5 Ways to Help Small Farms During the Pandemic (You'll Avoid Long Grocery Store Lines, Too)

Support small farms to get better fruit and fresher vegetables, minus the grocery store lines.

The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped every part of the food world. It has changed our pantries, our eating patterns, the restaurant industry, and the small farms that supply restaurants and attend farmers' markets. Small farms are suffering as distribution channels have shrunk and restaurant orders have dwindled.

But these farms, of course, can still sell to everyday cooks—and we're at home cooking now more than ever.

You still have plenty of ways to get farm-fresh produce. Some are old. Some are new. All look a little different these days. Though there may be some variation by state, you can support small farms and procure top-notch ingredients (elevating your cooking) in these five ways.

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Farmers' Markets.

Your local farmer's market remains a top-notch source for diverse produce. Markets across the country have been taking extra steps to ensure safety. This has included measures such as having vendors set up stands far apart, requiring shoppers to put on disposable gloves, and disinfecting scales after produce weighing. Many markets have even done away with a market staple: free samples. At some markets, you'll see bottles of hand sanitizer on vendor tables.

The beauty of the farmers' market is that you can buy from many different farms in one place. You can go in without any firm idea of what you want to buy or cook that night, and walk out with some just-laid eggs, eye-popping purple cabbage, and new dinner plans. Some farms have developed pre-ordering systems that allow for minimal contact, seeing your produce bagged, ready, and prepaid for by the time you arrive.

RELATED: Cleanliness Is So Important Right Now—Here's How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables Properly

Keep up with your local newspaper's food section to track how your local markets have adapted. Additionally, you can email your local market manager or visit market websites or social media for information about new hours and changes.

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Farm Stands.

Instead of having the farm come to you, you can go to the farm. (Hey, you're probably due for some socially distant time outside the house.) Farm stands are onsite stores that offer products grown or made on the farm. Not all farms have them, so call ahead if you aren't sure. There's nothing like being able to see, right there on the tree, plant, or vine, exactly where your food comes from—and walking away with a few fresh bags. Make sure to avoid farm stands with crowds and follow the proper protocol for shopping safely.

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A CSA, or community supported agriculture, is a farm subscription that gets you periodic produce—whatever the farm has in season. CSAs come in various sizes and frequencies. Many are weekly. Some have an option to add other products, like eggs or meat, into your regular box. Traditionally, CSAs have been available for pickup at farmers' markets, farms, and at a select few other destinations depending on the individual CSA. But in the time of coronavirus, many farms have expanded pickup points to restaurants, markets, and other local hubs. Some farms will even deliver your CSA share to your doorstep. To sign up for a CSA, contact a local farm and see if they offer one.

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New Collaborations.

These days, food industry professionals have had to get creative to survive. One result: Some restaurants, butchers, bakers, and other local food artisans have started to carry products from farmers, available to-go. Further, in many states and cities, some restaurants have even stopped cooking food and turned into full-on grocery stores.

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Support Restaurants and Artisans that Source Locally.

Across the country, restaurants have moved to takeaway, delivery, and drive-thru models. You can do two good (and delicious) deeds at once by getting dinner from an eatery that sources from local farms. Your dinner will support both the restaurant and its farm vendors. Additionally, purchasing certain craft products sourced from the nearby land offers a similar double benefit. Whether bread, beer, pasta, hot sauce, pie, or whatever your favorite local products are, buying them now will help keep artisans and farmers in business—and keep you eating well in the weeks ahead.

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