The COVID-19 pandemic, arguably the most defining event of 2020, has exposed the gaps in our nation’s food supply chain. Remember when news reports and social media were showing mountains of fresh produce that were stuck on farms, unable to be transported to grocery stores or processing facilities due to the pandemic?
Many communities across the U.S. are already considered “food deserts”— a geographic area where the residents do not have access to affordable, healthy food options, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables.
During the pandemic, loss of income has made many families rely on local food pantries for their regular groceries, which are typically bereft of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy in favor of not-as-healthy processed and shelf-stable products.
Bare shelves in grocery stores across the country, which were seen after much panic buying at the beginning of the pandemic, are a new sight for the majority of U.S. consumers. The fact is that in America we’ve been spoiled by an abundance of fresh foods available in grocery stores every time we enter the store — a luxury that those in third-world countries would envy.
While most growers raise commodity crops like soy, corn, wheat and cotton, those crops are not typically processed into food products. Instead, the vast majority of corn and soy is fed to animals, which are then processed for meat. The remaining corn and soy is processed into sweeteners and vegetable oils.
The U.S. produces enough corn sweetener each year to supply each American with 60 pounds of it, but only enough lettuce and carrots for each American to receive 5 pounds per year, according to an article in Civil Eats.
I recently read an article about a group of growers in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska who are filling those food supply gaps and relieving food deserts by using cover crops planted amongst wheat and corn.
These cover crops, even if only grown in small acreage plots, may include peas, squash, radish, okra, melons, sweet corn or other edible plants. Plus, these cover crops provide the additional benefits of traditional cover crops, such as building soil organic matter, grazing livestock after edible crops have been harvested, or left as green manure on the field.
These farmers are not just helping feed the world with their crops—they are finding ways to feed those in their local communities as well.
Have you grown any edible crops as a cover crop? I’d love to hear from you.