The More Things Change, The More Things Stay the Same at the Farm

COVID-19 can’t stop Spring – and there’s plenty of work happening in the fields at Dogue.  

There’s a different feeling in the air though, and fewer people than the farm usually sees this time of year; our site is closed. The gate is closed to keep out unplanned  visitors. The trove of hardworking volunteers who joyfully work in the fields with us  starting in April aren’t anywhere to be seen. 

Instead it’s Katherine, the farm’s production manager farming for her fifth year, and Farm operations Manager Kenneth now in his second year, at Arcadia. They’re joined by three Farm Fellows from Arcadia’s 2016, 2019 and 2020 Veteran  Farmer Reserve Program – Zeek, Vanessa and Megan. 

Katherine said they’re sticking to their crop plan in spite of COVID-19 and they’ve implemented social distancing and hygiene measures to stop the virus from  spreading. 

The first sign is the hand washing stations just about everywhere you look. Last year’s three stations ensured farmers and volunteers had ample opportunity to follow food safety regulations and spend the day with clean hands – everyone was encouraged to sing two iterations of happy birthday.

And that was in "before" times.

Hand washing stations are set up in the green house, near the entrance to the field, at the restroom, near the break and education station, the walk in cooler and other spots across the farm.
Now, there are eight soap and water stations, each with additional hand sanitizer and soberly worded signs reminding staff the importance of clean hands, and disinfecting their phones and cars, too.  

"We can’t do this – we can’t farm – without being here. We’ve all had food safety training – and some of that conveys to COVID-19 precautions,” she said. “We appreciate having a job that is outside and allows us to maintain social distance-- but it's still scary. Any one of us could contract it and bring it to the farm--any one of us could pass it to someone and then they’d carry it back to their family.”  Katherine and Kenny are doing everything in their power to prevent that from happening. 

Katherine readies a weed whacker before heading into the field to join Kenny and Megan to cut  down an acre of cover crop. 
They eat lunch sitting 6 feet apart from one another, masks or a bandanas hanging around their necks.  each farmer had a different response to the way social distancing affects their time on the farm. 

Vanessa, who spent hours every week last year as a volunteer and came back to work part-time as a Fellow, is familiar with the day to day operations on the farm. “A lot if this is the same. All of the systems Katherine had in place for hand washing and crate washing – we did all of that before COVID-19 showed up,” she said. “It’s like we were ahead of everyone else. The hardest thing about social distancing is I like to harvest side by side with someone because we can chit chat – although maybe the six feet apart makes the work go faster.”

Megan, currently enrolled in the Veteran Farmer Reserve Program, spent time at Dogue as a volunteer last year and said the biggest change is not harvesting side by side or across from someone. 

“The reason I’d like to harvest side by side is to learn from Kenny and Katherine as we go," she said.  Adaptations are made. 

“They still teach us. We’re assigned a harvest or a task, they explain it and then they come back to check on technique and make adjustments. We’re still learning.”

In a moment of levity – though absolutely serious – Zeek, a 2016 graduate of Arcadia’s Veteran Farmer Reserve said he likes the social distancing. “I don’t have to smell people,” he said. I don’t even like my own body odor – six feet apart means I won’t smell anyone else.” 

Social distancing regulations means it’s just the five of them every day. “We’re only focused on growing food now that we’ve got fewer people. When volunteers are harvesting, there’s time to pay attention to mowing and landscaping and the way the farm looks. Without them, all we (can) do is plant and harvest,” said Kenny.

Working alone at the back of the farm, Kenny unloaded a ton of gravel without a mask on--enjoying solitude and fresh air. 
Katherine said face masks are nice on a cold day. They’re not nice when it’s really hot – but they’re wearing them when they’re in proximity to each other, even if it’s further than six feet.
The reality has set in that this is likely to last the entire season.

“I was pushing through until mid-May but now I’ve accepted, this is 2020. This is farming with COVID-19. We have to maintain vigilance and mitigate risks to protect ourselves and our families,” said Katherine. 

“We’ll see what the next couple of months bring and it may mean we don’t plant the next succession of tomatoes. That’s fine. We’ll be nimble – farmers are used to that.”

Arcadia Farm, usually bustling with dozens of volunteers and scores of school children, is now farmed by three women and two men, working six long days each week to bring fresh vegetables to under resourced neighborhoods, as safely as possible.

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