Like all of you, we have been following news about the Coronavirus, and wondering what this big event will mean for ourselves, our livelihood, our communities and our society. While we are often prone to anxiety, we are focusing our efforts on planning for the changes that this pandemic has caused and may continue to cause. This means taking public health safety measures seriously, and trusting that we can all work together to limit the impact of this virus. We believe in flattening the curve.
First of all, we will definitely be farming this year, and increasing our production compared to last year, mostly as planned. We will be very attentive to all of our food safety practices to ensure that we are not a hub for any viruses, and will of course adjust our practices to any developments. The landscape of our business may look very different, and we will be prepared to change the way that we get our produce to our customers if necessary. The bottom line is, healthy local food is important now more than ever, and we need to solidify our sustainable food system to be more resilient. We are still on target to begin having some products (seedlings and microgreens from the greenhouse) available for sale starting late-April, early spring vegetables from the field starting by mid-May, and a wider diversity of produce by early-June, when our CSA shares normally start.
We are anticipating increasing our home-delivery options for 2020. Farmers' Markets around North America have been announcing temporary closures, and we don't yet know what the timeline for these precautions will be. Markets account for 2/3 of our farm income, with our main market, Ottawa Street Farmers Market, being fully half of our yearly income. If these venues are closed or attendance drops, we are looking at a large change to our distribution. In some ways, it feels like a bad time to have expanded and taken on the debt of a farm property. But this is just an opportunity to get creative and develop an even stronger relationship with our customers. As a result, we will be:
- opening up spots in our CSA (starting now) for those who are unable to pay in advance but would like to pay week-by-week
- confirming that pre-paid Market Credit can be used towards home deliveries
- promoting weekly deals for home-delivery orders
- making a plan to increase our capacity for the CSA, including adding a delivery day for increased numbers
- making a plan to extend the season for our CSA/home deliveries with product that usually goes to market
We will keep informed on any public health or Ministry of Agriculture recommendations/requirements about harvesting, storage and distribution. Here are some of the protocols that we have developed at this time.
- Anyone who is sick does not handle product, work at market or deliver produce (basically stays away from anything that is going out to customers and does not interact with customers in person)
- If anyone in our household tests positive with COVID-19 (which is unlikely at this time), we will self-isolate the whole household for the recommended amount of time, including pausing markets and deliveries
- If we are forced to pause our operations, we will credit, refund, or otherwise compensate our pre-paid customers
- Increasing our home-delivery options in order to encourage people to support local food while taking precautions and staying home
- Limiting our personal exposure to large crowds, including the possibility of keeping our children out of school past the mandated closures
On Farm protocols:
- Only necessary farm staff (Adam and Nica) will be in areas where product is handled and stored
- Hand washing before handling any product, before/after eating or touching face, which is also standard practice (hand sink at outside wash station, and in home entryway)
- Possibly cancelling any on-farm events, and requesting that anyone who is sick does not attend on-farm events
- If we (Adam and Nica) are sick, we will consider employing others (who are well) to harvest our time-sensitive crops
At Market protocols:
- Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes at market at all times, to be used before handling product
- Possibly hand washing station at market every week
- If community transmission is high risk in Hamilton, we will display the produce behind a packing table, and only farm market staff will handle product, packing bags for customers (i.e. customers will not be able to touch or breathe on product, reducing risk of transmission)
- Use of card reader and market credit to avoid handling cash whenever possible
- Always having 2 people working market, one to handle product and one to handle cash
- Regularly sanitizing tables where customer bags are placed and devices used for card readers
- No sampling of product at market
- Possible use of face masks and gloves if the situation warrants
- Delivery vehicle will not be used for passengers and will be cleaned regularly
- Use of hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes when handling returned cloth bags
- Washing/sanitizing bags and coolers each week after deliveries
- Possibly switching to single use plastic bags during times when transmission rates are high
- Members who pick up at depots can request home delivery if they are sick (no charge)
- Members who are depot locations will be asked to let us know if they are sick, and we will deliver to everyone individually or change depots temporarily
- If members who use depots decide to travel outside of Canada during the CSA season, we will deliver individually or change depots for a period of time afterwards
- Possibly cancelling use of depots, if the situation warrants (all depot discounts will still be applied)
It's important to remember that being sick does not mean having COVID-19, but while we are taking extra precautions for one virus, we might as well try to keep any illnesses from spreading.
This is by no means an exhaustive plan for what this year could look like, for us and our customers. We are also accelerating our timeline for purchasing all of our infrastructure required to farm on this new land, so that we don't end up without necessary equipment. Overall, we are committed to keeping informed and keeping communication open with our customers, to adapt to this developing situation. We will always keep in mind options for households whose income is affected by Coronavirus closures and quarantines.
Thank you all for your historical and ongoing support.
-Adam & Nica