The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the economy on a national and global level. Nowhere has this impact been felt more acutely than in the food industry, where our national food supply chain has been completely disrupted.
With restaurants, schools, and businesses across the country closed, and processing plants operating at a reduced capacity, farmers have been left without buyers for their products. Many are being forced to destroy a large portion of what they have produced, or euthanize animals that cannot be sold. When one farmer in Pennsylvania was faced with such a decision, however, a neighbor came to his rescue. A Facebook Post Saves 80 Thousand Chickens Josh Zimmerman is an egg farmer in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, who’s 80 thousand-hen flock lays approximately 60 thousand eggs every day. A large portion of these eggs are sold to a bulk egg processor who sells liquified eggs to cruise ships, hospitals, hotels, and school cafeterias.
In early April, however, his processor informed him that the facility’s freezer space was at max capacity, and they could no longer accept eggs from his farm. Zimmerman had to find a new market for his eggs, or else be forced to euthanize his flock. Timmy Bauscher runs the Nesting Box Farm Market and Creamery, about twenty minutes away from Zimmerman’s farm. When she heard about his plight, she offered to sell some of his eggs at her roadside market. She proposed to sell them for a discounted price of two dollars per dozen, with a mandatory minimum purchase of five dozen per buyer. Bauscher, who has amassed a significant following on Facebook, put out a post to her network and supporters about Zimmerman’s situation, saying “Let’s do this, Nesting Box Peeps!”. The post went viral in just thirty seconds and reached half a million people. Consumers were excited to help a local farmer and save some chickens, and on April 27, the first day of the egg sale, traffic was backed up along the roadside with people queuing up to buy some eggs .
How Does the Food Supply Chain Work? The modern US food supply chain is very complex, and the delivery of a single type of food to the consumer involves many actors, inputs, flows, processes, and outputs. The food supply chain begins with the farmers, who combine their resources, labor, and machinery to produce raw commodities. Food sold directly from farmers to consumers makes up a very small percentage of agricultural commodity sales. Instead, the vast majority is handled by several other sectors before being consumed. In most cases, the raw product gets sent to a first handler or primary processors, who collect, store, and do some preliminary processing. This could include commodity trading companies and farmer cooperatives, or fruit and vegetable packing plants, flour mills, etc. The product then gets shipped to wholesalers or the processing and manufacturing sectors. This could include meat packers, bakeries, and other companies that turn raw materials into higher-value packaged goods.
These products then often get passed along to a wholesaler or logistics company that stores products in a network of warehouses to be distributed to retail outlets. This requires an extensive transportation infrastructure. Finally, the product reaches the retail and foodservice sectors, which include grocery stores, convenience stores, and vending machines, as well as restaurants, fast-food outlets, and other establishments like cafeterias . Read: Farmer has ‘life-changing’ moment in a bid to stop milk wastage during lockdown The Food Supply Chain is in Trouble With such a complex system that includes so many moving parts, when even one part of the supply chain is disrupted it has a cascading effect that impacts every other part of the process. The COVID-19 pandemic has done precisely that. Restaurants, schools, and businesses represent a large portion of the food industry. With so many of them closing or operating at a significantly reduced capacity, farmers around the country have been left without buyers for their products.
Logistics companies are now undertaking the complicated task of trying to reroute deliveries to retailers, where the demand is highest, but many of these places do not have the storage capacity to accept much more than what they’ve been previously receiving. On top of that, many manufacturing plants have been forced to reduce their workforce, and therefore output, because of virus outbreaks in their facilities. This means that even though there is a demand for product, there is a bottleneck in production. Many manufacturers are now having to turn farmers away because they aren’t able to process their products. The Dairy Farmers of America are estimating that farmers are dumping 3.7 million gallons of milk every day because there is no place to sell it. A single chicken processor is smashing approximately 750 thousand unhatched eggs weekly, and farmers are driving their tractors straight across their fields, plowing ripe fruits and vegetables back into the soil . With meatpacking plant closures around the country, pig farmers, in particular, have been hit hard, and are being forced to euthanize thousands of pigs.
“There’s conversations going on every day… to figure out how can we most efficiently and humanely do this,” said third generation hog farmer Chad Leman. “This is not about euthanizing half a dozen animals. This is thousands and millions of animals. This is just an unforeseen calamity, really.”  Food banks, who have tried to switch offering processed meals to more fresh produce over the last few decades, are unable to accept large amounts of product from farmers because of a lack of volunteers during the pandemic. “To purchase from a whole new set of farmers and suppliers — it takes time, it takes knowledge, you have to find the people, develop the contracts,” said Janet Poppendieck, an expert on poverty and food assistance . As for Zimmerman, about thirty percent of the eggs produced in the US are made for the liquified egg market and are destined for fast-food restaurants, hotels, school cafeterias, and food production for mayonnaise, salad dressings, and other products. With that vast market shut off completely, he, along with many other egg farmers, is left with nowhere to sell his surplus of eggs .
Overwhelming Local Support The support for Bauscher’s initiative has been nothing short of astonishing. There is now a line of vehicles waiting every weekend to buy Zimmerman’s eggs. “Of course the price is very good at $2 [a dozen] but I’m flabbergasted myself,” said Don Meyers, president of the Kempton Community Center. “The word spread and here they came. It’s amazing.”  People from neighboring communities have been driving great distances to purchase several dozen eggs for themselves, their friends, and their neighbors. Pegene Pitcairn drove more than an hour to purchase 360 dozen eggs in boxes for about 40 families and food pantries in her community. “It really is a wonderful story of how humans come together to help people in our food chain,” she said . Bauscher describes herself as the link between Mr. Zimmerman and the public. With the current rate of success, she expects to sell between 22 and 25 thousand eggs every week. Zimmerman, for his part, is shocked at the success of the initiative. “She’s got connections. It’s her social-media platform and she’s energetic. She saw a need and she kicked the wheels into motion,” he said .