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Opinion: Recent meat shortage another reason to buy local

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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted supply chains for all kinds of consumer goods.

The first signs of trouble appeared in the form of empty shelving where toilet paper formerly sat. Soon to follow were paper towels, bleach and all manner of cleaning supplies. A few stores ran short on milk and dairy products for a few days.

In recent weeks, some Americans began to encounter bare shelves in their grocery store’s protein aisle. While there is no shortage whatsoever of pigs, cattle or poultry at American farms, COVID-19 affected workers at several processing plants. These processors' slowdowns and temporary closures created a bottleneck in the supply chain. This bottleneck already has eased considerably as processors installed new safety measures, but many families have been exploring other options to get the meat they want and need.

The past few years have seen a boom in local farmers selling products directly to consumers. The local food movement has driven dramatic increases in farmers markets, community-supported agriculture operations and agritourism. Unfortunately, many farmers do not have the kind of advertising budget necessary to reach local consumers. This leaves some families unaware of the options in their own backyard.

With consumers clamoring for local protein options, the Missouri Farm Bureau created the Missouri Meat Producer Directory, available at MOFB.org. This database is a statewide, county-by-county listing of farmers who sell beef, pork, lamb and poultry directly to consumers.

The no-frills directory allows farmers or local outlets to share their phone numbers, email addresses, websites and Facebook pages, as well as a brief description of their products. The list also includes meat processors from across the state. Many processors have fresh and frozen meat cases and offer processing services to farmers and consumers.

The initial list was based on information provided by the Missouri Farm Bureau’s regional field staff. When producers found out about the directory, though, the requests to be added to the list came pouring in. Today the searchable directory lists more than 500 local producers.

Consumers and adventurers also can find local food at the Missouri Agritourism Directory at MOFB.org. This list is a similar database of over 550 agritourism venues across the state. It contains a huge variety of experiences, from U-Pick berries and orchards to wineries and on-farm bed and breakfast destinations.

Now is a perfect time to develop a relationship with local food providers. Hopefully we will not see further supply chain disruptions, but it is always best to be prepared. Knowing your local farmer and buying direct is a smart way to keep your family healthy and well fed.

Eric Bohl is director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau in Columbia. He can be reached at publicaffairs@mofb.com.

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