Local and fresh food and community interactions more important during the pandemic

This report highlights the importance of local food, and in particular, local food that is fresh, organic, and of good quality, to people’s health and wellbeing. Although written from within the Australian context, and reporting on a survey regarding the produce of Tasmania, this article also outlines the important role of local farmers' markets in contributing to not only health and wellbeing, but also to sense of community and eventually to post-pandemic recovery.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

This report - produced by Maria B. Yanotti and Laura Ripoll Gonzalez - highlights the importance of local food, and in particular, local food that is fresh, organic, and of good quality, to people’s health and wellbeing. The authors are keen to stress that:

‘Beyond being a selling point for local food and highlighting the cultural and social value and aesthetics of food, farmers’ markets can also help build community connections through periods of crisis.’

Their research found that the availability of local produce was deemed to be extremely or very important for most respondents, with more than half saying this importance had increased because of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost half consuming more locally grown food during the pandemic, and 98% having purchased local produce in the previous 30 days. However, almost half also responded with their perception that such food was only available in expensive restaurants and speciality shops. Which is where the importance of farmers' markets comes in, as these can be excellent ways of bringing together local producers with local consumers in a less formal, seemingly less expensive environment. Yet results from their survey showed that ‘only 16% had bought local produce at a farmers’ market and 17% had eaten food from a farm gate’ in the previous 30 days.

Worryingly, the survey also highlighted some inequalities that appear to be consistent with other research in other places.

‘A quarter of respondents reported experiencing a decline in access to enough food for an active, healthy life since March 2020; particularly low-income households, young people, single parents, and those with a disability. Moreover, 46% of respondents believed food was more expensive because of the pandemic’.

Food is widely recognised to be of cultural significance, and this report also points to other research showing that food can also drive community building:

‘Farmers’ markets bring communities together. The report finds that most participants attend farmers’ markets as a social (or even touristic) weekend activity and not a mere shopping outing. Participants primarily bought food and drinks to be consumed at the market. Participants’ main motivations included: access to fresh and local produce, experience local food, and socialise'.

The report concludes that, while farmers' markets are important in many different ways, some people still perceive them to be unaffordable, and do not interact in them, even though ‘the social distancing regulations imposed by governments due to the COVID-19 health crisis are restricting social interactions within the community, highlighting the importance of community interaction and support’ that markets can bring. The authors therefore stress that:

‘The social, economic, and wellbeing benefits of farmers’ markets need to be inclusive and extend to the entire community. Arguably, those members of the community with lower education and poorer health (often associated with lower income levels) would benefit the most. With the appropriate government policies and support, farmers’ markets could assist in the provision of fresh and highly nutritional food and food education to lower socio-economic sections of urban and regional societies’.

For more on this research, please see this related High Streets Task Force resource