COCKEYSVILLE, Md. — Small and medium-sized farms may provide a small beacon of good economic news in an uncertain and volatile economy.
Small regional farmers producing vegetables, greens, herbs, meats and other wares could potentially see this as an opportunity to provide fresh food to a public worried about COVID-19.
Some of those local Delmarva area farmers took part in a March 25 teleconference hosted by Future Harvest CASA.
“Now is our chance to shine, so don’t screw it up,” said Beckie Gurley of Calvert’s Gift Farm in Montgomery County. “Don’t whine because nobody likes a whiny farmer. Let’s go forward because there’s a huge opportunity here.”
“Farms are serving as a source of hope,” said a speaker from One Acre Farm in Dickerson.
Food delivery from local farmers is doing well as people are trying to make fewer trips to the grocery store and cooking meals at home since many restaurants are closed.
Farmers are scrambling to keep up with new safety requirements and guidelines amid worries about exposure and illness. That means new ways of doing business and speakers on the call offered a number of tips and suggestions to improve safety and ease consumer fears.
Farmers were urged to have only one person handle money, sanitize their phones, sanitize delivery vehicles, package food if practical, wash their hands, avoid touching their faces and practice social distancing.
Speakers said there seems to be no evidence that people can catch the virus from the food they eat, although it’s a good idea to wash produce with water.
One speaker said it bothers her that people put their dirty hands into a box of gloves, instead of washing their hands first, so they don’t contaminate the gloves.
“I tell my employees to treat their phone like it’s a third hand. Either clean it or leave it in the car,” said Emma Jagoz of Moon Valley Farm in Woodsboro.
Gurley said they are packaging everything when practical and using tongs to pick up scallions, radishes and other merchandise that isn’t packaged.
For some farmers, restaurant customers have been replaced with home deliveries.
That means farmers may need to adjust what they grow and when they grow it. Jack Gurley likes to grow hot peppers for restaurants, but they aren’t as popular for home sales, he said.
“I may have to grow green peppers, which I hate,” he added.
Future Harvest CASA suggested tips for handling money, including:
• Have one person handle transactions and one person the products. If you’re a one-person show, only accept credit cards, checks or exact cash.
• The person handling transactions should wear gloves and should change their gloves when they touch anything other than the money. Hands should be washed before and after glove use.
• Avoid touching cash and coins at all costs. Encourage your customers to pay using a card or other payment methods. If they pay by card, type the numbers in yourself to avoid touching the card and deactivate the signature feature.
• If customers are paying by check or cash, have a box people can place their money in. Round your prices up to the nearest dollar to avoid coins. Do not handle the contents of the cash box for 24 hours or more.
Farmers are urged to consider creating prepackaged boxes customers can pick up.
With the shift away from market-style setups at CSAs and farmers markets, and the need for farmers to shift toward pre-order and pick-up, farm businesses may need to purchase packaging to meet new safety protocols.
Farmers can read the COVID-19 Safety Protocols For Food Distribution & Purchases, put together by Future Harvest CASA, the Maryland Farmers Market Association, and the Historic Lewes Farmers Market. The full list can be found online at bit.ly/FoodProtocols