It has been an interesting several weeks in McBee, SC. At home, our two children have been living their best lives. Yes, we are doing schoolwork :) However, most importantly they are playing with one another, tromping through the woods finding precious sticks and rocks, camping on school nights, and fishing with their dad who typically travels for work. Our 6-year-old is doing all kinds of new tricks on his bike and has recently learned to rollerblade. I can't help but smile at our 2-year-old's sidewalk chalk, dirt-covered, elated face every night when I come home from work. (That’s her kissing her fish before she had to throw it back in the pond). What a time to be a kid!
Our farm has been blessed as we are considered an essential business. This has allowed us to keep our doors open during the pandemic. Honestly, as a mom I have struggled a bit. Going to work every day and not being able to spend this precious time with my kids has been tough. I also can't help but worry about possibly bringing germs into our home. When I walk in the door at night, the house is messier than usual, and so are the kids' shoes and clothes. I only hope this is a sign that one day they'll look back on this unique season in their lives not with fear, but with pure joy.
On the farm, we've met the challenges of operating during COVID-19 head on. Yes, we have remained open, but things are certainly different. Our new daily norm now begins with checking everyone’s temperature before they clock in. Pickers, tractor drivers, retail cashiers, office employees, myself and even my dad are all checked before starting the day.
In the early days of the pandemic, we conducted COVID-19 trainings in English and Spanish for every employee while also providing them with scarce hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves. Our Food Safety manager went right to work, implementing hourly cleaning routines, communicating the steps we should follow if anyone started to feel sick, and mapping out quarantine options for our H2A employees. More recently, we have closed our u-pick areas and cancelled all public events. We have introduced a curbside option and added new products at our roadside market. We now offer essentials such as milk, bread, and eggs. Our store has continued to feature local produce so our customers are able to avoid the big box stores. I would never have dreamed that McLeod Farms would be doing these things when we rang in 2020.
At the beginning of this year, I attended the NC State Executive Farm Management School. I also was able to travel to a few Southeastern produce shows. At these events, it was enlightening to meet other farmers and learn about their operations in neighboring states. It raised my awareness of not only how our farm contributes to the economy and food supply chain, but it also made me realize how impactful we are as a community of farmers nationwide. Feeling empowered, I left these events ready to implement new ideas and market our crop.
Not 2 weeks after I returned from traveling, the COVID-19 pandemic ensued. I went from feeling inspired about the US agricultural industry to hearing about how dairy farmers were dumping their milk. I have watched and read too many videos regarding our food supply chain with a saddened heart. Now more than ever American farmers need the public's support. Being a family member of McLeod Farms, I would love to see our customers purchase straight from our farm. However, this is so much bigger.
We are asking consumers to check the label on food that is purchased at a market or grocery store. And we are not just requesting you to look for our label. We would like to see the public supporting all American grown produce. It only takes a few extra seconds to check the label, and maybe pay a few cents more to support growers in the US.
Here at McLeod Farms, we have been so fortunate this strawberry season as our orders have been constant. We will start packing peaches and picking blackberries in about 4 weeks. We pray that the business continues… whether it’s large grocery chains or individual orders. To all those out there who are supporting your local farmer, thank you!
Mexico imported billions of dollars of fruits and vegetables last year, and we would like to see that change. However, it starts with the consumer. Therefore, I hope this pandemic does many things for our country. I have seen its impact on families spending more time together and cooking at home. And in turn, I hope it also cultivates a trend that encourages Americans to buy American grown products when purchasing food.
At the bottom of every e-mail I send to one of our customers, I usually end with the same greeting. It’s not just a sound bite or phrase that I think sounds good. However, it comes from a place of heartfelt appreciation for those who support our family. Amid this crazy season, I mean it now more than ever. - “thank you for supporting our family farm and family farms across America.”