Adaptation and sustainability: Lessons from Central Coast organic farmers during the pandemic
The challenges faced by organic vegetable farmers in California during the COVID-19 pandemic included uncertainty about food safety rules and best practices, availability of workers, and significant changes to their markets. When the pandemic began, we built on an ongoing interdisciplinary research project with organic vegetable farmers on the California Central Coast to track how those growers adapted to the crisis. We conducted surveys in April 2020 and January 2021 to determine impacts on farmers and how farm size, market channels, and management strategies influenced a farm's ability to adapt to and recover from pandemic-induced disruptions. We found that mid-sized farmers with flexible and diverse marketing channels could navigate changes from the pandemic with minimal losses and, in some cases, economic gains. By contrast, smaller farmers with limited resources, especially those with disadvantaged backgrounds and limited access to technology, experienced more drastic impacts, including lost markets, labor shortages, and increased childcare needs. The lessons learned can inform a transition toward more sustainable, resilient agroecological systems.