The frailty of industrial agriculture was exposed when restaurants and huge meat processing plants closed. But food producers have responded to spur a return to locally produced meat and potatoes. Jason Blevins reports for the Colorado Sun.
Sheldon Rockey weaves through pallets of potatoes in a long-retired high school gym as a small team of workers wash and package his trademarked fingerlings. “We just weren’t prepared for this, so there will be some livestock that will eat some gourmet potatoes this year,” says Rockey, who saw his innovative and competitive strategy of selling tiny high-end potatoes to a wholesaler supplying cruise ships and restaurants collapse in mid-March as the pandemic settled in the U.S.
Selling fancy spuds was a good plan and one of many innovative business and marketing strategies Rockey and his brother Brendon have deployed for years at their family’s Rockey Farms in the San Luis Valley.
When the threat of COVID-19 shuttered restaurants around the country, Rockey leaned on his family’s long history of swift maneuvering to keep his potato business afloat.
They sent their gourmet tubers to food banks and the Navajo Nation. They scrambled for packaging to meet a soaring demand from grocers. They joined an army of farmers and ranchers across the country who are reshaping their industry after a historic collapse of supply chains and processing in the pandemic.
“Thinking outside the box is something my family has done for a long, long time,” says Rockey, climbing the optical potato sorter in the rafters of the gym-turned-warehouse. “It’s the only way we can survive in this industry.”
The ripple effect of the pandemic’s food supply upheaval started with idled restaurants and moved to meat-processing plants and quickly rolled down to the farmers and ranchers who produce our food.
Those in-the-field food producers have reacted to the disruption with innovative strategies and outreach that could transform their industries. Ranchers are developing their own brands and connecting directly with consumers. Farmers are working with ranchers to share land. Consumers are rallying around locally produced food, even as grocery shelves recover from the frenzied stockpiling of the early pandemic.
Read the full story in the Colorado Sun here
Photo: Colorado Sun