Expanded Practices for U-Pick Operations, Individual Farm Stands & Other Agritourism Operations
The warmer weather and relaxation of shelter in place restrictions mean visitors will be looking for opportunities and venues to enjoy time outdoors. It is predicted that visitors will be taking more staycations and “safe-cations” closer to home in their local communities. This opens new and expanded opportunities for U-pick operations, farm stands and other agritourism operations to provide visitors with a unique connection to fresh, local products and agritourism experiences closer to home. However, these agritourism-related businesses, like any other, have a responsibility to take proactive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among their employees and their customers.
The following guidance and best practices are offered to help operators adhere to social distancing recommendations, reduce duration of exposure and maintain effective health and sanitation practices. Remember, these suggestions are expanded practices in light of the novel pandemic and should complement the health and sanitation precautions you already take on your operation, as well as any new recommendations from your state’s departments of health and agriculture. These expanded practices will help protect you and your farm team, as well as help reassure your customers that you are taking necessary actions to protect them and the products you sell.
Effective communication will likely be a major factor in the success of your season. Communicate with customers before they visit your operation to share the proactive steps you are taking during this time and any changes in policy that will require their cooperation. Use websites, social media, newsletters, emails or other appropriate means to provide daily updates to reach as many potential customers as possible. Continue to communicate with your visitors when they arrive at the operation – post signs at the entrance and other strategic places throughout the farm, emphasize rules and expectations at check-in and request verbal or written confirmation, and place employees throughout the operation to monitor and remind visitors of rules and policies.
Communicate beforehand that customers who exhibit symptoms or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 will not be permitted to enter the premises. Post the following statements at your farm’s entry and request verbal confirmation that it is accurate.
- No one in my family is ill and I have not been exposed to someone sick with COVID-19 in the last two weeks.
- I will maintain a 6-foot distance between me and other customers at all times.
- I will pick cleanly and only in the areas assigned to me.
- I will follow directions for walking and other health and safety instructions as posted throughout the farm.
- Remind customers that no pets and food sampling will be allowed during this time.
Designate a one-way foot traffic pattern to enter and exit the premises and post signs to show flow. Post signs to encourage 6-foot separation in waiting areas. If premises have exceeded occupancy, encourage customers to wait in their cars. Provide hand-washing stations with soap, potable water, single-use towels and gray water catchment at farm entry and throughout the premises. Hand sanitizers may be used in addition to, not instead of, handwashing. However, if soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropyl, and remind customers to wash their hands at the earliest opportunity.
COVID-19 is not considered a foodborne pathogen, but it can survive and spread via hard surfaces. This is a good time to review, improve and reinforce your regular standard operating procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting and drying any food contact surfaces, harvest bins, tools and high-touch areas throughout the operation, including registers, electronics, door handles, railings, etc.
Use clean containers daily to eliminate need for sanitizing containers and scales between customers. If you use reusable containers, these must be cleaned with soap and water and sanitized between customers. However, if you have a known or probable hazard, such as visible feces, bodily fluids or blood, or an employee or customer is found to exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, cleaning and disinfecting is appropriate. This involves using a higher concentration and/or longer contact times of a disinfecting chemical on containers or surfaces with visible contamination. Some common sanitizers, including Clorox, Sanidate, Tsunami and Vigorox, may be adjusted for use as a disinfectant; be sure to read the labels or see the EPA Disinfectant Registration List for more information.
The total number of customers allowed on the premises at once will depend on the specific facility: is it enclosed or open; are people moving about or standing relatively still; and how many can be accommodated to allow for maintaining the 6-foot distance from other customers? For example, for U-pick strawberries or vegetables, total number of customers will likely be half of the total number of rows available for picking, to allow for one family per row. For raspberries or blueberries, this will likely be equal to the total number of rows available for picking. For farm stands and other agritourism operations, use the 6-square feet per customer rule; space vending booths at least ten feet apart. If space is an issue, consider temporarily redesigning market locations to allow for pre-ordered items to be picked up at specific times or alternative distribution methods such as community or home delivery.
For U-pick operations specifically, number each row and assign specific rows to each customer, emphasizing the importance of each party staying together in their assigned row. For rows that are closer together, like strawberries and vegetables, assign customers to every other row. For raspberries, blueberries or other trellised crops, assign every row. Provide each customer with a wire flag that should be left where they stopped picking, so the next customer will begin picking from this flag. It will be helpful to have some field personnel to monitor farm rules and to provide new containers to limit customers to their assigned areas. Encourage customers to use restrooms before or after farm activity to minimize foot activity and prevent cross-contamination.
When possible, encourage contactless payments including exact change, credit cards, tap-to-pay, or prepay online. Consider setting a unit price per container (quarts, gallons, etc.) to minimize contact with produce, provide for social distancing and facilitate faster check-out. Extending sales hours to accommodate more customers without crowding is recommended. It may be considerate to designate specific hours for vulnerable populations, including elderly, pregnant or immune-compromised individuals.
Face covering policies for customers will likely differ from operation to operation, so be sure to make your policy known to customers before they visit the farm and reinforce at farm entry. Face coverings for farm employees is recommended if they are interacting with customers. This also is a good time to review and improve your employee training to ensure they understand and can practice and enforce the farm’s health and sanitation practices.
If you are unable to effectively address the practices recommended above, you may decide to remain closed for this year or choose a different market alternative that minimizes customer contact, such as custom picking for farm pick-up or delivery, picking by appointment only or joining a multi-farm CSA or food hub.
Some of the above material is adapted from Cornell University’s publication, “Best Management Practices for U-Pick Farms During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” For further information, please contact Dee Singh-Knights at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-293-7606.
Trade or brand names used in this publication are for educational purposes only. The use of such product names does not imply endorsement by WVU Extension to the exclusion of other products that may be equally suitable.