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KY Farmers Step Up To Meet Needs Amid COVID-19

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Many small-scale farmers in the Commonwealth have risen to the challenge of providing food for their communities during the coronavirus pandemic, and some say strengthening the local food supply is critical to lessening the blow from the next crisis.

Michelle Howell and her husband run Need More Acres, a farm outside Bowling Green. She said back in March, as stores began running out of items, their farm worked with local hospital, schools, and the public health department to ensure residents had continued access to fresh fruits and vegetables - in some cases even delivering medically tailored meals to COVID-19 patients.

"So rather than just giving people sort of raw products like whole vegetables, we were able to process them in our on-farm certified kitchen and distribute the meals to them so all the food prep was already done," Howell said.

As uncertainty remains surrounding the return to school in the fall, Howell said counties should be fostering partnerships with their local producers, such as implementing school and home food delivery programs and boosting farmers markets.

She said because farmers are forced to quickly adapt to changes in weather, crop production and supply chains, they are uniquely positioned to handle curveballs like the pandemic.

"We're kind of used to sort of having to act based on what we're seeing around us and what's happening in a way that makes us a perfect part of the solution," she said. "And so I really do believe that we need farmers more engaged and involved in the conversations around public health."

And she added the state needs more local farmers at-the-ready to provide fresh food.

"We need to, right now, use that urgency to increase the amount of local farmers that are growing fruits and vegetables and get those supply chains built up stronger so that we as a community can make sure that we keep that access to fresh food," she said.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are more than 6,200 small farms across the state, and that number is on the rise.