A Letter to Our Customers Regarding COVID-19 Protocols

Dear farm members and friends,

We are writing you regarding a complaint made by four employees through the Pioneer Valley Workers Center which was emailed to us on April 5th.  The complaint alleges unsafe working conditions related to COVID-19.  The Center has also publicized that there is a strike.

Ryan and I, as well as the farm’s employees, were deeply dismayed and shocked to read the Center’s allegations.  We have worked hard to develop and maintain recommended best practices with respect to farm operations. 

Our regular practices include following stringent sanitation procedures as a GAP food safety certified farm.  As COVID-19 has unfolded, we have continually updated our procedures to include the best practices recommended by the CDC, and state and local authorities.    

In early March, we began implementing COVID-19 specific policies and procedures.   We continue to update our procedures and provide training to employees as the CDC’s, state and local recommendations change.

Packing crew filling boxes with fresh greens and goods this week.

We were also shocked because there is no strike.  

Our incredible packing and farm staff continues to work daily to grow, harvest and deliver local produce.   On March 24th  four employees left the farm citing a reason unrelated to the farm’s safety practices or COVID-19 in the workplace.   

The Center’s email includes a list of demands purportedly from those employees.   However, as you can read below, the farm’s normal policies and procedures along with our COVID-19 enhanced practices already met those demands well before we received the Center’s April 5th email.

Here is a snap-shot of our regular policies as well as our COVID-19 enhancements: 

  • Employees have always been trained and told to stay home when sick.  This is a required part of regular food safety training as part of GAP food safety certification.
  • In early March we began to provide additional training and guidance to employees regarding the symptoms of COVID-19, ways to avoid spreading COVID-19, and when to stay home from work and self-isolate or quarantine if an employee or contact contracts COVID-19.  We prepared a plan to notify individuals that an employee has come in contact with if any employee reports that they or a close contact were exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Hand washing.  We wash our hands a lot; we always have. Our policies and procedures contain detailed requirements for how and when employees wash their hands as part of GAP food safety certification.  We have plenty of soap and water with a designated hand washing sink in the packing department and at the farm offices in Montague and Granby, and in the fields in season.  GAP does not permit using hand sanitizer as a substitute for hand-washing.
  • Our trash receptacles for paper towels are no touch.
  • Food contact and high use surfaces are regularly sanitized with bleach and other GAP recommended cleaning supplies in accordance with GAP food safety standards.   As of March 13th, we required increased sanitizing of frequent touch surfaces.
  • Gloves have always been stocked regularly for sanitary handling in the packing department. 
  • As of March 15th the majority of our office staff began working remotely.   We have made various accommodations for higher risk individuals and staff with children at home.
  • In-person meetings for remaining on-site staff have been held following the CDC’s recommended social distancing guidelines.  All department managers were instructed to set up and maintain work stations 6ft or more apart.  Frequent reminders regarding the social distancing protocols are provided.  Each department has additional practices regarding social distancing and contact reduction that are unique to that department’s specific operation.   Employees continue to receive notice and training regarding policy changes and best practices via posters, email, and in-department training.
  • As of March 19th we shared our policy regarding picking-up and deliveries to our CSA and preorder customers.   Delivery drivers are required to change gloves between drop offs.  Drivers have been instructed to follow social distancing guidelines during deliveries. 
  • The only farmers’ market where we currently vend is designed for good social distancing.  We use our protocols regarding sanitizing and handling food flow through our stand at the farmers market.
  • As of March 27th we posted information regarding paid time off under the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).  This Act became effective on April 1st.   This week we will be providing on-farm trainings for employees regarding the benefits available under this new program.
  • As of March 30th three-layer cloth masks were issued to all packing and retail employees.  We are currently in the process of making additional masks for our outdoor crew.  My mum, Ella, has been very busy sewing.   
  • The CDC did not issue its recommendation regarding masks until April 3rd.  Governor Baker made his recommendation regarding wearing masks on April 5th.
  • Our HR Manager has been emailing and checking in with all the employees frequently regarding policy changes and responding to questions and concerns in a timely manner. We have an open line of communication available for those four people, and all staff, to contact and communicate with us.

My mum with hand-sewn triple-layer masks for our crew.

We will continue to monitor the recommendations from the CDC, and state and local government and change our practices accordingly.   

We would hate to see our business harmed or your support lessened as a result of misinformation from the Center or the four employees who have stopped working for personal reasons unrelated to our COVID-19 safety practices.

We very much appreciate your continued support.


Sarah, Ryan and the Red Fire Farm team.