Opinion | Michigan food, agriculture sectors are essential. Let’s keep them safe.

Gary McDowell is director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

The coronavirus pandemic has helped train the spotlight on the inspiring heroism of everyday people. First responders, public safety officers, hospital workers, and so many other professionals have risen to the challenges of this crisis. 

Add to that list the army of people who grow, process and retail our food. Food and agriculture contributes $104.7 billion annually to the economy, and represents 805,000 jobs statewide. Those figures took on real-world significance when, for the first time in anyone’s memory, we all went to our local grocery store last month and encountered empty shelves. 

The circumstance, while shocking, shed light on two important issues. One is that we are more reliant than ever on commercial production of the food we eat. The other is the existence and importance of long-established production, processing and delivery systems. Supply chains, and the thousands of people and businesses that make them work, made the news.

I commend and thank these workers who continue to report for work each day, stocking grocery shelves, processing meat, working in canneries and more, all the while interacting with others and putting themselves and their families at risk to ensure we all have access to food. 

In an executive order this month, Governor Whitmer determined farmers, laborers, food processors, and grocery retailers are “critical infrastructure workers” for good reason. I’m deeply grateful these people have worked nonstop throughout the pandemic to ensure we have access to safe food and household goods, and to ensure the continuity of the state’s food and feed supply." 

Farmers, historically accustomed to navigating seasonal weather challenges and ever-shifting market pressures, are still raising livestock and planting spring crops even as the COVID-19 pandemic moves from the cities to the countryside. Farming doesn’t stop. Grocery stores are continuously working to keep shelves stocked while they standardize practices to protect both us and their employees.

Throughout this crisis, MDARD continues to support these businesses, industries and commodity leaders. Michigan’s food and ag industry is resilient, and I know it will rise to the challenge, but these groups are counting on everyone’s continued support. Whether that’s buying a meal out for Takeout Tuesday or adding Michigan-made products to your weekly shopping list, you are helping to keep our food and ag economy moving.

In the weeks and months ahead, we must ensure our food and agriculture critical infrastructure workers are appropriately equipped with the following: 

  • Personal protective equipment they need to do their jobs safely. 
  • Testing for everyone who handles food. It’s good for them, and it’s good for all of us as well. 
  • Resources for our migrant labor workforce, who play a critical role in getting food from the field to our tables.  

Finally, it’s vital that recovery dollars are directed to the small businesses that employ the bulk of our workforce. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is understandably proud of the quality, diversity, and economic value of our state’s food and agriculture industries. The events of the past couple of months, as awful as it has been for everyone, has hopefully served to recognize Michigan food and agriculture workers in a new light. 

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A Yooper
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 9:24am

Thanks Gary!