Pandemics and pigs: the political ecology of Iowa’s regional food system under COVID-19

Authors: Cassidy Beamer*, University of Iowa, Callie Ferring*, University of Iowa, Carly Nichols, University of Iowa
Topics: Food Systems, Agricultural Geography, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: COVID-19, food systems, local agriculture, resilience
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowan direct-to-consumer agricultural producers and small and medium sized meat processors have faced an unprecedented set of multi-scalar challenges and opportunities. In particular, COVID-19 outbreaks in large-scale meat processing facilities pushed smaller meat processors to capacity while they also began implementing new safety protocols. Similarly, school closures, suspended farmers markets, and a sidelined restaurant industry altered marketing landscapes for small-scale vegetable and dairy farmers in complex ways. At the same time, anecdotal evidence points to surging demand for local food both as a response to ‘panic buying’ of late March and as a way to support struggling local economies.


This paper reports out on mixed methods research being conducted in Iowa across fall and winter 2020 that examines both the nuanced impacts that COVID-19 is having on local food producers as well as the different ways that producers marshalled resources and relationships to respond to such unprecedented changes. Drawing from a survey of 300 direct-to-consumer producers and processors and 30 in-depth interviews, our analysis uses a critical political ecology lens to pull apart the roles that federal, state, and local policies, local ecologies, and social relations played in enabling or hindering producers and processors’ response strategies. The goal of this approach is to use this unique moment as an opportunity to increase our understanding of the enabling factors and barriers that regional food actors faced in pivoting to respond to system shocks, whether from the pandemic, climate change, or economic crises.

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