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QUARLES: During global pandemic, remember to buy local

Last week, Kentucky farm families celebrated National Agriculture Week, but as you can imagine, our annual celebration was quieter than usual, given our ongoing fight against the global COVID-19 pandemic.

As I talked to members of the media and neighbors to promote the celebration, they bombarded me with questions like, “Are we going to run out of food?” “Is our food supply safe?” “How can I support local farmers and agribusinesses?”

The good news is America has the safest, most abundant food supply in the world and all evidence suggests COVID-19 cannot be transmitted via food or livestock, provided you sanitize and prepare food as you would normally.

During this time of national shutdown, individuals and communities ought to support and honor the American farmer even more.

A recent study from a national organization reported the local and regional food system — think farmers’ markets, farm to school programs and the like — could see a nearly $700 million decrease in sales.

It is more important now than ever before that consumers support farmers, agribusinesses and retailers.

Luckily for you, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture has developed several resources for consumers to find local food and other value-added agricultural products during this time.

— Have a craving for your favorite Kentucky Proud meal? Visit kyproud.com/takeout for a list of restaurants that source and support local farms and who remain open offering carryout or delivery with updated operating hours.

— Going to the grocery store is great, and is something you should do to support workers in your community, but many of Kentucky’s farmers’ markets will open in the coming weeks. To locate the freshest food from a farmer near you, visit kyproud.com/farmers-markets. While these sites are considered life-sustaining and will open, you should still avoid congregating, exercise a social distance of six feet, and wash your hands before and after a visit to your local farmers’ market.

— Why not look into buying shares of a community supported agriculture (CSA)? A farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week from the farm’s harvest — in some cases right to your doorstep. Fresh farm products can include fruits, eggs, meats, herbs and flowers. We’ve even got a site for that, too. Visit kyproud.com/csa to locate a CSA in your area.

— You can also stay current with other buy local opportunities, like our upcoming Kentucky Proud Virtual CSA fair, by liking the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and Kentucky Proud pages on Facebook. Promotions start April 1, and the CSA event begins April 16.

Farmers do not get the credit they deserve, even though in Kentucky they are responsible for $45 billion of economic impact.

As National Review writer Victor Davis Hansen wrote recently, “in our age of necessary shutdowns and staying home, one thing we must do is eat — and eat well to stay healthy. And that means a lot of people have to go to work and produce food.”

That’s why the KDA advocated for an exemption for agriculture to stay open for business.

Over the course of the last century, farmers have become so good at what they do that they are seemingly invisible.

While many Kentuckians can telecommute from their homes, farmers rise early before dawn and work late into the evening to provide food and fiber for us and our families.

So while it is good to thank a farmer, remember one of the best ways to show your gratitude is by purchasing from farmers and businesses. And if you make a habit of it, you can celebrate agriculture all year long.

Ryan Quarles serves as Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner.