Nikki Fried, Florida's commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, launched a new website this week to connect consumers to farmers and producers who now have excess crops during the coronavirus pandemic. It's called "Keep Florida Growing."
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"All of our growers across the state are sending us all of the different commodities that they have available, when their expiration dates are, we are putting it into a massive spreadsheet," Fried said.
She explained the new state website, "Keep Florida Growing," on a Zoom video conference meeting for COVID-19 updates on Tuesday afternoon, organized by Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Ben Sorensen.
Sorensen started hosting frequent Zoom calls for residents during the pandemic, recruiting guests to speak to the public from various parts of city, county, state and federal government.
"For an update, kind of her perspective on how things are going statewide," Sorensen told the roughly 47 people who joined Tuesday's call.
WLRN asked our audience what questions you had about the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sarah Wrede of Coral Gables posed this question to Fried:
"How will the state help Florida growers and producers redirect crops that were earmarked for restaurants, schools, theme parks and the cruise industry — and get them into homes instead, so that food isn't wasted?"
On the topic, Fried touted the new web portal as a resource for consumers to take initiative and look for farmers in their area, see what they have, and contact them about how to buy directly from the farm.
She said that on a large scale, it's hard for farms that are used to the current bulk market and aim crops for restaurants to shift gears. It's also hard for schools and food pantries to store and freeze large quantities of fresh food.
"With all of those markets, those bulk markets gone, is what's really caused the problem, because so many of our farmers are specialty crop growers that don't always fit into the food stores," Fried said.
Fried said consumers can also help support local food producers another way:
"It's equally important that when you're going to the grocery stores that you're asking, requesting Florida-grown produce," she said.
Fried said her office is also working with the restaurant industry, encouraging them to still buy food at the same capacity they were prior to the pandemic. Then create markets, or bodegas, of their own.
"So if somebody is going to their local restaraunt and getting their hot meal to go or takeout, the restaurant may have the capacity to also box up you know, a gallon of milk, a pound of blueberries, two pounds of green beans ... and a consumer can actually buy them from the restaurants themselves," she said.
Have you noticed any of your favorite restaurants in South Florida opening up their kitchen to sell local produce, eggs or milk? WLRN wants to hear from you. Tell us which restaurant, what they're selling, where it is and how the prices compare to your local grocery store in an email to email@example.com. A producer may be in touch.