Facts for Wednesday, April 8th 2020 I'm your host, Phil Lempert. Every farmer, rancher, retailer and consumer is faced with one of the most serious epidemics in our lives. Many of their farmers air in the fields, preparing their crops for spring. We're also seeing extraordinary efforts from our farmers and ranchers working together and coordinating their efforts to fill the supply chain. And as a result, our supermarket shelves are filling up. Our CEO, Erin Fitzgerald, has been busy talking with farmers and ranchers along with scores of trade groups, NGOs, just about every sector across the supply chain and the folks in Washington to see how we can all work together to stem the current situation but also, even more importantly, how to prepare our farms and our supply chain and the Earth for the future. Last week we shared a new campaign that we will be supporting here on farm food facts highlighting people and organizations who are going beyond the call of duty in our food world and recognizing them with hashtag virtual high five. This week's kudos and hashtag Virtual High five goes toe, Wal Mart and Sam's Club for taking the lead at retail by quickly installing sneeze guards at the register to protect both shoppers and employees. Offering employees additional pay increases. Morton six foot shelf distances that Jack stands other high traffic locations even outside the store, offering senior only shopping hours. Instituting improved sanitation regimens throughout the store and actually taking the temperature of every WalMart associate who arrives at work. And if their temperature exceeds 100 degrees, they send them home with pay for the day in order to protect their fellow workers and their shoppers. Wal Mart and Sam's Club gets this week's hashtag virtual high five. Aaron, you've been quite active on your block, talking about the impacts that we're now facing. Tell me more about what you are, naming the six small actions with big impact farm to fork and forcing all of us to consider how to get food to our communities.

Erin:   2:22
You know, I'm so I know we've talked a lot over the last two weeks, and when I think about just my friends and my family, everybody has just been going through a lot, right and one thing that has been giving us all just a sense of calm and, um, gratitude has been the meals on our plates. What we can cook and pull out of our freezer, how we're going to the grocery store. I'm seeing recipes for bread making, even as everyone's home going to the roof.

Phil:   2:49
Erin, to that point last week with Nielsen reported, is the number one increase of product that was sold in the supermarket. Forget toilet paper and everything else was actually baking yeast.

Erin:   3:04

Phil:   3:04
So you are making their own bread, and I'm not sure if it's because they're bored or they can't find bread or they're using it to, you know, educate their kids on how to bay.

Erin:   3:16
Absolutely. I was talking to our partners at MEREDITH and, and they had also found that bread and pizza making has really been high. And I think that we're seeing you know this attention and really focus to our plates, and that really goes back to me as an American. We have you guys have seen in a lot of my blog's the whole holiday, truly dedicated as a culture of a people to honoring the harvest, that being Thanksgiving and now more than ever, I truly believe we need to be grateful for what what is on our plates. It was reducing our anxiety, our sense of comfort, and it's bringing us joy during these difficult times. At the same time, you know, we have to recognize that there are a lot of people on the front lines are medical workers are hard at work. Some of my family members are the medical field, and it's amazing what they're doing. And, you know, while very hard at work, we've seen sanitizers, toilet paper and the like still not on the shelves. I do think we can take unbelievable comfort in knowing that the food sector is 100% committed to safe, affordable and accessible food. But right now everyone kind of needs to do their part to help them do that. Just as in the medical community, we're all doing our part to physically distance and socially distance to really bring down the curve. We, as consumers and caring about food can also do our part. The first thing that we're saying is, you know, definitely just you recognize that socially distance should be fun. You know, Let's let's make it fun. We can be together as a community. During this time, we can share our recipes. We can share a love over food and connect over food in meaningful ways. And take that gratitude in that moment to really recognize an honor that harvest. And we can also lift up leaders who are working from farm to your transportation provider to somebody in a warehouse door delivery dash guy, a great restaurant person and just keep going, man, you know, everybody is working hard. Give him a virtual high five. Recognize whoever it is and tell them truly why that made a difference for you and your family. And just to hash tag on of the harvest neighbors helping neighbors, community food farming and Corona virus. And you know, we need some weeks of good stories, and I know I've seen ah, neighborhood baked banana bread. She got a high five, you know, just putting things out there that really help us express gratitude for the food on my plate,

Phil:   5:48
I think, and what you bring up is so important that this is also brought the country in the world a little closer together in in a good emotional way that were all in this together. I was on a call earlier today with it with a group over in the UK small company. You know, 15 people and three people there have Covid-19. So we've got to be smart about this, and we've got to be understanding that we're all in this together. Let me ask what happens after this. And, um, the good news is there will be in after this when we when we talk about this self distancing and we're seeing these supermarkets putting up these these plastic plexi glass dividers, if you would't the check stand, We're seeing them put, you know, even if it's just painter's tape marking six foot distances, are we going to continue to see that after it or are people gonna get sloppy again and, you know, be right up against each other?

Erin:   6:45
I don't think we actually know culturally how we're going to see as we re emerge into society for a while, how that's gonna look. But just where we are and looking at the curbs were still in many. I'm in ST Louis and the curve won't happen until May. So I think we're not even ready to have this conversation till we're thinking more about July and August timeframe. But you know, Phil, you're very connected to many of those retailers as well. I think right now everyone's just really worried about, you know, making certain that everyone's safe for their employees and customers, and we'll see these things in effect. I would imagine for quite some time

Phil:   7:22
I would agree with you. And you know what? We're also starting. I mentioned Wal Mart, you know, taking the temperature of their employees were also start to see some retailers around the country taking the temperature of their shoppers and not allowing their shoppers to come into the store to put other shoppers, um, and employees at risk. And I think we've really learned a lot very quickly. You know, the food industry. Sometimes I'm not talking about farmers. Ah, but the food The retail food industry sometimes doesn't move quickly as quickly as we would like. They're still trying to figure out frequent shopper card programs. 20 years later. Ah, But on this, you know, practically every supermarket in the country now has that plexiglass shield out. Practically everyone had those six foot markings. So it really reinforces the fact that the food industry, entire supply chain from farm to fork can really move quickly and solve problems when we need to. And my hope is that after this disaster, we continue in a much more you know, positive way. And with that, I want to get to your number two point, which is donating to the food and secure. Tell me more about what's going on there.

Erin:   8:38
Well, yeah, I think you know, adaptability is as you were talking about in the food sector, I actually think we're seeing agility like everyone is moving with lightning swiftness be able to deliver as a coordinated network to food to the consuming public. I've seen Restauranteur tze and retailers really adapt their business model quickly. I'm just posted on Twitter. A restauranteur turned their kitchen into a commissary for a medical and policemen environment that were in need, you know, But one thing I do think related to this agility is the ability to quickly move the 1,000,000,000 we have. We don't have a food problem, okay? Our farmers are hard at work in the field. We have a redistribution problem. And as you've seen for many of the stores, when there's these buyouts, consumers are buying sometimes a little too much for you. Gotta do your part. Don't overbuy necessarily. 

Phil:   9:31
You mean you don't need 100 rolls of toilet paper?

Erin:   9:33
You know, I saw a lady at the checkout with 100 pounds of potatoes for a 2 person family, like maybe they're making vodka. I don't know. There's just a little too much going on right now. You don't need to buy so much, you'd be mindful. But the most important thing is because we can imagine so many of our neighbors really that have already been what I would call food and secure. And if you don't know what that is, there is hidden hunger in our community. You can go to a website called Map the Meal gap and really get familiar because you know what? It has been hidden for too long, and we need to talk about it. These families now, it's not who you always think they might have had a health incidents. They might have been a family of two kids those kids might have been getting their meals during school will now face with the economic pressures at home. They need help. And so we need to make certain that we're all doing our part, go to feeding America. They're just like a retailer. They're picking up food, they're grabbing it from our farms, and they are buying it direct to be able to get it and redistributed to people who are in need right now. And so the one thing I could just say is that everybody here can really log in and go to feeding America because we, we all need to do our part. There's the obviously, As you know, Congress did pass some stimulus funds. But again, even in normal times, there's food insecure and that will only last. These families so much time we all can do our part and really get some really money is what they need right now. To be able to buy direct and get it into the food bank system. Who, if you don't know how that works it then gets it straight into a school, get to straight into a church basement to go do the good work

Phil:   11:17
And also, you know, we've all seen the reports that in certain parts of the country, dairy farmers are really under a lot of pressure because of the disruptions that you're talking about in the supply chain and also because it's a very perishable product. I mean, milk can't be frozen like meat can or were like, you know, AA grain can be and for feeding. America is really working with a lot of dairy farmers to take that milk and bring it to these families in need.

Erin:   11:48
That's right. So, you know, as we're going to see again, it's a redistribution. If you give your dollars to someone like feeding America, then they have the dollars to go by direct and so that we're gonna see some peaks in volume. But seeing America is able to handle that, and so the more we can help our colleagues and our communities during this time working through the feet American Network, I always tell Claire and Dr Matthews many of my friends at feeding America. My gosh, if you thought of them as a retailer store, if you look at the amount of people they serve, they will be the 10th largest retailer in America. And right now I can't imagine a retailer with all empty shells. Um, you need to make certain that we can really help make feeding America successful to give you another idea of just how vital this resource is normally, when there's an incident, let's say like a hurricane. You have a feeding banks this and they have two weeks. Every feeding bank has about two weeks of food on supply. Well, when a natural disaster hits, all the other food banks back up almost like a savings bank to go help that region of the country. Now you can imagine feeding America really has a 50 state fire alarm need. And so we need to really help them. And, again, anybody that's listening, please just take a moment and do a quick donation because they can help all the way from farm to anyone in our community.

Phil:   13:13
Absolutely. And I want tobuild on something else, which I found fascinating. In your number three, which is two parts one is consider hosting a virtual dinner, and the other one is your warning that says don't schedule virtual happy hours back to back, eh? So talk to me about virtual dinners. Maybe even talk to me about the virtual happy hours.

Erin:   13:37
Well, you know, I think the third part is really like you can do all do these things from our count. The other thing that we're seeing is just like being there, truly being there for your family, friends and colleagues and your community members, you know? And, you know, what can you do in your apartment? Well, you know, I can check in on a colleague. I know us fr We hosted a virtual happy hour, and then my friends hosted another virtual happy hour. Also, there was three happy hours and you haven't left your couch, you know, normally throughout Barcelona. So I just would say, Be careful on that Virtual happy. Are you seeing your couch? You don't realize Quite helped it. So you could get pretty quick when you have all those virtual happy hour is going on. But it's a lot of fun if you haven't done it on to really meet your friends. And then also I know with my family, we have tried to do cooking, exchange and recipe exchange. It's kind of fun. It maybe even you pick a day where you have all made the same thing, and then I can have a virtual dinner together. Think the other one about being there is if you really just take a minute and write down people on your list like you might also know somebody who's elderly. Um, is there a way you and your friends could maybe take turns setting up to do less for them? A lot of these elderly folks do not have digital savviness, so and also they just want a phone call, maybe or in and help divide, task grocery orders for them or just help them in this, like kind of digital age. Right now, I think that could go a long ways to

Phil:   15:02
Let's talk about first responders. You know, whether it be nurses, doctors on the front line. You know, we've all heard the stories about they need mass. They need respirators. What else do they need that maybe hasn't made the headlines so much?

Erin:   15:19
Yes, I was also thinking what you can kind of do from your couch help. One of them is donate blood. You know, talking to a lot of the medical community is a critical shortage if you download the app, it actually tells you what's needed when and tells you how to do it in a safe way. And there's different things, and I'm trying to do that this weekend, but that that was a really great way. And then also and thinking about so many of where our food leaders are places where food is grown and processed. Often it's in rural communities. Um, these real communities don't necessarily have a lot of the resource is. So the CDC has opened up a first responder. So if you want to donate and help first responders to make sure that they have the mask and the right equipment in these small rural communities, largely where fireman food is grown I provided that resource there for you, too.

Phil:   16:07
And, you know, let's talk about our community, how we should be supporting the community farm to fork. What other ways can we help? Besides, you know, donating through CDC besides donating through feeding America, Are there any other areas that we should be focused on?

Erin:   16:25
Well, I don't know about you guys, but I must movie, so I know many of you can imagine my favorite restaurant going out of business. So I mean, can you buy get hard, consider it like a promise to that restaurant tour that you're gonna be packed.

Phil:   16:38
That's a great idea. I hadn't I hadn't even thought about that. I've been going to my favorite restaurants that have takeout, you know, and trying to keep them open. But I never thought until this moment in time that if I give them some extra money by buying a gift card that I'm gonna be able to use in a couple months myself. So it's not a donation that that really helps their cash flow. Very smart, very smart.

Erin:   17:03
The other thing is, maybe think through the American Farmland Trust. Some farmers do need help. Right now. They've set up a trust that 100% of the donations will be going to those farmers. So I think about you know, many of the restaurant workers are going through a tough time and or some farmers those two ways could be pretty easy to kind of help.

Phil:   17:22
And let's pull back a little bit. We've been talking about the US We've been talking about the American farmer and rancher. What's going on globally And what can we and what should we be doing across the globe?

Erin:   17:35
Well, obviously, America, we It's amazing for us to say that we don't have a food shortage, right? But we you know, many around the world, they already had food shortages, and so this epidemic is going to be affecting them much more. So. I know we're all faced with, you know, just kind of looking inward, block by block, make double checking, our family's heir okay and everything. But I mean, we do need to recognize that we're a blessed nation and it's time to help everybody else. So, you know, I put two to Resource is out here to organization that I think through an exceptional job on food and security that being UNICEF, United Nations Children Fund, you can send supplies there as well as food. They were really making certain that kids have food and unnecessary medical supplies during this time and then have her international is a wonderful organization, you know, they say, teach Amanda fish right. They provide actually flocks of chickens or little piglets or cows to a village so that they have 365 days of nutrition each year, and they provide the actual means for these communities to have on not just one meal but ongoing. The resource is to have a meal every single day through agricultural support. So that's another great organization. That's not just helping, even right now. But compare it for little bunker.

Phil:   19:01
Well, Erin, thank you for your continued leadership for our industry, certainly for us. Fr a. And keep those blog's coming great stuff there. And thanks for being on farm food. Fax today.

Erin:   19:14
Well, thanks, Phll. I just want to tell everyone stay safe, sanitize and smiley.

Phil:   19:19
Thanks for listening to today's podcast episode. For more information on all things food and agriculture, please visit us, Also be sure to look for us on Facebook at US farmers and ranchers or on Twitter at USFRA.  Until next time.