I’ve been talking with farmers throughout California since our governor announced the shelter-in-place order. This is what I’m hearing:

In San Diego, demand for locally-produced food is higher than current production capacity or farmer abilities to harvest AND plant. They didn’t anticipate this sudden surge in demand and what’s harvested now relies on what was planted months ago. They need help securing skilled farm labor, coordinating aggregation and distribution, and connecting with those who do not have food access (low-income, sick, elder, pregnant, vulnerable populations).

In Central and Northern California, I’m hearing from farmers that they are losing restaurant and institutional (schools, hospitals) accounts and suddenly need to move large volumes to different markets. Some have part-time jobs in restaurants, so they are losing income on two fronts.

As activists have long said, hunger is a distribution problem not a production problem.

Up and down the state people are dealing with lack of childcare during care facility and school closures. Some reported there’s a lack of reliable information about COVID, how to reduce exposure, and what we know about risk. A few who have family members in the food processing sector said the workers are being overworked in facilities, in tight spaces, and with few contagion precautions. Meanwhile, farm workers are working with different crews each day and transported all in one vehicle.

This is some work I’m doing as an immediate response:

  • fundraising from philanthropic entities for California black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) farmers to receive direct relief funds paired with financial guidance service; goal of $500k
  • Community supported agriculture (CSA) aggregation logistics to link locally-produced food to English limited, low income populations
  • fundraising for Infrastructure expansion of regional food storage and zero emission cold storage vehicles
  • Advocating for on-farm multi lingual trainers on precautionary measures to limit spread
  • organizing bulk purchasing and home delivery for people in my neighborhood and Vietnamese community

…demanding the things we’ve been building and calling for, just accelerated.

Things I’m trying to get ahead of:

  • potential farm labor shortage due to illness, continued emphasis on harvest and distro rather than planting
  • conservatives furthering anti-immigration/immigrants/Asian sentiments and leveraging that to accelerate deportations or create policies to ban/police/incarcerate POC
  • Militarized enforcement shelter in place and disproportionate impact on BIPOC
  • arguments for replacing farm labor with AI and robots in the name of sanitation and safety

…by trying to leverage existing coalitions for the policy/political work of retaining immigrants, farmland, and farmers, all with dignity, sick pay, family leave, and expanded health care as a state.

As a Viet-Californian who grew up in the 90s, I’m well aware of how this state deals with a massive number of unemployed people of color: death through incarceration or murder. We need to consider the possibility and likelihood that the pandemic will lend towards racist and sexist anger and violence. The more we can help each other have access to basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and health care, the less fear will be stirred into anger.

I’m sure you’re overwhelmed with options of how to be helpful at this time. Regarding farmers, these are the basic things you can do?

  • Get food directly to your door and support local jobs by signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture share. Paying up front before the season begins helps farmers plan and plant early on.
  • Call your city council members and state assemblymembers to support sick and family leave for essential workers.

It’ll be hard for me to find time to write amidst working, farming, caring for baby and family, and responding to emergencies, so my Instagram account may be a good place to keep updated for now. Take care.