Local farmers get back to business, providing affordable produce to eager residents in need of food

SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, Fla. – Growers are getting creative to survive and thrive during COVID-19. As their business distributing to markets like restaurants, hotels and cruise ships evaporated, some are finding new ways to sell directly to consumers. State leaders, just this week, launched a new online portal to get the produce moving.

When we first introduced you to Sam Accursio and Sons Farms at the start of this month, his harvest was being held hostage by a pandemic that disrupted his distribution.

He told us on April 1 that the coronavirus pandemic was having a big impact and he was already feeling the effects. He was left with thousands of pounds of produce of he worried would rot on the vine and that after filling up the food banks

Now, he’s managed to innovate out of crisis, creating a new business model that others are now adopting.

“We are moving over 40,000 pounds of produce right here on the street,” said Accursio.

He found a new market by selling to consumers in communities hungry for affordable and fresh produce.

“Everybody has stepped up and cleaned us out. We are harvesting everything we did not discard and we are selling ever bit of it and they are buying produce for 50 cents a pound.”

Support is growing for local farmers in a time when they desperately need it.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would purchase $3 billion worth of produce, dairy, and meat from local sources. According to the USDA’s release to the media and the establishing of a Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), the department will “take several actions to assist farmers, ranchers, and consumers in response to the COVID-19 national emergency. President Trump directed USDA to craft this $19 billion immediate relief program to provide critical support to our farmers and ranchers, maintain the integrity of our food supply chain, and ensure every American continues to receive and have access to the food they need.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez spoke at Sam Accursio and Sons Farmsearly Saturday morning, saying what we’re seeing locally could become a national model.

Gimenez reminded that the county’s agricultural sector took a major hit, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit just as the growing season hit its peak.

That being the case, Gimenez announced he was allocating funds to assist the local farmers, as well as residents who are in need of food and have been trying to pick up from distribution sites.

“Miami-Dade County is helping get food from farm to the table by allocating close to $900,000 in funding,” Gimenez said. “This will help local food distribution organizations, such as Farm Share, to buy and distribute produce throughout Miami-Dade to those in need.”

Several area growers joined the mayor for the announcement in Homestead.

Just last week, Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried launched the Keep Florida Growing webpage.

“What we are seeing is what I am calling a ‘consumer conscious awakening’,” said Fried. She is asking that grocery story chains like Publix and Whole Foods to buy from Florida growers first and asking consumers to walk into their supermarkets and ask for Florida produce.

Keep Florida Growing is a scaled up version of Accursio’s farm to consumer model.

Consumers, commercial buyers and food banks can find farmers near them and buy direct.

“We have seen such an outpouring from the community he have decided we are going to continue this,” Accursio said.

The silver lining to the pandemic could be that Florida moves toward the more local “farm to table” way of buying/consuming produce like we have seen develop in other states like Oregon and California.

For Accursio, the community response has been so great he is looking to do it again when he has his next harvest season in October. He is certainly hoping the immediate farm to table necessity that grew from disrupted supply chains and evaporating markets sticks. He is even thinking of opening up a local market.

For Agriculture Producers: The Keep Florida Growing page features the Florida Farm To You commodities list, where agriculture producers can have listed their farm-fresh products to be found by buyers, food banks, and consumers. The page also features information on economic assistance, such as SBA loans, USDA assistance, and state emergency bridge loans, as well as state purchasing programs for agricultural commodities, and the latest actions Commissioner Fried and FDACS are taking to support farmers, including emergency orders.

For Consumers: Florida’s consumers will find convenient access to food-related information, including a U-pick farm locator where farm-fresh produce can be found, reducing transportation costs for agriculture producers. Consumers can also find information on the Department’s food assistance programs, including Summer BreakSpot meals for children under 18 during school closures, and Emergency Food Assistance Program locations for low-income families.

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