When Covid 19 arrived in California around this time last year, our local area was the epicenter for a brief moment, with infected passengers from cruise ships in Asia disembarking at Travis Airforce Base causing a small outbreak at the hospital where they were taken. For the rest of the year, the virus pretty much left Terra Firma alone. Despite dire warnings, there were very few cases among agricultural workers in Yolo and Solano counties. Perhaps it was the timing, which coincided with an early spring where farms started field work sooner than usual.
It wasn’t until late January that the home page of the New York Times began showing me the message, in bold red type, that Covid danger in Yolo County was “very high”. That was about the time we started to hear about cases popping up in Winters, and we had our first staff member who quarantined when their adult child tested positive. A week later, another employee was quarantined when they got a test before a dental appointment and it came back positive. We doubled-checked all our procedures and SOPs, and spread everyone out a little farther. Another staff member tested positive ten days later and we held our breath and hoped — a third consecutive case would likely have triggered a mandatory shut-down of the farm. Thankfully, there were no more positive tests and no one got seriously ill. That was three weeks ago.
If all goes well, we won’t have any more positive tests. We signed onto a Yolo County vaccine waitlist for agricultural operations, and received notice that–depending on availability– all interested employees of the farm can get their first shot this coming Saturday. That will be a huge relief. Aside from wanting our employees to stay happy and healthy, we are short-staffed and there is a statewide shortage of workers throughout agriculture. This despite nationwide unemployment rates in the double-digits.
The rollout of the vaccine is a wonderful thing, and I hope it that everyone gets access to it sooner than later. But it is also complicating planning efforts, not just at our farm, but for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Covid has forced people to change their entire lives, and many are beyond eager to get back to the way things were in the “before times”. We are anticipating that a significant portion of our subscribers will look at their CSA box as one of many reminders of the year that Covid took away from their lives — Covid PTSD if you will. Others will have discovered or re-discovered the pleasures of cooking and eating at home, and will stick with Terra Firma. We have no way of knowing how many people will fall into each category, but those details are critical for us to make planting decisions for the fall.
Meanwhile, many of our other customers — restaurants and distributors in particular — have suffered a huge blow from the pandemic. They don’t even know if they will survive the experience, or when they might recover. As last year progressed, we shifted much of crop production away from their needs to those of our subscribers. Right now it does not seem that they will be there to take up the slack later this year when we anticipate our demand for CSA boxes to begin to drop.
We are thankful to have mostly escaped the type of tragedy that so many people have suffered in their lives due to Covid, and we were privileged to be able to continue working while performing an important role in our subscribers healthy and safe. But our experience has been exhausting in other ways.
Since the day of Governor Newsom’s first daily briefing, we have been busier than we’ve ever been at the farm, trying to keep up with the challenges and changes that the pandemic threw at us. Then add the insanity of the heat, wildfires and smoke in late summer, and the near-total absence of rain since December 2019. I’m personally ready for things to slow down a bit, but it looks like I’ll have to wait until next fall.
One thing I know for certain though: Next winter, we’re taking two weeks off. And it better be raining.