Farmers remain vigilant as the region recovers from COVID-19 outbreaks, and more businesses reopen
By Jackie Clark
The province gave Windsor-Essex the go-ahead to move into Stage 3 of the COVID-19 reopening plan at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 12. The other 32 public health regions had moved to this stage earlier in July. Outbreaks of the virus, some of which were in agricultural workplaces, delayed the reopening of the Windsor-Essex region.
“We’re very pleased to hear that the region was allowed to move forward into phase three. It’s been an incredibly stressful time for everybody involved, for our members, for the community, for local businesses,” Justine Taylor, science and government relations manager at Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, told Farms.com. “From the start of the pandemic, our members have been undertaking a lot of measures in order to address COVID-19.”
Farmers have “done the very best that we could to follow all those regulations, because what we do on our home farm with our business directly affects whether we can continue or not as an operation,” Louis Roesch, OFA zone director for Essex and Kent counties, told Farms.com.
Those measures have included “increased use of PPE (personal protective equipment), increased sanitation, physical distancing, physical barriers where distancing is not possible, looking at changing operational layouts, staggered shifts to reduce the amount of people in common areas, and increased communication with their workforce,” Taylor said.
Producers have co-operated with provincial and local public health units to conduct on-farm COVID-19 testing for all employees, Roesch explained.
The testing is “something that many of our members have undertaken as part of their control and prevention strategy,” Taylor added. “We worked very closely with Ontario Health and OMAFRA to deliver on-farm testing. (The tests) did identify some outbreak scenarios, which were surprising to many, given the high level of asymptomatic conditions.”
The agricultural industry and health care officials learned lessons from the scenario, both about COVID-19 itself, and how they could effectively communicate and work together to address it, and reassure temporary foreign workers in the region.
“I think that is one of the major steps that we have taken together, is that we’ve been working with OMAFRA and Ontario Health and the rest of the health care partners to make sure that we’re providing information in the language of origin, to make sure we’re addressing concerns and fears. I think that was a key component of moving forward,” Taylor said.
As the region opens up “we’re going to continue to be vigilant, we’re going to continue to keep enforcing all of the new protocols and procedures that have been implemented on farm,” she added.
“The farm operates as the farm operates, so to speak, and we still have to do all our daily things,” he said.
He has been noticing more customers from urban areas showing an interest in local food. Entering Stage 3 gives on-farm or other agricultural retailers more opportunities to improve the customer experience, while remaining safe.
“I think it’s really critical, because now we’re in phase three and because there are going to be more people socializing and circulating in the community, that we really reinforce all of those measures that we’re asking people to take,” Taylor said.
Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers is encouraging its members to communicate with their employees about the importance of maintaining physical distance and wearing a mask in the community.
Chansom Pantip\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo