Homegrown Crisis Response: Who Grows Your Food?

The best COVID 19 response that I’ve heard to date came from Jessica. Asked if she was prepared for the chaos, she said her cupboards contained a reasonable amount of food, but most importantly, she still had greens in her garden. Food was growing, in the ground, at the home where she lived.

Her words were a welcome change from the texts and phone calls that had poured into my phone over the prior week. Little did I know on March 11th, that I was attending a conference in the heart of what would prove to be a hotspot for coronavirus infection. Hundreds of mostly young people gathered in New Orleans, attending the 4th National Good Food Network Conference, sponsored by the Wallace Center. I was a part of a plenary panel entitled, “From Whence We Come” with several other veterans of the good food movement.

The palpable emotional response from attendees contained fear, bordering on panic. My colleagues quietly and steadily began to retreat from the conference. An ember was becoming a flame-over the origins of the virus, our health, and of course, the food supply. Who was going to control the food supply? Can you control your own food supply? What legislation can be passed that will give you more control over the food supply?

$23.5 billion was allocated for farmers in the COVID-19 economic stimulus bill. This is in addition to the $28 billion that was allocated to the US Department of Agriculture for tariff supports to farmers over the past two years. Agricultural Secretary Sonny Purdue has broad discretion over spending these funds. I am calling for five percent of the over $50 billion to farmers-a mere $2.5 billion-to be allocated to small farms and urban agriculture. This new Agricultural Homestead policy would support infrastructure development for small farms and urban agriculture, as well as provide small inputs for home gardeners. The Big Ag system of mass producing nutrient-deficient, GMO foods that we have known for the last 75 years, is broken. The paradigm has changed. The current pandemic is contributing to the creation of a new world order.

Small farms and urban agriculture extend backyard gardens into a viable economic system for just and equitable food distribution, based on sustainability and self-sufficiency. They shift the paradigm from Big Ag to thriving local food systems, under local control. The local food economy generates economic webs that launch entrepreneurs and create employment. Natural urban agriculture brings nutritious food close to home, which is transformative in the best of times, and critical in meeting challenges such as the COVID 19 pandemic.

While I was at the Good Food Conference, my son called from D.C., reporting that there was no food in the store. Whole Foods shelves were empty, and they were not answering phones. Jeff, in Atlanta, texted to ask, “Have you been to the grocery store? People are clearing the shelves out of fear of eating in restaurants because of the coronavirus.” He continued: “Buying land, farming, and homesteading are about to become very relevant again.” How true, I replied!

Upon my return to Atlanta, Tina called, somewhat distraught, looking for advice. She wanted to know what was stored in both my cupboard and freezer. I explained that if the grid went down, freezers would be of no practical use. I told her I stored navy beans, brown rice and gallons of water.

The best way for people to ensure good supplies of quality food is to grow it themselves. Whoever controls your food controls you! That is an indisputable truth. Stated another way, if you do not control the sources of your food, someone else will. With many states under lockdown, grocery store shelves are emptying fast, with lines continuing out the doors. Shoppers are putting themselves at risk, just to gather essentials.

Even as we confront challenges to human health, our larger environment remains fragile. In addition to producing quality food, the local food economy reduces fossil fuel consumption by minimizing the long-distance transport of fruits and vegetables. Climate change is mitigated, and carbon sequestered.

For millennia, humankind lived within walking distance of where their food was produced. More and more people in this country are beginning to accept that concept and are returning to a pre-industrial regenerative mode of food production. Now is the season. Significantly, most civil authorities are allowing grocery stores to remain open, although in a controlled manner. If you don’t have food in your yard, the next best place to obtain it is from the nearest local farmer’s market.

The new world order that I’m visioning includes food justice, exemplified by universal access to wholesome foods, close to where people – ALL PEOPLE – live. A new food economy world order is an imperative of our time. We have to choose what order will lie on the other side of the COVID 19 pandemic. The time to choose is now. Grow your own food and grow your community


Anderson, S. (2020). Trump Tariff Aid To Farmers Cost More Than US Nuclear Forces. Fornes, Jan 21, 2020.  (Forbes)

Lipton, E. & LaFraniere, S. (2020). For Farmers, Stimulus Bill Means Subsidies Continue to Flow. New York Times, Mar 27, 2020 (New York Times)

Rashid Nuri is the author of Growing Out Loud.