COVID 19 Community Stories

Written By: Brytann Busick
Published: May 1, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted our community, state, and nation in countless ways. We know that it has created severe challenges for many and has tested the resiliency of our community. The Pandemic has reminded us now, more than ever, that our community supports one another when times get tough. Listed as essential business, agriculturalists across the county continue to provide a stable, healthy, local food source for our community. We asked our diverse members to share how the Pandemic has impacted their lives and businesses, what these unprecedented times have taught them, and provided insights into their daily lives under the Shelter in Place Order. We know that together, as a strong agricultural community, we will get through these challenging times. 

 

Lisa Poncia

My husband Loren Poncia and I own Stemple Creek Ranch. Loren is a 4th generation rancher and I grew up in the suburbs in Southern California. We met at Cal Poly SLO over 20 years ago and moved back to Marin County in 2005 specifically to start our own business. We rented pasture from Loren’s parents on their home ranch in Tomales, started purchasing cattle, and came up with the name “Stemple Creek Ranch” in 2009 to start marketing directly to consumers. We bought the ranch next door to his family’s ranch and that is now the home base to our business. We also lease other pastures through Marin, Sonoma and greater Northern California. We raise organic, grass-fed and grass-finished beef and lamb and pasture-raised pork. We are one of the first three demonstration farms in the Marin Carbon Project and were the first ranch in the country to have an active carbon farm plan.

What changes have you made to adapt to the situation?  Most of our restaurant customers are closed or working in a very limited capacity. This is hard on us both financially and emotionally, as we have close relationships with all of our customers and it is so hard for us to see the restaurant industry in such a difficult state. We have ramped up our direct-to-consumer sales, both at the two farmer’s markets that we attend and our online sales. We are shipping many more boxes of product direct to doorsteps all across the country. It has been a lot of work behind the scenes to keep production going in the face of COVID-19 challenges. All of our vendors that we work with to make our business run are facing challenges and changes themselves, and every day we are reacting to these changes and do everything we can to keep the wheels turning. We have an amazing staff, every single one of them has risen to the occasion and are helping us problems solve every day. We are getting so many emails, phone calls, and social media messages from people all across the country that are so thankful that we are meeting their needs during these complicated times. Those positive messages are getting us through this! It feels so good to make people happy and take some stress out of getting food on the table. We also sell to locally owned grocery stores and we are doing everything we can to help them keep up with demand and fill the crucial role that grocery stores are playing in people’s lives right now.

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted you personally?  The COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted every part of my life! My daughters, who are 8 & 11, are both at home and feeling stressed about not being in school and not seeing their friends. I am working so hard to spend more quality time with them and help them establish any bits of normalcy that we can during this time. I am also an attorney with a solo estate planning practice. I work both in that business and in running Stemple Creek Ranch with Loren. I am at home on phone calls and video calls all day, in between the cooking, playing, and helping my girls with their schoolwork. Every day there are new challenges that are arising and every day I am taking a deep breath to handle them.

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted your business?  In addition to what I discussed above, we also have a 150-year-old barn that we rehabilitated at the ranch, we call it the education barn. We typically do a lot of events there – farm to table dinners, ranch tours, carbon farming educational talks, fundraisers, parties, weddings, and corporate events. Right now all of these events are on hold. It is so sad for us to not have people coming and enjoying the space. It is an important part of our business because these people come to the ranch for an event and while they are here they learn about the local food system and our agricultural practices. Many of them are surprised to see a working ranch so close to San Francisco. Seeing and meeting these folks makes all of our work worth it and we very much want to open our doors and have them back here! 

Are sales up? Yes and no. Events are not happening and restaurant sales are drastically down. Our grocery store, butcher shop, farmer’s market, and online sales are up though.

Have you implemented any new business ideas to boost sales?  We have been working on our direct-to-consumer channels for 10+ years, and are now seeing an increase in those sales. It is taking more brainpower and person power to make it happen given the COVID-19 related challenges, but the underlying ideas were already being implemented. One thing we are doing more of is live videos on Instagram and Facebook. People are really loving them! They are educational and informational and fun. We try not to take ourselves too seriously so that they aren’t perfect and produced, just on the fly videos to show what ranch life is like and how we do things around here. 

What has it been like to Shelter in Place? Have you been doing anything fun to fight boredom? We set up a tent and Loren and the girls camped outside. We are cooking new things, watching movies, going on hikes and bike rides, Zooming and FaceTiming with friends and family, and playing lots of games. Blokus is our family favorite right now.

What have you learned about yourself or your community during this time?  We are resilient! I have seen much support for small family farms and ranches and I am so thankful for this. People realize that they need a reliable, safe food source and we are here to serve them.

Terri Balletto – Balletto Vineyards & Winery 

My husband John and I own Balletto Vineyards & Winery. We farm over 800 acres of wine grapes in the Russian River Valley and produce about 25,000 cases of wine under the Balletto label. The balance of our grapes is sold to 30 other wineries.

 How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted you personally? It has been stressful – making sure our family and employees have the necessary items and training to remain safe. It requires some creative thinking at times with a lot of the disinfecting items back-ordered or limited to one per person, which works for a family, but is harder when you have a business and you need to search out those items that are back-ordered from your regular vendors at local retail outlets. It requires you to make multiple trips to stores. I’ve quickly learned what days different stores get their loads and best times to go so you have the best chance of getting what you need. Also, we developed a network with friends for things that are hard to find – we help each other out with things we are running low. 

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted your business? We had to make a fast shift on the retail wine side when the Shelter in Place order took effect. We closed the tasting room and boosted online sales efforts. We implemented a curbside pick up and home delivery service for Sonoma County residents. 

The wholesale focus for the sales team has switched more to off-premise accounts due to a lot of the on-premise accounts choosing to close instead of going to a take-out model. Our sales team is working with the on-premise accounts that remain open to see if our wine can be an add on to the take out menu now that ABC has temporarily relaxed some of their rules. 

I assume tasting room traffic is down but how are online sales? We are lucky, so far, online sales have been good. We have a great team in the Tasting Room. Through the brainstorming efforts of our DTC manager, Jacqueline Balletto, Micaela Green in marketing and Heather Mills, our wine club manager, they have come up with some fun and different ideas that are really working. 

Have you implemented any new business ideas to boost sales? We are trying all different kinds of things – trying to find what resonates with our club members and followers. We’ve done a mystery case promotion that gave purchasers a chance to have a “private Zoom tasting” with our winemaker Anthony Beckman. Our daughter’s Jacqueline & Caterina have done some Facebook and Instagram Live segments including a Brunch & Bubbles on a Sunday morning and a Take Out Tuesday, showcasing local restaurants that have transitioned to take out. Our sales manager, Judy Polley has worked with some of our accounts and our distributor reps to feature our wine with their take out menus. 

What has it been like to Shelter in Place? Have you been doing anything fun to fight boredom? We are still going into our office, but with all winery events canceled, we find we have a lot more free time. John and I have discovered binge-watching, our youngest daughter, Caterina, says we are worse than teenagers! I’ve also been helping our other daughter, Jacqueline with some of her home remodel projects. 

What have you learned about yourself or your community during this time? We live in an amazing community. I’ve enjoyed connecting (at a distance) with our club members on the days I’ve done home deliveries. I realize that I really miss seeing our tasting room customers and our tasting room team members that are sheltering in place.

What will some of the long-term impacts of COVID-19 be for you?  That’s a really hard question. It really depends on how long the shelter in place order lasts. How that affects the overall economy. Personally, I am afraid I may become a hoarder of disinfecting products after this is over.

Redwood Hill Farm-Seair Lorentz- Brand Manager 

Redwood Hill Farm was started in 1968 when the Bice Family moved from urban southern California to rural Sebastopol. The Bice children participated in 4-H with multiple projects and farm animals, with dairy goats becoming a favorite. Eventually a Grade A Dairy was built to supply the community with goat milk, cheese, and yogurt.

Eldest daughter Jennifer took over ownership of the farm in 1978 and the goat dairy is still the primary focus, producing milk for Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery’s production of cultured goat dairy distributed nationwide. The family farm has continued to diversify and today the farm has an olive grove producing olive oil, a hop yard with sales to some of the area’s best craft breweries, and a flower field growing unique blooms for the flower mart and event venues. Also, the farm raises a small flock of chickens, beehives for honey, and a wide assortment of fruits and veggies.

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted your business? The COVID-19 pandemic has had an economic impact on the farm because our spring farm tours and farm workshops have been canceled because of the Health Order to shelter in place and not gather in groups. Additional losses have been sustained since most of the artisan foods that were sold at the farm tours and the primary floral distributor has also closed. We decided to implement a pre-order system for farm products with a pickup option and olive oil can now be ordered and shipped (www.redwoodhillfarm.org/shop). Not surprisingly with a distribution disruption, sales are down.

What is life like on the farm these days? Since the farm is considered an essential business, we have been able to keep our employees working. Sheltering in place while living on a farm is certainly no hardship and there is no time for boredom with this being one of our busiest times of the year with goats giving birth to new kids almost daily, and milking, planting and weeding, and tree pruning to be done.

What has been the most challenging about sheltering in place? Probably one of the hardest parts of the shelter in place is not being able to gather with family at Easter, with friends going out to dinner, or showing the goats in competitions like the National Dairy Goat Show 2020, which was just canceled. 

Beretta Dairy-Organic Dairy Farmer-Doug Beretta 

How has the Shelter in Place Order impacted you and your employees? Right now we haven’t been impacted too much. Our 7 employees live on the dairy so they don’t have to commute and we were kind of already practicing a shelter in place. The only difference we have seen is that our sales reps are making phone calls instead of in-person visits. So, we are running full steam ahead to provide to our community. What we have heard from the milk buyers the products are available but to keep a close eye on the supply chain. There was some chaos with the processing plant getting products out to the stores but everyone is communicating, adapting and now all is running smoothly.   

How are you ensuring your employees’ safety? Regarding employee health, sanitation has always been a key component to our business and we are continuing that. We have received information from Western United Dairymen, SCFB, and other organizations that have sent out protocols and we are following them. We are practicing the 6-foot rule which is easy on a farm and are doing daily check-ins to make sure everyone feels good. If they don’t we will send them home.  

Cassidy Carroll

I am a senior at Cardinal Newman High School and will be attending Oklahoma State University in the fall of 2020. I plan to major in Ag Business or Animal Science.

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted you personally? My high school classes are being taught by my teachers through Distance Learning technology. To stay connected to friends, I have been calling them up on the phone. I wake up at 4:00 a.m. each morning to tend to 8 beef cows. Staying home reduces drive time to and from school and overall makes it easier for me to take care of my animals, so that’s been good. Not being on campus or allowed social interaction has really taken away from my experiences as a senior in high school. I won’t get to go to prom or to have a high school graduation ceremony.

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted your activities? I raise beef cows for customers and for ag kids’ beef projects. My plans have slowed due to the economic impact and now is the time to purchase sheep, goats, and pigs for the local Fair. I have received phone calls from younger kids asking what they should do this year. My advice has been to purchase just one animal so they only have financial commitment. I hope kids will be able to sell one animal, but not more due to the possibility of fewer buyers and if the local Fair has an online auction. I plan to take two steers to the State Fair in July and am trying to keep a positive outlook. Part of my senior year Community Based Service Learning project was raising and donating a beef cow to the Redwood Empire Food Bank to help them disperse food to the community. This became a reality in March, but I was sad to miss out on the opportunity to help educate our community’s youth about live animals at Ag Days.

What has it been like to Shelter in Place? This is a new experience for me, that’s for sure. Limited access to resources has been a challenge and I miss activities outside the home. There’s an uneasy feeling in the air when standing in line to enter a store, and standing so far apart from others. One thing I’m thankful for is the increase in time spent with my family, especially since I’ll leave for college soon and family time will reduce dramatically.

What have you learned about yourself or your community during this time? I have learned to make better use of my time, how to reuse things and not take things for granted. I have especially noticed the community members around me have been working together and been very giving. I will definitely never forget this time in my life, especially not creating memories in the last half of my senior year of high school.

Linda Szczech, 2nd Grade Teacher

Please tell me a little about yourself. I am a second grade teacher at St. Rose School in Santa Rosa and have been teaching there for 29 years. I attended an agricultural class at Farm Bureau one summer and that’s how I got involved with Ag Days. I’ve been teaching agriculture in my classroom and taking my class to Ag Days for almost 20 years.

What challenges have you made to adapt to the situation? Since the Shelter in Place Order I go and sit in my empty classroom each day and to do scheduled Zoom classes three times a week with my students. Every two weeks I mail coursework to my students and I also provide online resources. As the online instruction time is short, I limit time for some subjects and concentrate on the core curriculum. It’s difficult to teach without having daily contact and working with limited attention spans. Regarding school subjects, I believe agriculture is very important and typically plan time in and out of her classroom for it, including attending Ag Days.

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted you personally? I wish I could visit with my grandson, but this situation has brought my family closer together in a way and we connect through Zoom every day. I really miss my student’s faces.

What will some of the long-term impacts of COVID-19 be for you? I am saddened by the thought of not having closure for myself, my students and their families at the end of the school year. This year was to be my last year of teaching and therefore a special one for me, but instead, I’ll be retiring from teaching sitting lonely in an empty classroom.

 Patti Baxman, Sonoma-Marin Cattlewomen

My husband Bill and I raise beef cattle and operate a trucking company. I have been a member of the Sonoma-Marin Cattlewomen group since 1993 and have served as Chair for beef promotion and fair exhibit projects. Currently, I am serving as President.

What changes have you made to adapt to the situation? The Cattlewomen group has postponed their scheduled meetings and events for the near future. To keep the communication going, members are forwarding messages and utilizing social media more than before. The group is taking it month by month. Ag Days is one of the main events each year that our Cattlewomen group participates at. Our group is committed to educating our community about beef nutrition, by-products and the usefulness of animals throughout the life cycle. Our mission has been greatly impacted by the cancellation of Ag Days as that event provides the opportunity to reach out to so many in the general community to share facts about agriculture through interactive learning.

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted you personally? My husband and I are working through the challenges that come with having elderly family members in healthcare facilities. The inability to visit them has been difficult and we are often by the phone ready for calls from them. 

What have you learned about yourself or your community during this time? Through all of this, I have learned just how resilient I really am and realized that you don’t need a lot of things to live. Aside from groceries and medicine, I am working with what I have. Outside the home, I have noticed people are respecting personal space.

Chris Neve, Neve Bros.

Please tell me a little about yourself and your business.

My family and I own and operate a wholesale flower business and are the flower resource for the greater Northern California area and beyond. We specialize in growing roses, gerbera daisies, and alstroemeria flowers.

What changes have you made to adapt to the situation? We learned early on in the business that adaptation and diversification are keys to business survival. Their diversification approach includes sales to flower markets, florists, designers, grocery and supermarkets. At the start of this situation, we reduced hours but are now open regular hours again. We restructured the business operations to ensure weekly deliveries and overnight freight due to the increase in shipping demand. Although we are not taking online orders, we are available to assist with email and phone order processing.

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted your business? Before the Shelter in Place Order was given, our company was experiencing the best year for product sales to date. After the Order was given, sales dropped 50 to 60 percent and we had to discard thousands of flowers. Half of our product is grown for the San Francisco Flower Market so that decline contributed to the loss of job positions. Thankfully, we have been able to retain 90 percent of our workforce. We developed workplace guidelines which include social distancing, washing procedures, the use of gloves, customer assistance at curbside only and pay by phone. When drivers are done for the day, delivery vehicles and materials needed are cleaned, even clipboards.

What will some of the long-term impacts of COVID-19 be for you? As sales are still 25 to 35 percent down, I would like to stress that buying local will help keep them and others going during this Pandemic. I would like to see people recognize the product sources available in this county and state and change the supply chain. I believe local buying habits may be the change for the immediate time frame but would like to see it continue long into the future. I also see more advance orders and a change in market diversification to help keep the floral industry going.

Dayna Justice

My husband and I have two sons, in grades 4 and 9. We homeschool our children until grade 8. Our oldest son is now a student at Analy High School and a member of Sebastopol FFA. Both kids are Steuben 4-H club members and I am the finance/fundraising leader. Our family raises show pigs and both pigs and goats for consumption. We have had some customers for 20 years.

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted you personally? I enjoy having my kids home and working with our livestock. I am planting the garden that I’ve had planned for some time. My kids are struggling with not knowing what is going to happen and are working through the social struggle of not visiting with their friends in-person. I have noticed a hesitation with show animal purchases due to the uncertainty surrounding the Fairs this year, but since the Shelter in Place Order, I have received more people calling this year to purchase animals and raise them for consumption. I think people think that meat sources through stores may be less in the coming months. Now, I have a waiting list for animal purchases.

What have you learned about yourself or your community during this time? I have always had a strong desire to produce a robust garden and have the ability to raise animals. I am thankful that because of this, I’ll be able to help others during this time. I want to share with those who are struggling with food resources. I’ve noticed that our community seems to be waiting to see what comes next and are helping each other in the meantime. I plan to plant flowers and create a Flower Show in my backyard, in case the summer fairs don’t happen and I can’t enter into the flower shows. 

Lynn Cunningham

My husband, Cowboy, and I are both 3rd generation farmers. My grandparents started a poultry ranch and Cowboy’s started a dairy. We own R.O. Shelling Grain and Feed, which manufactures grain and delivers wholesale bulk product, and Barlas Feeds which provides feed, bedding, and hay to retail customers.

What changes have you made to adapt to the situation? I have been staying home, talking on the phone with my kids and on Zoom with friends. One of my favorite things to do is to handwrite notes and mail them, which is a special way to connect with people and a nice surprise in the mail. I really miss having my family around. I especially miss my Dad. He’s not 77 years old and has compromised lungs so I haven’t been visiting him.

What has it been like to Shelter in Place? I am a very social person so the lack of human interaction has been something to contend with. I enjoy cooking and have been doing so way more lately. It’s just me and Cowboy in the house though, so I emailed our neighbors one day when there was an abundance of soup and met them at the end of her driveway, practicing social distancing, and shared the meal! I returned home with Meyer lemons. This Pandemic has really made me slow down and notice things that I normally wouldn’t. As I look around, I am thankful for the open space around me and for our beautiful county. I gathered all my birdfeeders and placed them by the kitchen window so I can watch them while I cook and I’ve also really enjoyed the California Golden Poppy flowers that I planted down the driveway. I think that through this situation I am reminded that it’s ok to slow down and just to be still, and to not always be doing something. I have also noticed just how much the community has come together to help one another. 

Western Farm Center- Trevor Frampton

What changes have you made to adapt to the situation? There have been a lot of changes to the business. We have canceled our chick sales and all live animals as a way to discourage crowds. We realize this would be the perfect time to start your flock, but we just feel we need to limit the crowds. We have begun offering curbside pick-up and pet food delivery to our available services. This is way ahead of schedule, but clearly, there is a need. We have shortened our hours to 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. because we don’t have enough staff available to stay open later. We have begun to limit the number of customers in the store at any one time to 10 and we closed down two registers in hopes of encouraging more distancing. 

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted your business? The business set records the Saturday through Tuesday before the Shelter in Place Order was placed. It was unreal. Monday we did almost 1,000 transactions. We just missed it by 30 sales. We’ve never done that in the history of the store. Since then, it’s settled down quite a bit. However, I will admit that I am still shocked at how busy we still are sometimes. I would think there would be more people not coming in but I suppose even hoarded supplies are running low. Fortunately the curb-side and delivery are dampening the number of in-store visits, but our phones are ringing off the hook and as we are short-staffed, it is a pretty heavy stress load, especially for the 2 or 3 people trying to fulfill those orders. 

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted you personally? Personally, I am fortunate enough not to have anyone directly impacted by the virus. However, the things we as a family used to like to do on my day off are put on hold. The vacations that we wanted to do this year with our twin daughters are all canceled. My parents are doing drive-by visits with the family, which is sad. Not to be able to give my mom a hug or dad a handshake for fear I could get them sick is a very unpleasant thought. I have also noticed there seem to be some psychological impacts that are just annoying. Every day at certain times of the day after being around customers I feel like I have a fever or sore throat, but as soon as I walk in the door to my house, all of that goes away and I am just fine and dandy.  

What has it been like to Shelter in Place? I feel a tad guilty personally. I am considered essential, so I only shelter on my day off. Otherwise, I am out of the house. When I am home, there is enough to keep me occupied, but I do get bored pretty quickly. Not enough to put anyone at risk, but it does get boring. I am brushing up on my Spanish and I am finally getting to some books I’ve had stored away, so I guess that’s a positive. 

What have you learned about yourself or your community during this time? I learned that all the time I spent on restriction and being grounded when I was a kid was just early training for a pandemic. For that, I thank my parents. I have also learned a bit more about what matters and the levels of stress I think I can handle. What I have learned about my community is that there are quite a few people who will step up to help out any way they can. I have had several customers who have taken it upon them to shop and feed their neighbor’s hungry animals. People are contributing any way they can. Unfortunately, I have also learned there are far too many people who are not taking this as seriously as they should. I don’t want to be negative, but certain behaviors are putting me and my employees at risk and that does bother me.   

What will some of the long-term impacts of COVID-19 be for you? I have been trying to figure that out. I think first and foremost, I am going to probably be a little less proactive regarding shaking hands. I know I have always wanted to build that “earthquake kit” I should have, but seeing how it feels more likely another pandemic will hit before an earthquake big enough to shock the system hits, I think I need to have a few items stocked up so that when the shelves go empty I am not in line at 6:30 a.m. to buy toilet paper or paper towels. I really worry about the long-term impacts on my kids though. They will miss 8th-grade graduation and a dance for this and they’ve already missed another dance because of the Kincaid Fire. Special rights of passage are being postponed or outright canceled because of one natural disaster after another. At what point do they break? Do they break? I like to think my girls are extremely strong, but their young girls and these are their formative years. I just want them to get their lives back on track. For the store, I think it will force us to look at setting up plans to be more reactive right away. We kept waiting for instructions and guidelines telling us the best way to keep us all safe. In the future, if something like this happens again, we can just open the pandemic handbook and enact all of these safety measures instantly. 

Barlas Feeds- Rocco Cunningham

What changes have you made to adapt to the situation? COVID-19 has forced us to make some slight changes to our daily routines. We have implemented our sanitation program and increased the number of deliveries and taken on smaller orders than our usual minimum orders.

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted your business? Have there been any changes in the supply chain for livestock feed and supplies?

We are very lucky to be considered an essential business and for the most part, a 90% self-contained business in terms of products moving in and out of the facility. We have seen some issues with pet food supplies and toys, and we are very happy we can offer seeds and soil this year. Most of the businesses that move seeds and gardening supplies are unfortunately closed and we are glad we can help fill that void as people look to plant their own food.  

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted you personally?

Personally, it has forced me to stay home, Zoom with friends and family, and has changed the landscape for the California Ag Leadership Program that I am part of. My wife and I are lucky to live outside of town and we can at least get outside and stretch our legs. We know people that live in the city and they are confined to their small apartments. The idea of that level of confinement frightens me.

What has it been like to Shelter in Place?

Sheltering in place has been hard on our social life, shopping, and enjoying our free time camping or hiking. My wife and I enjoy board games so we have increased the time we spend doing that. Sheltering in place has also forced my wife Betsey to stay home instead of traveling to the city daily for law school classes. She has gone to a 100% online Zoom platform to participate in class. Being in the rural area, our internet is not the best and that continues to create issues for her. 

What have you learned about yourself or your community during this time?

I have learned that I am happy to work in agriculture. In times like this, we have the opportunity to continue working and helping the supply chain to put food on the table for people of our community. I believe our community as a whole has responded well to COVID-19 and the direction of the CDC and community leaders. I am nervous as to the outcome for our community on an economic level. Sonoma County is a high tourist area with a plethora of restaurants and businesses that depend on the flow of local and traveling traffic through our communities. 

What will some of the long-term impacts of COVID-19 be for you?

I think COVID-19 has set the stage to make business difficult in the near and potentially long-term future. Up to this point, I really haven’t been impacted seriously, however, we are starting to see business slip. There are mild annoyances, but we have worked through them. I think we can do more online-based business. I am in the process of getting an app developed so that orders can be made through our app. This will allow us to compete against some of the other larger retail locations in our area.  

Hope Hansen- College Senior

I am currently in my last semester at Fresno State receiving my Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Business. After I receive my diploma, I am moving back to Sonoma County to pursue my passion for the wine and viticulture industry. I have an internship with Fruition Sciences that I am really excited about and looking forward to starting soon. 

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted you? Since the COVID-19 concerns have come about, it has really affected my short term plans and goals. My “in-person” classes have been canceled for the rest of the semester and our graduation ceremony has also been canceled for this spring. I was supposed to study abroad this summer in Spain, exploring all the major wine regions and that program was unfortunately canceled too. I currently work as a Wine Sales Associate and my hours have been reduced because we are unable to have the tasting room open for guests. I have had to take a step back and find the positive to keep my motivation up to still finish school strong. 

How does it feel to be ending your college experience in a pandemic? I am thankful that everyone I know is still in good health and being safe, that’s what matters. I am still proud to be a bulldog and respect the university’s actions regarding classes and graduation and are doing the best they can to still make sure we are getting a high-quality education online. I was very frustrated and anxious at first but now I am making sure that I finish school and trying to keep my mental and physical health up! 

What has it been like to shelter in place? Sheltering in place has been an interesting experience because a lot of my friends moved back to their hometowns so we get together sometimes using Zoom calls, which can be fun. I still go to work a few days of the week and I look forward to leaving the house and being productive at the winery. I have learned a lot during this time at my job and how much this shelter in place affects small businesses. The biggest learning opportunity I have had is experiencing what we can do virtually whether it be education or our jobs. Every Friday at my current job we are doing “virtual happy hour” and doing an online tasting for all of our wine club members. We highlight a new wine every week and this has proven to be extremely successful and now we are getting non-wine club members that want to join and are ordering more wine. I am not the only one who is being affected and I know that it will pass. I am so thankful that I still have a great job and that I get to return to Sonoma County soon!

 Austin Lely- Bee Well Farms

 Bee-Well Farms, LLC is a diversified farm in Sonoma County. Husband and wife team, Austin and Melissa Lely began the farm in 2015, with the mission to produce a range of wholesome products for the local community, while using a holistic management approach to enhance the land and farm ecosystem. Currently, on the farm, they are raising Hereford cattle, beekeeping, and producing 3 acres of seasonal vegetable crops, flowers, and pumpkins. They sell their products at farmers markets, do a CSA, and sell to restaurants. 

 How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted Bee-Well Farms? This time of the year we do a lot of grazing and sell nursery stock and then roll in to produce in the summer and the pumpkin patch in the fall. Farm Trails canceled all of their events and the Coronavirus put a halt to our 2020 plans. We are trying to reassess scale and adjust our plans for the future. We sell produce to several restaurants that are closed because of the Pandemic so they aren’t taking it anymore so we are giving produce away to friends and family. We have all of our summer crops that we will be planting come May, but we are still trying to gauge how this Pandemic is going to impact us into the fall. As farmers, we have to plan 6-8 months in advance so we had all of our pumpkin seed order done, which is pretty expensive, but we decided to step back and instead use all of the saved seeds that we have instead of purchasing seed. We want to prolong decision making as long as possible until we have a better idea about how the Fall will look. For us, it’s about slowing down and making educated decisions. At the same time, we have people calling us left and right asking to join our CSA. 

How has the Pandemic impacted other areas of your life?

My wife and I are on the board of directors for the farmers market in Sonoma and the woman who runs it is in the demographic who shouldn’t be exposed, so instead of selling at the market, we are managing the market. We are working to get all the farmers used to all of the new safety regulations. We’ve put white chalk marks 6 feet apart, all the food that comes must be prepackaged, nothing can be cooked on-site, and only farmers or food vendors are allowed to sell. Lots of people want to buy local right now, which is great.

Has the Pandemic made you reflect on anything? This situation has really made me appreciate our local community and its ability to quickly respond to peoples’ needs during challenging times. Whether it’s supporting local businesses like farms, restaurants, or the local hardware store, everyone is very giving and wants to support one another. So that’s jaw-dropping amazing! It’s awesome to see everyone coming together. People are buying gift certificates to local restaurants, buying local wines, reaching out to their local farmers. The magnitude of this Pandemic is difficult to wrap your head around. When we come out of this, it’s hard to imagine what things will be like. What will the repercussions be? How many small businesses will even be left in this county? Only time will tell, but I know that we are glad to be growing food during a time like this. We are healthy, we are still employed, and we have more food than we can eat, so we feel extremely lucky.

 Andrew Smith- Sonoma County Ag Commissioner

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted the daily workings of the Sonoma County Department of Agriculture?

I do a morning email each morning to all the Ag Weights & Measures staff to help lift spirits and hopefully provide some motivation. I want to do right by my staff and the stakeholders we serve. That’s no small undertaking. My goal is to help make my coworkers, staff, and peers feel comfortable. Our Department has 35 staff members and I want them all to be happy and healthy. We’ve set up a weekly all-staff Webx phone meeting so that we can stay connected with staff and help keep them engaged. When this whole thing started we rapidly had to decrease our services provided and our office functions to just the essential services which include our COUP Functions (Continuity of Operations Plan). Whenever there is a crisis or situation it forces the County to contract itself to provide for disaster service workers as well as to reduce services in response to a disaster, or in this case, the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

What essential functions is the Department of Agriculture still providing? We are still providing essential services to our stakeholders, which include land use permitting (VESCO), vineyard, orchard, and cannabis land use permitting, phytosanitary certifications because businesses still need to ship and export agricultural commodities to other states and countries. We support businesses by providing phytosanitary certification services, which means we make sure that the plant material or agricultural product meets the import requirement of the state or country of destination we do an inspection and create a phytosanitary certificate. We also continue to respond to pesticide complaints. One of the most important jobs that we have is protecting communities, farm employees, and the environment from pesticide contamination. We continue to visit the shipping terminals to inspect quarantined shipments of plant material to make sure that it is safe for entry to the county. We also are continuing our wildlife service program. You can’t stop wildlife from depredation on livestock or domestic animals even though we are all sheltering in place.

It’s extremely rewarding to be able to provide these services for the community because we can help our stakeholders with their compliance issues and with their needs so that they can continue their businesses. We are helping to keep agriculture going. We want to support all of our stakeholders in the ag community– rain or shine, fires, or calamity, or health crisis– we will always be here to help make sure things stay on track.    

John Bucher

Bucher Farms, owned by John and Diane Bucher, is a diversified farming operation in Healdsburg that has been in their family for nearly 60 years. What began as a modest herd of fifty mixed-breed dairy cows has evolved under John’s watch to approximately 700 Holstein and Brown Swiss milk cows—many descendants of the original herd- while managing nearly 2,000 acres of organic pasture.

 How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted your day to day life?

For us as an essential business, on one hand, we feel very blessed that we can continue our operation, but because of that one of the biggest challenges is the huge influx of information we’ve had to keep up with. When they first announced the Shelter in Place order, we had to figure out how to come up with a plan to keep our ranch safe and our most importantly our employees and ourselves safe. The difficulty in the beginning, and even still today, was information overload. New information is coming at us rapid-fire every day and it’s been that way for weeks. Keeping up with it all and making sure that we are doing the right thing for our employees, animals, and ranch has been the largest overarching impact. 

One good thing is that we’ve had experience continuing to work during a crisis because of the fires we’ve had over the past few years. We’ve learned how to deal with an emergency and the importance of developing a game plan to protect the ranch and our employees. This Pandemic is a little different, though. At least with the fires, you can see the orange embers in the distance. With this Pandemic, you don’t see anything but you still have to have a plan. Maybe a bit of a silver lining, fortunately, and unfortunately, is that we’ve had experience dealing with crises over the past few years. 

What has it been like to shelter in place on the ranch? Our security protocols are heightened but we haven’t missed a beat with milk being produced. One advantage that we have is that we house all of our employees here on the ranch so we can be in close contact with them and the ranch is somewhat isolated, especially compared to a neighborhood. So we have less chance of exposure here. The SIP order hasn’t slowed us down though and everyone is taking the situation very seriously here. 

Have you found any silver linings in this situation? This time more than others remind us what is essential, including food. I hope others appreciate the truck drivers, store clerks, and the farmers maybe a bit more so now because of what we are all going through. Any time there is a tragedy, I try to look for the silver linings. Otherwise, you can really get down. I hope a silver lining is that people grow to appreciate the average worker that is sometimes in the background, including local farmers.  

Adrianna Begley- College Senior

I currently attend Oklahoma State University where come May 8th I will receive my Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Education with a minor in Animal Science. I am currently completing my student teaching in Lawton, Oklahoma at Eisenhower High School with Lawton FFA. Lawton FFA incorporates three high schools and four middle schools into one chapter. Upon completion of my degree, I will receive my teaching credential and teach Agricultural Education in Oklahoma. I am currently looking to teach at a single teacher program in a rural town. Teaching at a single teacher program will allow me the opportunity to grow as a teacher and establish the faith in myself that I am capable of providing my students with the best opportunities possible.

What changes have you made to adapt to the situation? With the Shelter in Place, my student teaching experience has come to an end. I am no longer able to interact with my students in face-to-face interactions, but I am creating material and presenting it to them in a virtual manner. I am still staying in Lawton to assist with distance learning and apply for a job within the Southwest part of the state. 

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted you personally? This pandemic has been a difficult one to cope with. I will never forget when I was at the Oklahoma Youth Expo with my students and they shut down the show. I held back my tears as long as I could, but once we walked the sheep to the sale pens I could not contain my tears. I did not care that we had a wether that could have won his class, I cared that that little girl would not get to experience that handshake in the show ring or that my senior would officially never get to show at OYE. My college graduation was postponed until December. While still having the opportunity to walk is still great, I will have to remove myself from my career to come back and unfortunately the weekend of graduation is the same weekend as MFE/ALD that my students will be attending. I did not get to finish my student teaching experience, which would have included CDE season and state convention. I never got to say my final goodbyes to my kids and thank them for helping me become the teacher I am. On top of everything, I am not about to travel back home to be with family. Having asthma and being prone to a cough, my parents felt it was best to stay in Oklahoma until it was okay to travel to California. 

What has it been like to Shelter in Place? In Oklahoma, the SIP is not as enforced as in California. In Lawton on the other hand, the Mayor has taken the Governor’s recommendations and built upon them. Lawton has the strictest laws within the state regarding COVID-19. I am not a person that likes to stay idle for more than a day or two. I have found myself cleaning the house every day, working out, and planning out my future. 

What have you learned about yourself or your community during this time? When a person is forced to take a step back from their life they have the opportunity to make changes. I have taken the time to do self-reflection and realize the only person holding myself back is me. I have started eating healthier, working out, and going to the wildlife refuge. There is something therapeutic about walking off the path to climb the rock structure and seeing a buffalo running on the next hill over. Once this pandemic is over, the community is going to come back stronger. We take people, nonessential luxuries, going out to dinner, going to the grocery store, and things for granted. This situation is requiring everyone to take a step back and the importance of everything and everyone that has an impact on their life.

Bridget Doherty, President Encore Events Rentals

What changes have you made to adapt to the situation? We have a very flexible cancellation policy in general, so we have been able to reschedule weddings without a financial impact to the bride and groom- which is great for them and hopefully eases some of the stress. We are seeing a number of our 2020 spring and summer weddings reschedule for 2021, and some are moving to fall and early winter in hopes they can still happen in 2020.

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted you personally? It is a very tough time for us all, with our normal lives turned upside down and the future changing so much.  I don’t know that I am experiencing it any differently than most people- some days feel normal, some very hopeful and some are tough and sad.  So far the hopeful and forward thinking days are much more frequent than the others at least.

I am still working but with a very limited number of us right now.  As a business we are navigating how to manage our current situation, short term and the long term impacts as best we can. That is my focus so we rebound from this as quickly and successfully we can, for our employees, customers and the company.

What have you learned about yourself or your community during this time? I know I need human connection, interaction, laughter, hugs, group meals- all the wonderful parts of life.  I knew that before but this time makes me appreciate those things even more. I can’t wait for a dinner party to be with family and friends!

 

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