COVID News: PYO and farm stand guidance

I’ve been getting a lot of questions regarding COVID safety regulations and the imminent opening of PYO orchards. I’ve checked with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, and they have confirmed these items. They have also suggested that they are reviewing regulations and will be sending out any updates (watch for them through this list) as soon as they come out.

Here are the main rules and guidances from the Governor’s office or VAAFM. There are three or four documents you should be familiar with:

  1. Mandatory Health & Safety Requirements for all Business, Nonprofit, and Government Operations
  2. Sector Specific Guidance for Retail Operations
  3. The Agency of Agriculture’s Pick-Your-Own Restart Plan
  4. Farmers Market Guidance and Farmers Market Phase 2 Guidance issued by the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets

Plus, this training that includes material we should all know by now: VOSHA Educational Material for all Employees Including Farm Workers

Any of us who have been out in the past few months have the benefit of having learned most of these, either explicitly or by practice, as we move through the grocery store, farm markets, and other retail environments. The basics, which I’ll outline with the disclaimer that you really need to read the rules, are:

  • Maintain distance, six feet between people not from the same household everywhere and one person per 200 sq feet (215 people per acre, spaced out) in outdoor PYO environments.
  • Farm markets are ‘essential retail facilities’, so their maximum occupancy (from your fire marshal) is not reduced. However, you need to maintain six feet between non-household individuals.
  • Have a sanitation policy for all of your workers, requiring that they properly wash hands after each time they come and go from specific work tasks that may introduce them into contact with a different person. Provide sanitizer, and ideally a handwash station, for customers to use when entering your space.
  • To limit in-person contact and the risk of contamination, the on-site consumption of food—including crops being picked—is not allowed. In addition, customers are not permitted to congregate on site before, during, or after picking. PYO customers are prohibited from areas of the farm not involved in the PYO farm operation. I copied that verbatim from the PYO policy.
  • Traffic flow must be one-way and minimize cross-flow of customers into each other’s paths. Really, this is going to make everyone’s life easier, even post-COVID.
  • Masks are required for everyone in public settings, with a few exceptions. Information on mask requirements may be found here. More information is found here. Hint: on that second link, hit Ctrl+F (find on page) and enter “mask”, then hit enter. You can scroll through every specific reference to masks in the document. But really, it’s easiest to just wear one and ask your customers to do so when they are within six feet of others, and to always wear one indoors.
  • Someone on your farm must be designated as the operation’s “health officer”. This doe not come with a raise in pay, nor any increased liability, but it does suggest that the state expects that someone from the farm has completely read the rules (the guidances are enforceable rules) and is ensuring that the farm is following them.

Here are direct answers to a couple of questions I have received:

Q: It says in the PYO Rules that "PYO farms shall admit no more the one customer per 200 square feet of the crop space…" Does that really mean ONE person or is a customer considered a family group? PYO apples is definitely a family outing and if only one person can be in the space, that will be a HUGE detriment to people coming to pick.

A: The one customer per 200 sq. ft. requirement is used to calculate an occupancy limit for the entire PYO operation. Customers that arrive as a small group/household can stay together as long as all members of the group/household can maintain at least 6 ft. distance from staff and other customers that are not part of their group/household.

Q: What are the rules and training requirements for the designated health officer?

A: A designated health officer employee will ensure ongoing and simultaneous compliance with all safety requirements in each sector (parking/waiting, harvesting, retail) of the PYO operation. The designated health officer must be present at all times that PYO customers are on-site. There are no specific training requirements for the designated health officer, but all employees must complete and document their completion of the mandatory health and safety training requirements that apply to all Vermont businesses, which are outlined in the Phased Restart Work Safe Guidance.

At the end of it, this all comes down to basic common sense, assuming that we’re cleaning ourselves, maintaining a six-foot distance, and trying to avoid breathing each other’s aerosolized breath.

Signage is available for download to print yourself or to order from these places (not exhaustive):

  • US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (download)
  • HealthVermont (download)
  • (download)
  • Compliance Signs (buy)
  • I’ve seen that Staples has signs ready to pick up, and imagine that most local printers have them as well.
  • These are a little older, but worth sharing again:

Here’s a pre-recorded webinar specific to Vermont PYO operations: Adapting Your Vermont Pick-Your-Own Operation in Response to Covid-19 – Webinar and Resources

And two more general guidance resources:

· Best Management Practices for U-Pick Farms During the COVID-19 Pandemic – Cornell University

· Considerations for Fruit and Vegetable Growers Related to Coronavirus & COVID-19 – University of Vermont Extension

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