Action Items: Help Local Farmers and Farmworkers…Without Leaving the Couch

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.

Support Local Farms

As it stands now, farms are not eligible to receive assistance under the Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Impact Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, including emergency grants, authorized in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) passed by Congress.

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.

Sincerely,

[your name and address]


Support Farmworkers

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.

E-mail Gov. Brown of Oregon. E-mail Gov. Inslee of Washington.

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 HerreraIn Washington: E-mail Employment Security Department Executive Operations Dir. Nick Streuli.


Information on farmers and CARES act from Farmers Market Fund. Information on H2_A program and photo of farmworkers on bottom left from Community to Community.

Farmers' Markets Innovate to Provide Food, Support Local Farms

"The unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves
has changed how we define normal. And that new normal may be the status quo
for weeks or even months ahead."

In announcing that the Beaverton Farmers Market was planning to offer a drive-through option for shoppers, manager Ginger Rapport put it bluntly, writing, "To say that these are difficult times is an understatement. The unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves has changed how we define normal. And that new normal may be the status quo for weeks or even months ahead."

Farmers' markets are a vital link in a vibrant local food system.

On Tuesday, March 16, Oregon Governor Kate Brown released an executive order addressing the health threat from coronavirus (COVID-19), stating that all food establishments that offer food or drink are prohibited from offering or allowing on-premises consumption of food or drink. The order also prohibited public gatherings of 25 people or more.

In seeking clarification on the order, the Oregon Farmers Market Association (OFMA) presented the case to the governor's office that farmers' markets should not be classified as gatherings or events but are, rather, open-air grocery stores and a vital lifeline for local farmers and producers. Closing them would be tantamount to cutting off a critical food source for the community, and could force many family farms out of business. In addition, the case was made that the food in farmers' markets is subject to much less handling, since it does not go through warehouses, distributors, or store staff.

Farmers' markets are already implementing safer practices.

So it was with great relief that, in a bulletin on Thursday, March 18, updating the Governor's statement, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) clarified that the prohibition "does not apply to essential businesses and services, including workspaces, grocery stores, retail stores, convenience stores, farmer's markets, banks, gas stations, hotels or motels, health care facilities, pharmacies, childcare facilities, state or local government or schools."

In fact, Oregon farmers' markets had already begun implementing practices to protect shoppers and vendors from transmission of the virus and, out of an abundance of caution, were already discussing various ideas for getting products to their communities.

North Carolina shoppers demonstrate social distancing.

In advance of the ODA bulletin, two markets, Beaverton Farmers Market (top photo) and Hillsdale Farmers Market, decided to pivot to new models including a drive-through option at the Beaverton market where market shoppers can shop from the safe distance of their vehicle. Hillsdale canceled its regular market stall set-up and is offering online pre-ordering direct through farmer vendors, with pick-up at its regular location on market day. Both markets have mobilized to help vendors set up online ordering systems.

"COVID-19 has disrupted our routines," wrote Hillsdale market manager Eamon Molloy in the market's newsletter. "In order to keep people healthy and maintain the recommended safe social distances, we will not conduct a regular market. Farmers and food vendors are setting up pre-order portals and taking orders by email."

In a notice on the OFMA listserv, Kelly Crane, the organization's Executive Director, said that she would begin discussions on purchase of a group license for an online ordering system for interested member markets.

Pritha Golden, Market Director at the Hollywood and Lloyd farmers' markets, outlined the reasons that her markets would remain open as usual and described practices that have been instituted to keep shoppers and vendors safe. "Farmers' markets are essential," she stated. "Despite the current health crisis, food remains a basic human need, and we provide access to nutrient-dense food. With our ability to space out our vendors, provide an open-air market, and relieve stresses on grocery stores, we aim to support the safest food shopping options."

Go to online ordering and information about the drive-through option at the Beaverton Farmers Market.

Go to online ordering information at the Hillsdale Farmers Market.

Go to OSU Small Farms Team: FAQ for Small Farms and COVID-19.


Previous: Farmers' Markets Taking Precautions Over Coronavirus Concerns

Photo of social distancing in North Carolina by Debbie Roos.