At a time when the United States' food supply chain is strained due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Langwater Farm co-owner Kevin O'Dwyer said local food is "more important now than ever."
EASTON — Side by side, people wearing masks sit low to the ground on seats of a water wheel transplanter and plant potatoes.
365体育官网Inside the farm stand, employees wear gloves, and bandanas over their faces as they package food ordered online to be picked up with minimal contact.
Those are the new normals — at least for the foreseeable future — at Langwater Farm in Easton.
At a time when the United States food supply chain is strained due to the coronavirus pandemic, Langwater Farm co-owner Kevin O'Dwyer says local food is vital.
365体育官网"Our national food system, which is built for efficiency and scale, is brittle. It's concerning that an event like COVID-19 can jeopardize our food chain system," O'Dwyer said. "If more of our food was sourced locally through many small farms and packing facilities, this wouldn't be an issue. That's what we've been working toward for 10 years, 11 seasons, and it's more important now than ever before."
365体育官网When the coronavirus outbreak first began in Massachusetts, there was a lot of uncertainty at the Easton farm, O'Dwyer said. When Gov. Charlie Baker closed schools, banned dining-in at restaurants and closed nonessential businesses, the farm lost its two primary winter and spring sources of income.
365体育官网"We have restaurant and institution wholesale accounts and two winter farmers market accounts," O'Dwyer said. "We do business with Stonehill College and Brown University. When they closed, we were sort of panicked and very unsure of what was going to lie ahead for us."
Although the two winter farmers markets didn't close initially, O'Dwyer said the farm decided it wasn't safe or the right thing to do to send its staff.
Langwater Farm quickly pivoted and decided to open an online store to maintain cash flow and keep its employees, O'Dwyer said.
365体育官网In the span of a week, the farm developed an online store that now opens each Tuesday for orders. The farm lists everything it has for sale for the week — which currently includes carrots, pea shoots, radishes, turnips, kale, various potatoes and dried beans — and closes preorders at 6 a.m. on Friday. People pay online and the staff package the orders following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, O'Dwyer said.
"Our employees pack all the orders in our packhouse Friday and Saturday morning. All of that is done by our workers who have been trained and had always been trained in general food safety certifications," he said. "But we've added some additional guidelines — additional sanitizing of surfaces and handles, workers are all wearing masks and gloves and washing their hands frequently. They're changing their gloves frequently and wash their hands before touching a new pair of gloves."
365体育官网Come Saturday morning, Langwater Farm is open for preorder pickups from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. People picking up online orders walk up to the farm stand, where two tables keep employees and customers at least 6 feet apart. The employees then grab the order and place it on the table for it to be picked up by the customer, without any contact between the customer and employee.
On Saturday, the farm had 220 preorders. O'Dwyer said they've had more orders each week since opening the online store in early March.
365体育官网"The online store has enabled us to maintain cash flow to keep all of our employees here. We haven't had to lay anyone off," he said. "We're even bringing some new people on to do crucial work now for the next season. We have seeding and planting to do for the upcoming season that needs to be done in a timely way. We can't neglect that for a month or two and expect to have those things ready for the summer."
Although the CDC says there is no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food, the disease can live on hard surfaces. O'Dwyer said he believes it's safer in this time to buy local.
365体育官网"Small farms, with the precautions we're taking, are able to provide a safer product than the agricultural products coming out of California. Our produce goes through a much smaller chain, maybe two, three or four employees' hands. There's a short chain of handling from harvest to the consumer at purchase," O'Dwyer said. "Conversely, product grown at much larger farms, industrial farms, that product is going to pass through several hands along its way to the truck, then a trucking company. When it gets to our region, it goes to a broker, then a grocery store. At grocery stores, it goes through multiple hands — the stocker, the cashier. Our product has been touched by many fewer people on its course to the consumer."
Farmers, farm workers, farmers markets and farm stands have been deemed essential services in Massachusetts.
C.N. Smith Farm in East Bridgewater has also set up an online store, offering plants, honey, alcohol, jarred items, gardening items and even homemade cider donuts.
365体育官网The farm is doing curbside pickups for the online orders it receives and asking all customers to remain in their vehicles to minimize contact and maintain physical distance. Staff bring orders to customers' vehicles.
In West Bridgewater, C&C Reading Farm says it is hard at work harvesting and planting to prepare for May 1, when it will open. Two weeks ago, the farm planted several hundred lettuce and spinach plants by hand.
365体育官网"We are working hard to provide a safe and welcoming environment for YOU, our awesome customers," the farm wrote in a Facebook post. "In the meantime, we have been social distancing and following all CDC guidelines in order to continue to provide the public with farm fresh produce."
In Brockton, farmers at Gerry's Farm, which is celebrating its 100th year, have been busy planting, but they haven't been greatly impacted at this point by COVID-19.
Gerry's Farm doesn't normally open to sell flowers until the first weeks of May and its farm stand doesn't usually open until late June, said Greg Gerry, a fourth-generation farmer at the Pleasant Street business.
"There's a lot of uncertainty about how the season is going to play out," Gerry said. "We've just been waiting and listening to what the governor and other officials have to say in regard to recommendations. But we've been planting."
The farm has a small staff of family members, but they've still been maintaining physical distance and taking precautions, such as wearing gloves and face coverings, Gerry said.
They've been particularly careful about maintaining distance with Joe Gerry, who is 95.
"You can't stop him," Greg Gerry said of his grandfather. "He's the first one out in the morning and the last one to go back in."
On a recent day, Joe Gerry was planting petunias inside a greenhouse, with a bandana covering his mouth and nose.
"You have to love what you do to work on a farm," Joe Gerry said. "You have to love getting dirty and like long hours of work."
365体育官网The 100-year-old farm, as it prepares for a hopeful May opening for vegetable plants and flowers and its farm stand in June, is looking to update its technology for the first time because of the coronavirus and move away from its cash-only approach.
365体育官网"I think people are going to be relying on credit cards a lot going forward. There will be less passing of cash," Greg Gerry said. "We'll be getting on top of that, updating technology to be ready."
For now, though, the farm is mainly playing a waiting game — much like everyone else.
365体育官网"Everything else is just kind of a waiting game to see what they'll be recommending," Greg Gerry said.
365体育官网Senior reporter Cody Shepard can be reached by email at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @cshepard_ENT.