Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Farmers destroy staggering amounts of food even as food lines grow

A farmer in white shirt stands in a corn field. Photo by @olderwise1 via Twenty20

The striking dichotomy of America’s current food supply: rivers of milk flowing to waste, livestock and produce being destroyed in alarming numbers, at the same time thousands   of people are joining food lines.

The world’s richest nation grows more food than its citizens can consume, but now struggles to get all that food through the vital supply lines leading to their tables.  

Instead, the unprocessed food is being dumped, smashed, depopulated or “humanely euthanized” in quantities not seen since the Great Depression

The Covid-19 pandemic has sent the country spiraling down to a new normal. Many states are under stay-at-home orders and most businesses are on lockdown. The resulting mass unemployment and growing food insecurity, highlight the dependence on a fragile, if efficient, food supply system. 

This supply chain was designed largely using the precise just-in-time management system, which focuses on moving supplies only as needed, with minimal storage and reduced costs as its benefits. 

But the pandemic has exposed flaws in this system. It is no longer working smoothly.

“The food supply chain is breaking,” Tyson Foods chairman, John Tyson, said in a recent blog post regarding the operational challenges large food providers were having. 

Staff shortages from sickened workers have compounded the initial problem of the sudden drop in commercial demand for fresh vegetables, meat and dairy from large farms. 

Restaurants, hotels and schools were some of their biggest customers, and with their closing, there were no quick pivots to process massive amounts of food into smaller, consumer-ready packaging.

These mega farms are operating at a loss, as they are forced to continue destroying livestock and crops they cannot sell. 

Many grocers scramble to keep their store shelves stocked to meet increased demand from shoppers stuck at home.  And many newly jobless Americans are lining up, often for hours at a time, at food banks.

This unforeseen food waste catastrophe could have possibly been mitigated with a more decentralized food supply system.  A vast local network of farms, scattered across the country, could better handle individual crises than the limited group of farming monopolies that now exist.

Over the last 30 years, more and more farms and meat processing plants were consolidated. Currently, about 50 factories process more than 95 percent of the nation’s beef supply. 

The raw milk industry is dominated by several large companies, who distribute their supply on a regimented distribution system that cracked under speed and scope of the pandemic. 

The glaring contrast of food waste and want has caught the nation’s attention. 

In response, President Donald Trump recently announced a  $19 billion relief package to shore up farmers and purchase their excess products.  

Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, said President Trump and the US Department of Agriculture were “standing with farmers, ranchers, and all citizens to make sure they were taken care of.” 

Up to $3 billion of the relief package was allotted to purchase fruits, vegetables, dairy and meats to be distributed to food banks and other community organizations nationwide.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, speaking at a press conference, also addressed the disconnect between food on farms that were not getting to the people who needed help most.

“This is just a total waste to me,” Cuomo said. “We have people downstate who need food and farmers upstate who can’t sell their product.”

The governor’s solution is to create a $25 million Nourish New York initiative where food banks throughout the state purchase food from upstate farmers and redistribute it to locations with need.

In East Elmhurst, Queens, one of the New York neighborhoods hardest hit by the pandemic, the first van loads of produce arrived on Friday, producing much needed relief to those waiting in line.

Speaking to Eyewitness News at the food distribution site, State Senator Jessica Ramos said many of her constituents were immigrants and “they are running out of cash, they don’t have money for rent, they don’t have money for food.”

The distributions will continue every Friday and Saturday at 11 a.m. as long as needed.

Meanwhile, some farms and related co-ops are donating food directly to food banks to help stem the amount of food being discarded.

The Dairy Farmers of America co-op has sent over a quarter million gallons of milk that would have otherwise been dumped to food banks.

“It’s just a drop in the bucket,” one senior executive, Jackie Klippenstein, said in a recent New York Times article regarding the donation. “But we had to do something.”








Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Life returns to the East Village

Quincy Walter May 5, 2021

Reopening for Ramadan

Hassan Abbas May 4, 2021

And the band played on

Xavier Bartaburu May 2, 2021

Queens residents mourn at Covid vigil

Annie Burky May 2, 2021

Floating for Free: COVID and the Staten Island Ferry

Trish Rooney May 2, 2021

COVID-19 has left many Black and Hispanic landlords in serious debt

Norah Hogan April 24, 2021

Village East movie theater reopens to the public

Inga Parkel April 13, 2021

Chinese adoptions halted by COVID

Inga Parkel March 24, 2021

Remote is the new workplace normal

Courtney Guarino March 24, 2021

One year of COVID-19 in New York City

Michelle Diaz March 16, 2021

COVID long haulers deal with lingering symptoms and doubt

Kaity Assaf March 5, 2021

Pandemic Weddings

Chuyan Jiang March 2, 2021

Pandemic fatigue 101

Chuyan Jiang February 28, 2021

Yankee Stadium becomes COVID-19 vaccine site for Bronx residents only

Michelle Diaz February 24, 2021

The queer community rallies behind their sacred spaces closed because of COVID-19

Inga Parkel February 23, 2021

Street vendors struggle as New Yorkers and tourists stay home

Norah Hogan February 13, 2021

Keeping the faith in COVID-19

Courtney Guarino February 3, 2021

Little Italy’s restaurants need indoor dining to survive pandemic

Michelle Diaz February 2, 2021

Stray pets find homes and love during pandemic

Inga Parkel February 1, 2021

No Actors, But the Show Goes On

James Pothen December 5, 2020

New York City, a place of refuge 

Edith Rousselot December 4, 2020

Commuting in a pandemic world

Michelle Diaz December 3, 2020

Battling food insecurities during a pandemic

Courtney Guarino December 3, 2020


Justin McGown December 3, 2020

Honk!: Cars earn a special spot in 2020

Luana Harumi December 3, 2020

Working out looks very different during a pandemic

Chuyan Jiang December 2, 2020

One kitchen’s transformation in the age of isolation

Isabel Beer December 2, 2020

Nursing homes are filled with sadness and loss during pandemic shut down

Inga Parkel December 1, 2020

The show goes on

Norah Hogan December 1, 2020

Loyal members help keep independent cinemas afloat

Courtney Guarino December 1, 2020

Musicians deal with the reality of no live shows as covid takes center stage

Paola Michelle Ortiz December 1, 2020

 Black Friday’s Aftermath

Sughnen Yongo November 30, 2020

The Spirit of Little Haiti

Savannah Daniels October 14, 2020

Small business owners hope for future relief

Courtney Guarino October 2, 2020

Brooklyn Book Festival held virtually

Chuyan Jiang September 28, 2020

NYC Restaurant owners worry about maintaining business during winter 

Isabel Beer September 27, 2020

The pandemic is causing mental health struggles for many Latinos

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 24, 2020

Politically divided family can agree on one thing, rallies are bad during a pandemic

Michelle Diaz September 23, 2020

New Yorkers are vulnerable to mental issues due to pandemic

Sughnen Yongo September 23, 2020

Healthcare professionals struggle with Trump’s decisions during pandemic

Tori Luecking September 23, 2020

Some Americans Say “Not So Fast” on Operation Warp Speed

James Pothen September 23, 2020

Trump voters unfazed by morality of Trump’s Covid response

Norah Hogan September 22, 2020

Trump rallies continue, despite the rising Covid-19 death toll

Isabel Beer September 22, 2020

Latinos weigh in on President Trump’s management of the pandemic

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 21, 2020

Fast track vaccine causes fear

Kaity Assaf September 21, 2020

It’s business as usual at McSorley’s Old Ale House

Tori Luecking September 20, 2020

Trump defiance to hold indoor rallies amidst COVID-19 sparks polarized responses 

Courtney Guarino September 20, 2020

NYC Cafes and restaurants try and survive the pandemic

Isabel Beer September 19, 2020

A typical afternoon at Shade Bar NYC

Kaity Assaf September 19, 2020

West Village staple, Caffe Reggio, remains open for outdoor dining in the wake of coronavirus restrictions 

Norah Hogan September 19, 2020