If you're planning on going to your farmers' market this weekend, be aware that markets will still be under state mandates that require mask-wearing and social distancing, despite the new guidelines issued yesterday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We have confirmation today from Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) that markets and other businesses should not be making changes before getting new guidance from Oregon Health Authority [OHA]," according to Rebecca Landis, market director of the Corvallis-Albany Farmers' Markets.
Governor Brown announced in a press conference that updated guidance will comefrom Oregon HealthA in the next few days for businesses, employers, and others to allow the option of lifting mask and physical distancing requirements after verifying vaccination status. "Some businesses may prefer to simply continue operating under the current guidance for now, rather than worrying about verifying vaccination status," she said.
For the time being, that includes Oregon's farmers' markets.
UPDATE 5/19/2021: Portland Farmers Market announced on its Facebook page today that it will continue to require masks at the market.
"On May 18, OHA released updated guidance about mask and physical distancing requirements for individuals fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“'In public settings where vaccination status is not checked, masks will still be required.'
"Thank you in advance for continuing to wear a mask at the farmers market, as our staff will not be verifying vaccination status. Read Portland Farmers Market’s full COVID safety guidelines. Your efforts to make this space safer for everyone are appreciated!"
UPDATE 5/22/2021: Oregon farmers' markets are allowed to require vendors, shoppers and staff to wear face masks, according to the latest guidance from OHA:
"Businesses, organizations, employers or other entities in control of indoor or outdoor public spaces may continue to require masks, face coverings and face shields. Individuals should be aware that some businesses, organizations, entities, events or facilities may require more stringent mask or face covering requirements and may exclude from their premises those individuals who, regardless of their vaccination status, fail to comply with those requirements."
I'm not normally a person who lives in the past, sifting through decisions or the lack thereof, weighed down with regrets (not that I don't have some, mind you). I tend to move forward instead, looking at tomorrow with anticipation of what it might bring. So it was with some trepidation that I decided to look at the major stories I posted in 2020, a year, as so many have already said, unlike any other in living memory.
First up, on January 13, was a big moment in the 14 years I've been writing Good Stuff NW, and that was a top-to-bottom redesign of this blog, originally begun as an exercise in a new marketing medium that turned into a whole new career as a journalist.
But now to the proudest moments of the last year:
Your Food, Your Legislature
I'm extremely proud of this annual series of reports that follows Oregon's yearly legislative sessions at the Capitol in Salem, focusing on the bills that affect our food system. They give a comprehensive look at legislative process, from the inception of bills, through the committee processes that can amend, kill or pass them on to be voted on in the House and Senate chambers. These reports give you the chance to express your opinions to legislators, which I sincerely hope you do. Look for the new series to start in January on the 2021 session.
I have been publishing contributor Anthony Boutard's missives from Ayers Creek Farm since 2007, almost exactly a year after first starting this effort. Anthony and his wife, Carol, have been instrumental in teaching me what conscientious, thoughtful, respectful farming looks like, and what it means to steward a piece of ground. His always-stunning prose, as well as his and Carol's friendship, has shaped this blog in ways beyond counting, and I encourage you to read back through them both here on the new site and in the archive. You won't be sorry.
Farmers' Markets Take on the Pandemic
When COVID-19 hit in March, there was no guarantee that our up-to-that-time robust local food system would survive. With the governor instituting a lockdown that month and with a great deal of uncertainty about how the virus was spread or how long it would last, restaurants closed down and grocery stores were being inundated with shoppers "stocking up" (i.e. panic buying) dried beans, canned goods and paper products. The future of farmers' markets was uncertain, but working with state officials and pivoting on a dime as regulations changed, our open-air markets have thrived and provided a lifeline to our small farmers. I'm proud my series of reports on this topic has kept the community informed.
This story originated when I was talking with my neighbor about her extensive vegetable garden. She mentioned that she'd just found out that the gorgeous organic compost she bought from a supposedly reputable local company was contaminated with pesticides. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) became involved, and a lawsuit seeking compensation is in process. It's a story you can be sure I'll be following as it develops.
The intense wildfires that raged through Oregon this past summer and early fall had a devastating effect on our rural food system. Many of our farmers and ranchers lost homes, livestock and fields of crops ready for market, some barely making it out with their lives. Many had to move themselves and their animals multiple times to stay ahead of the unpredictable flames. This on top of a punishing pandemic that has no end in sight. Really, 2020?
Dungeness Crab: MIA
I love our local shellfish and the family-owned businesses that comprise the bulk of Oregon's coastal fishing industry. This story explains the too-opaque, behind-the-scenes machinations by powerful players stifling progress in the name of profit and hurting our food system. (Not to mention our holiday dinner plans.)
This week it was Steve Jones's Cheese Bar. Before that it was Andy Ricker's Pok Pok empire. The Portland restaurant industry website Portland Food and Drink shows more than 80 restaurants, pubs and related establishments have closed since the pandemic struck in March of this year.
Due to spiking positive cases of COVID-19, on Friday Governor Kate Brown declared a two-week statewide "freeze" on top of the "pause" she announced just the week before. She warned that Multnomah County was one of five that might have to brace themselves for at least a four-week shutdown, possibly stretching into mid-December, if not longer.
The news of this latest shutdown hit Oregon's restaurant and hospitality industry hard. On Sunday, the Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon (IRAO), formed in response to the pandemic to assist restaurants in responding to the crisis, issued a letter to Governor Brown and policy makers requesting that they convene a special session of the legislature to address the issues faced by Oregon's small businesses.
Noting that nearly nine percent of Oregon's workforce is employed by the industry, the letter, signed by more than 300 members, said that restaurants and bars aren't like hardware stores. "We can’t just flip a switch and walk away," the letter states.
"When restaurants close, the entire supply chain is disrupted, from root to roofline," the letter continues. "Sixty five percent of the revenue from independently owned restaurants and bars recirculates in the local economy. In addition to the nearly 200,000 Oregonians who are employed by restaurants and bars, our closure directly impacts bakers, fishers, butchers and Oregon’s 34,000 small farms."
While acknowledging the seriousness of the pandemic and the need to take swift action to keep communities safe, the IRAO letter reminds policy makers that government needs to take responsibility for the economic damage these mandates have inflicted on the state's small businesses.
"We've made $2,000 this entire year," said Emily Anderson of tiny P's and Q's Market in Portland's Woodlawn neighborhood. "A government mandate should come with government support. Something's got to give."
My name is (your name). I am a resident in your district. Due to coronavirus, many restaurants in my neighborhood won’t survive the winter. As you may know, most restaurants don’t actually make money on food, but on alcoholic drinks. If these businesses do not survive, the heart of my neighborhood will be ripped out.
I’m writing to ask that you take immediate action to help restaurants and bars survive, such as an extension of the commercial eviction moratorium and the ability to sell cocktails to go. With emergency requirements that both reduce occupancy and hours of operation during the pandemic, having another method of generating revenue would provide businesses a lifeline for survival. As they face the long-term structural challenges that COVID-19 has imposed on business, which was designed to be a gathering space, they are desperate for sustainable tools to help navigate the new normal.
Restaurants and bars account for nine percent of all employment in Oregon. And nearly 65 percent of the revenue from these businesses recirculates into the local economy keeping vendors, landlords and employees afloat. This small change to Oregon statute will help us keep businesses open and bring people back to work.
This is an URGENT REQUEST. Without your help now there’s a very good chance places of business in my neighborhood will be permanently closed by the next time the legislature convenes.
"We are lucky to live in a state with relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases, however, the recent increase in cases has shown us how easily that could change if we do not remain vigilant." Ginger Rapport
Oregon's farmers' markets are open and, as always at this time of year, over-flowing with strawberries, blueberries, cherries, summer squash, beans and all the incredible produce typical of early summer in the Pacific Northwest. What's not typical are the behind-the-scenes gymnastics that have been required to keep the markets open as Oregon officials and farmers' market representatives wrestled with establishing guidelines to keep both vendors and shoppers safe.
Local farms and ranches were hit hard by the closure of restaurants that bought in large volume and prominently featured locally produced meats, seasonal produce and grains on their menus. Many quickly pivoted to offering CSA subscriptions, online sales and home delivery to make up for some of the lost revenue. But the closure of the state's more than 120 farmers' markets would have been the death knell for many farms and ranches, not to mention a potentially crippling loss of revenue for communities, since farmers' markets return more than three times as much of their revenue to the local economy than do chain (grocery) competitors.
State guidelines for farmers' markets require vendors and staff to wear masks and practice safe distancing, as well as limiting the number of customers onsite and designating "social distancing officers" to enforce social distancing policies. The guidelines also require making aisles wider and spacing market booths six to 10 feet apart.
"I need to place vendors, particularly large farms, in a spot where I can give them enough space for a line that is safely spaced for customers," Molloy said, adding that, for the most part, vendors have been helpful and cooperative.
"Social distancing remains our biggest challenge," said Ginger Rapport, market master of the Beaverton Farmers Market. "Managing the lines that form with customers standing six feet apart, and managing the flow of traffic is something that requires our constant attention."
The need to maintain distance between booths and allow customers room to social distance while shopping has decreased the number of spaces available at markets, most of which operate within a limited footprint. This means that many markets have seen a decrease in stall fees—being forced to pare down to "essential" vendors, or having some at-risk vendors choosing to skip this season—which has created challenges for markets in terms of generating income for paying staff and overhead, according to the Oregon Farmers Market Association's Melissa Matthewson.
As one of the largest markets in the metro area, Rapport said that her market has had to reduce the number of usable spaces for vendors by about a third, a significant number in a market of that size.
"This means a loss in income to the market which, as a 501(c)(4) [nonprofit that promotes social welfare], doesn't operate on large margins," Rappot explained. "It's a balancing act to reduce expenses while trying to be understanding of vendors needs at such a difficult time."
"The market is one of the few outlets for income for many of our small businesses and farms whose wholesale outlets (i.e. restaurants) have dried up, or whose fairs and festivals have been cancelled," she said. "For many we are the only game in town. There's a lot of pressure to keep the market functioning while trying not to completely drain our reserves."
In the pandemic's early days back in March, it wasn't at all certain that markets would be allowed to stay open at all. Strong advocacy on the part of the OFMA and the state's farmers, along with a willingness to collaborate with state regulators and remain flexible as policies shifted, turned the tide in favor of keeping markets open.
As for the rest of this season, Hillsdale's Molloy is cautiously optimistic.
"We are playing it week to week. We know how to run a pre-order market and are ready to turn it on if we have to do that," he said. "As long as customers comply with our mask rule and we work at keeping safe physical distancing, we will be running the way we are now."
The OFMA's Matthewson said the public will play a big part in helping markets survive. "The best way that customers can support these markets is to continue to shop there if they are able, and also to consider donating to the market as an investment in their long term viability," she said.
Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been common at food processing and meatpacking plants across the country, sickening and killing emplyees working shoulder-to-shoulder in enclosed buildings, often without the personal protective equipment (PPE) or proper air circulation needed to keep them safe and prevent the spread of the disease.
In the latest outbreak here in Oregon, the Oregon Health Authority reported on Tuesday (7/7) that 22 people were sickened at the Columbia River Processing plant that produces cheese and dairy products for the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA). The report said that number may include household members and other close contacts to employees. An outbreak is defined by two or more cases linked to a common place.
The OHA's Joell Archibald said the agency was notified of the first positive test from an employee at the Tillamook plant on June 16th, almost three weeks ago, and began working with county and municipal public health staff in the area. She said that prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the names of employers would not normally have been released, but that under pressure from media and the public, state leaders decided on publicly releasing the names of companies where 5 or more cases were linked to a single employer; when the case count (including contacts) reaches 20, the company's name goes on a list in the OHA daily report.
OHA public information officer Timothy Heider said that an employer is notified by the employee when the employee receives a positive test result for the virus. Heider said that when the Oregon Department of Agriculture visited the plant on June 17, it was determined that there was adequate PPE and at that point "the company implemented containment control measures such as physical distancing and face coverings for employees." He also said that no deaths from the outbreak at the plant have been reported as of July 9th.
According to the procedures agreed on by state leaders, though, neither the employee's co-workers nor the community at large were informed until the 5-case threshold was met and the employer's name was released publicly. In short, this means that those workers and their contacts could be circulating in the community—shopping at the same stores and touching the same door handles, for instance—for days until the threshold is met.
Stand Up to Factory Farms, a coalition of local, state and national organizations concerned about the harmful impacts of mega-dairies—Tillamook is dependent on giant factory farm dairies for its milk supply—issued a statement today that said this outbreak “underscores the vulnerability of the factory farm system and the workers in it. As cases continue to increase, it's unconscionable that Oregon is moving forward with permitting a new mega-dairy, Easterday Farms, that will exacerbate the extreme consolidation putting workers at risk. Oregon needs a mega-dairy moratorium and meaningful protections for food and farm workers now.”
For Tillamook's part, CEO Patrick Criteser issued a statement on the company's website assuring investors and the public that the pandemic has not disrupted their manufacturing operations or supply chain. In a statement the company said that three of the employees have already recovered and been cleared to return to work, while the rest are recovering at home, according to an article in the East Oregonian. "Those who are recovering at home or are quarantining after being identified as a close contact are receiving full pay and benefits," the company said.
The health authority's latest statewide weekly reportshowed that from June 29 to July 5, COVID 19 continued to surge with 1,910 new cases, an increase of 51 percent over the previous week.
The Morrow County Health District, Pioneer Memorial Hospital, the Morrow County Health Department, Morrow County Emergency Management and the Morrow County Sheriff's office—all public entities involved in responding to the outbreak—were contacted with questions about what procedures were followed at the Columbia River Processing plant when the county learned about the outbreak. They referred all questions to the Oregon Health Authority, which is quoted above.
I'm gonna lay it all out on the line here. I am not a happy camper when I cannot see my friends, as the kids say, "IRL"—in real life; to hear their stories, watch their faces erupt into guffaws, or catch the tiny nuances at the corners of their mouths or the glint in their eyes (talking to you, Anthony Boutard).
Facetime or Zoom meet-ups are not the same as those face-to-face, real-time moments. I get that it's necessary if your family or friends live across the country and electronic connections are better than once-a-year, holiday trips. But a pandemic's a pandemic, especially when cases are spiking, and no one wants to get sick or make their loved ones or communities sick, much less kill them.
So how do you socialize in person and still keep yourself and others safe?
Some recommendations are obvious: Stay outside.Wear masks. Keep at least six feet between each other. Or, as Melissa Clark said in a recent New York Times article on entertaining in a pandemic, "the only way to bring people together is to figure out how to keep them apart."
While admitting that there's no way to host a gathering that is 100 percent safe, Clark said it is possible to reduce risks. I agree with her advice to use the comfort threshold of the most anxious person in the group as your guide, since the point is to spend quality time together, not give someone PTSD.
This takes communication with your guests, both in the planning and setting of expectations for the gathering.Clark goes so far as to discuss appropriate bathroom protocols with her guests, but we've chosen to solve that problem by limiting the length of time spent at the handful of happy hours we've had with good friends and family. We have yet to break the dinner barrier, but will be doing that this weekend, again with lots of planning and discussion of comfort levels.
My best advice is to keep it simple. Dave has mastered the art of making cocktails while wearing a mask and gloves, and I've managed to cobble together our meager collection of trays so each party has their own individual appetizer serving. Dips and salsas are easy to spoon into cups or bowls, cheeses can be divided into individual wedges and crackers or chips can be parceled to avoid the problem of reaching into a common serving bowl.
Wine is easy, since one person can be the designated "pourer" so multiple people aren't handling bottles. Paper napkins and sanitzer have become a part of the tablescape, with bleach wipes available as well.
Below is an easy white bean spread that makes enough to be divided, and has been a hit at a couple of our cocktail hours. I'm just happy to be seeing friends again!
And if you've got some bang-up suggestions for entertaining in a pandemic, e-mail me your ideas and what you've learned. I'd love to do a follow-up post!
Tuscan-style White Bean Spread with Capers
1 15-oz. can cannelini beans, drained (or use 2 c. cooked white beans) 1 medium clove garlic 1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste 1 tsp. dried thyme 1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice 3 Tbsp. olive oil 1 Tbsp. capers (or more if you adore them like I do) 1-2 Tbsp. parsley, minced (optional)
Put beans, garlic, salt, thyme, lemon juice and olive oil in food processor and process until smooth. Using a spatula, scoop bean purée into medium-sized bowl and add capers and parsley. Stir to combine and adjust salt. Serve with bread, pita or crackers.
We've all read about the outbreaks of coronavirus in meatpacking plants across the country, but other workers in our food system have also been impacted by the spread of the virus due to lack of protective equipment,crowded working conditions and exposure to toxic chemicals that make them more susceptible to the virus. The Hillsdale Farmers' Market's assistant manager Azul Tellez Wright wrote about these issues in its newsletter.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many of the inequalities that people of color face in the U.S.
Nationwide, people of color (POC) are more likely to fall ill with COVID-19, an upsetting truth that is reflected here in Multnomah County. A study conducted by the Multnomah County Health Department in April showed that 40 percent of coronavirus cases in Multnomah County were POC even though they only comprise a third of the population. POC are more likely to hold essential worker positions, such as the thousands of agricultural workers whose jobs have not stopped as the pandemic has descended.
On top of that, many employers aren’t putting sanitation and distance requirements in place and aren’t providing their employees with personal protective equipment. Many migrant workers live in close quarters, making quarantining impossible. Federal guidelines for farmworker labor camps allow four people in a 10 feet-by-20 feet space, which is roughly the size of a garden shed. [A petition from the nonprofit Oregon Law Center is proposing stricter regulations to protect farmworkers, including changes to transportation, work and living areas to allow workers more space and ensure proper hygiene, according to the Oregonian.]
Despite paying taxes and being considered essential workers, immigrants cannot access the public benefits that many Americans have come to rely on the past few months. Immigrant and undocumented workers were also excluded from the stimulus checks that came as a reprieve for most Americans in March. In the event that they do get sick, many farmworkers are also not eligible for state or employer healthcare.
Clearly, the inequities that farmworkers face are made far worse by COVID-19. There are a number of local organizations that are listening to Oregon’s farmworkers and working with local and state agencies to provide protections against the COVID-19 outbreak. Causa is an immigrant rights organization that works to improve the lives of Latino immigrants and their families through advocacy, coalition building, leadership development, and civic engagement. Consider donating to Causa’s Worker Relief Fund which collects money to go directly to farmworkers families who were excluded from the federal stimulus package.
Woodburn-based PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, or Northwest Farmworkers and Treeplanters United) is the largest Latino union in Oregon. They are raising money for their farmworkers emergency fund to support former and current undocumented workers affected by COVID, which includes farmworkers. The Oregon Latino Health Coalition is another organization that has been working with local and state public health agencies to increase protections for farmworkers. [Another organization working to improve conditions for farmworkers is Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a farmworker justice organization currently striking against dangerous working conditions and lack of protective equipment at fruit companies in Washington State.]
"Milwaukie had its second market of the season on Sunday," wrote Milwaukie Farmers' Market market manager Brendan Eiswerth about the normally packed Mother's Day market. "I was having nightmares about there being too many customers, the opposite of the nightmares I had for the past 21 years about no one showing up."
That was the signal worry on most farmers' market managers' minds in this era of COVID-19: how to keep shoppers and vendors safe while supporting small family farmers and producers.
Most markets in Oregon have made adaptations to follow statewide guidelines from Governor Kate Brown's Executive Order that designated farmers' markets as essential services. The Oregon Farmers' Market Association developed its own resource list to guide farmers' markets in adjusting their operations to minimize risk to the public of transmission of COVID-19.
A previous post outlined how local markets were innovating to provide food and support local farms during the pandemic, including experimenting with setting up systems for pre-ordering from vendors online and then picking up on market day. Others tried switching to a drive-through model where shoppers could pull up to a vendor's stall, choose items and then have the vendor place them in the shopper's car.
Ginger Rapport, manager of the Beaverton Farmers Market, said that the drive-through model, implemented during the smaller winter market, got them through the early months of the pandemic, though she knew it wasn't sustainable in the busier spring and summer months.
"At the beginning of the pandemic when people were not sure how to deal with the whole situation, the drive thru provided some customers a measure of comfort that allowed them to continue shopping with us," she said.
Markets were also observing distancing requirements, placing booths from six to 10 feet apart, with one person at each stall assigned to reinforce social distancing. Other measures included encouraging shoppers to come alone, if possible, and to make a shopping list in advance of their trip in order to limit the time spent at the market. Most had already canceled classes, activities and music performances, and were asking people to refrain from extended interactions with other shoppers to shorten the time spent at the market.
Hillsdale Farmers' Market initially piloted online pre-ordering with drive-through pick-up where shoppers simply had to pull up to the vendor's booth and their purchases could be loaded into the car. Initially there was some resistance. "I definitely received complaints from vendors and customers," said manager Eamon Molloy. "But it worked pretty well. We had well over 300 households move through the market between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on May 3rd."
But by mid-May a construction project next to the market site and the increasing number of shoppers necessitated pivoting to another model. Molloy tried curbside pick-up, but site constraints made it too hard to implement. "It is unfortunate, too, because we still had over 150 households who wanted to just pick up and keep safe distance by being in their cars," he said.
Molloy is now sketching out plans for a restricted-access pedestrian market (above left), only allowing 65 shoppers at a time into the market site with a suggested time limit per trip of 20 minutes. For the safety of shoppers and vendors, masks will be required for everyone onsite, with handwashing at designated stations strongly suggested before entering and after leaving the market.
The Hollywood Farmers Market, a neighborhood institution since 1997, operates year-round and has had an open, accessible site with six main points of entry, an unmanageable situation when it comes to limiting access.
"Our market-day crowds had generally been well below capacity," wrote market coordinator Ari Rosner. "But we knew that the nice weather, strawberry availability and the Mother's Day holiday would mean bigger crowds."
Liberal use of caution tape stretched around the perimeter reduced those six entrances to just two, which were staffed with volunteers tasked with monitoring the number of shoppers in the market at any one time and keeping those waiting properly distanced. "At the peak of the market, we had probably 60 shoppers waiting in line between the two entrances," said Rosner. "But talking to shoppers at the front of the line, it seemed like no one had to wait more than about 10 minutes to get into the market."
Asked how the pandemic has affected her market, which was established in 1988 as a gathering place for the community, Rapport said that COVID-19 has upended the way that she runs the market. "I have managed this market for 25 years and in each and every year before this, my focus was on maximizing the real estate available to me," she said. "Social distancing has redefined how we operate. It [has been] stressful to reinvent the wheel every week but, like everyone else, we are in survival mode.
Having to give up the social component of the market experience breaks her heart, Rapport said, but providing vendors and customers with a safe shopping experience while keeping the market going for its small businesses and farms has to be the priority now.
Like most of the market managers I spoke with, Rapport said she tries to keep her eyes on the prize as she navigates the obstacles presented by the pandemic. In her words: "To give our customers the opportunity to shop for farm fresh products and artisan foods with the promise that we will be here for them when they are once again able to join their family and friends for a long, leisurely day enjoying the market and one another’s company."
Last night about 9 pm my phone alerted me that I'd received a text. I went over and checked it. It read:
"It's Jared with your meat delivery. It's been a loooong day but finally toward you with two quick stops. Prob by 9:30. That pushing too late?"
My boxed order of a chuck roast and five pounds of pork sausage from Nehalem River Ranch arrived on my porch about 20 minutes later. Rancher Jared Gardner, sitting in the cab of his truck and tapping the address of his next stop into his phone, said he'd left his home in the foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range at 6:20 that morning and had been on the road ever since. He had four more stops to make before he headed back.
In the shadow of a global pandemic, local farmers and ranchers, while they've lost a major revenue stream due to the shuttering of the restaurants that had made Portland a must-stop on the short list of national food scenes, seem to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts among locals looking to source food that hasn't been shipped long distances and handled hundreds of times before it hits store shelves.
Farms offering Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions are reporting record sales far exceeding previous years, many even selling out ahead of the start of the season. Many of the farms that depended on restaurants have pivoted to offering CSA subscriptions, or setting up online ordering systems with delivery at drop-off points around the city, or even making deliveries to customers' homes.
Farmers' markets themselves are adapting to the new rules and regulations surrounding the coronavirus, some going so far as to switch to online ordering and drive-through pick up, with others spreading out vendors and policing social distancing, all in the interest of supporting local farms while keeping shoppers and vendors safe. The Oregon farmers' market association has worked with state regulators on a set of guidelines and policies intended to keep markets operating as essential services, similar to grocery stores and gas stations.
Older folks, who find shopping in their neighborhood stores untenably stressful, are among those flocking to home delivery or curbside pick-up. With many supermarkets pushing out delivery of orders for a week or longer, and socially distanced lines of shoppers waiting to get into stores stretching around the block, online shopping is becoming an increasingly sought-after solution.
Businesses like Milk Run, a marketplace and distribution system for products from local farms and producers, and greengrocers like Rubinette Produce and Cherry Sprout, have seen a huge increase in customers looking for high quality local food. Perhaps for the first time, people are perceiving it as an attractive attribute that farm-direct produce and meats haven't gone through the massive system of transportation, packaging, warehousing, distribution, store warehousing and in-store stocking, at each stop needing to be handled by workers.
Local fishing families are getting on board, too—no pun intended—offering a variation on the traditional CSA that is being called a CSF (for fishery). One, Tre-Fin Day Boat Seafood, offers a years' subscription of two sizes of boxes of their sustainably sourced fish (there's also a one-box "trial" offering). "This is the food we wanted to feed our families, and it just wasn't available," said co-owner Barrett Ames about why he and Mike Domeyer started the company.
Cory Carman of Carman Ranch in Eastern Oregon has recently begun offering home delivery in Portland of six different boxes of pasture-raised meats designed to fit the needs of a wide variety of customers, from traditional chuck roasts and steaks to other boxes offer chicken, pork or their own custom-cut "lady steaks," which are small steaks from premium cuts like the tenderloin, ribeye and New York strip. (Read my profile of Cory for Civil Eats.)
Like Jared of Nehalem River Ranch, Cory is working within this "new normal" that we're all learning to navigate while still maintaining her commitment to a food system that works for her business, her community, the environment and the soil. Rather than worrying about what's coming next in this uncertain time, she wrote, "It seems better to imagine the world we want to emerge from this chaos, and to lean into it. Strangely enough, for me, that world isn't dissimilar to the one I’ve always imagined with vibrant community and nutritious food at its center."
I don't know about you, but this quarantine/sheltering in place/social distancing thing is getting old. I'm not at the tear-my-hair-out, run-out-the-front-door-naked stage—for this my neighbors are eternally grateful—but I'm starting to feel like there are things that need attending to besides my Facebook timeline.
Plus if I don't get busy soon, I'll have to address that list of household projects that I always said I'd get around to "when I had the time." Ahem. Below are three issues that need you to take action right now, all without leaving the comfort of your bunker.
Please send an email today to your Representative in Congress urging them to sign on to a letter to make sure farms are included. Below is a sample email you can copy and paste into an e-mail. List of Representatives here.
Dear Rep. [insert name],
I am writing to urge you to sign on—if you haven't already—to the letter to support making SBA's emergency economic injury grant program available to farms. It is imperative that farmers be able to access SBA disaster assistance as these programs can help fill the void that many farm businesses are currently feeling due to COVID-19.
[your name and address]
Daily living and working was already dangerous and precarious for hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and immigrants before the onset of COVID-19.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has terrorized farmworker communities and powerful growers have suppressed workers' efforts to organize. This pandemic has found a perfect environment to increase immigrant communities' risk of fatality if they contract the virus. The agricultural industry has long refused to implement health and safety protections for farmworkers or worker housing, while state and federal agencies looked the other way. Today, agribusiness is functionally exempt from COVID-19 protocols nationwide.
Take Action: Contact your governor and demand immediate protection for farmworkers. Tell them to:
Enact Emergency Orders with funding for staffing to ensure all COVID-19 protocols, including appropriate social distancing guidelines, are being followed in the fields and packing/processing, with enforcement and consequences for noncompliance, such as fines. Provide personal protective clothing and equipment to farmworkers at no cost to them. Pay farmworkers sick leave if they become ill. Establish an incentive for recruitment of needed farmworkers, including raising wages to work in agriculture.
Ensure there will be no retaliation against workers asking for better protections, or for becoming ill. Ensure the COVID-19 protocols are not used as retaliation in hiring practices.
Require transparent recruitment and hiring information and housing protections for all farmworkers related to COVID-19. In addition to informing workers about the terms and conditions of employment when workers are being hired, all persons who are recruiting for agricultural employment must provide detailed information about the risks of COVID-19, including how employers will protect their safety while transporting and housing them, and in the workplace.
All farmworker housing, tools, and equipment must be fully sanitized before farmworker families move in and use the equipment. There must be proof of that sanitation. There must be designated sanitized quarantine living facilities with access to medical personnel, and COVID-19 plans approved by the state Department of Health and local health jurisdictions.
Take Action: Email state agencies and demand a stop to processing and approving H2A visa applications immediately for farms in the state.
The H2-A guestworker visa program has a long history of exploitation and abuse. By design, the program makes it almost impossible to regulate the protocols needed to prevent COVID-19 contagion. Farmworkers are forced to work in close proximity and share close living and eating quarters, as well as being transported on a daily basis in vans and buses in large groups. The current protocols are not enforceable and have huge gaps, giving individual corporate farms loopholes. This sets up scenarios with potentially deadly consequences for farmworkers and rural communities that are already under served in healthcare, transportation, and infrastructure.
There is no plan for protocols to prepare for the influx of additional H2-A workers once the season begins. Furthermore, there has been no protection for those H2-A workers that are already here—not during their long-distance travel, nor now while they are living in crowded housing and working in close contact in the fields.
In Oregon: E-mail Oregon Foreign Labor Certification Coordinator Dora Herrera. In Washington:E-mail Employment Security Department Executive Operations Dir. Nick Streuli.