As COVID-19 affects supply chains and more people are dealing with food insecurity, some Oklahoma farmers are changing what they produce to meet the need.
“We see long lines at food pantries, miles long some of these drive-thrus, and the farmer, they’re in it is to feed people, and they have a real concern that they don't want to see people go hungry,” Oklahoma Conservation Commission Executive Director Trey Lam said.
Much of what is grown in Oklahoma are generally non-perishable commodity crops like wheat, corn and soybeans that are processed before consumption. During the crop’s offseason, conservation-minded farmers plant a cover crop to hold the soil in place and return nutrients to the ground.
But instead of the ryegrass, sunflowers or oats they would normally plant, they’re growing fruits and vegetables.
“Squash, okra, zucchini, peas, green beans, just lots and lots of different things out there,” farmer Tom Cannon said.
He has been growing what he calls a “chaos crop” with 50 different varieties of fruits, vegetables and pollinators for the past three years.
“It will be hand harvested and people will pay so much to get into the garden if they can,” Cannon said. “They don't have to be around other people it's easy to be social distancing when you're out in a big field.”
Cannon said planting fruits and vegetables improves the quality of soil, and in turn also improves nutrients in the food produced.
“Because we have so many beneficial plants out there, we don't have to spray our gardens for anything.” Cannon said. “We also do not put any commercial fertilizer on it and we don't put any herbicides.”
“We've worked with a lot of food banks food pantries churches they'll send out volunteers,” Lam said. “On my own farm I’ve had student council members come out.”
The state Conservation Commission established a “farm to foodbank” program to help food insecure Oklahomans connect with local farmers.
“It's a great opportunity for people to get reconnected with where their food comes from,” Cannon said.
“It puts good healthy locally grown green vegetables in people's hands,” Lam said. “It puts our farmers in direct connection with the consumers.”