In planting, harvesting and processing their fruits, vegetables and other farm goods, farmers and farm workers are making good on a commitment to feed their families, communities and many others. In the time of COVID-19, that commitment extends to staying healthy, a responsibility farmers, like Arizona grower John Boelts, take very seriously. Boelts grows melons, lettuce, leafy greens, vegetables and more in Yuma.
“We care a great deal for our farm workers,” Boelts said. “There is nothing we can accomplish on our farm without each and every one of our employees. Our first priority is keeping them safe.”
To that end, Boelts put in a place a 10-foot-distance policy on the farm and provides disposable masks and sterile gloves, especially for jobs that require workers to be closer than 10 feet. At times he will pair up family members who live together on certain tasks, like ice and water delivery. It’s a two-person job that keeps the rest of the employees from having to come and get it at a central location, as they used to.
In addition, Boelts, his foremen and his employees have transitioned to telephone check-ins at the start of the day, rather than the early morning gathering at the shop before everyone headed out into the fields.
“We miss that in-person camaraderie, but we’re going to do everything possible to keep everyone safe,” Boelts explained.
When workers check in each morning over the phone, they confirm that they’re feeling well and that they have not been exposed to someone who is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. In an instance in which an employee’s son was exhibiting some symptoms, until the son’s COVID-19 test results came back – negative – Boelts had his employee stay home, with pay. He implemented the same plan for the two men the employee had worked with the day before.
Along with disposable masks for on-farm work, Boelts is also giving his employees high-quality, three-ply, washable cloth masks to take home. He’s encouraging everyone to wear them as the they travel to and from the farm, as well as for their trips to the grocery store and other essential errands.
Though Boelts is often reminding his employees to maintain 10 feet between them, there are some farm jobs that require crews to work in closer proximity. Not all farm jobs can be recalibrated for COVID-19, especially when equipment is involved, he said. Still, if there’s a workaround, he and other farmers will find it.
“Farmers take the guidance from reliable medical and public health sources, like the CDC and state officials, very seriously,” Boelts said. “If there’s something we think will benefit our workers, we’re going to try it.”
He continued, “Most of this is surmountable if we take what the experts tell us and train our employees accordingly and get the right equipment and protection. It really comes down to people wanting to do the right thing for their health and the health of others.”