Local growers find ways to aid community, survive impact

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For the local agriculture community, produce growers are finding ways to move forward amid massive shut downs designed to flatten the curve when it comes to the spread of coronavirus.

In a Tuesday guideline list reported by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, “New York State has not restricted food producing farms, farmers’ markets, grocery stores, retail food stores, food pantries, food banks ...These operations are exempt under the mass gatherings guidance as essential food supply chain industries.”

Still, even with food producers being deemed essential, local agriculturists are seeing an impact and they are readjusting their typical business and marketing models.

Will Olney, owner of Olney’s Flowers on North James Street shuttered the florist sector of his business last weekend after a new wave of coronavirus related prevention guidance was handed down from the state.

But, his greenhouse is remaining open and he has started vegetable plants to be ready for sale once temperatures are favorable for garden planting.

“Everything has been impacted,” he said, adding that during this lull in his greenhouse business, his employees are working staggered shifts and practicing social distancing

Elsewhere Ronald Wagner, owner of Wagner Farms on Old Oneida Road said the farm has found another way to serve the community, and is donating 1,000 bags of microwave-ready popcorn each week to the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School District as a treat for students who are receiving home delivery lunches and meals.

The farm is committing to this each week as long as required, Wagner said. “At least for the next three weeks.”

“It’s an investment in the community… A nice healthy snack,” he said.

Looking forward, special events he typically hosts at his farm such as corn mazes, sunflower fields and Christmas in July events kick off at the end of that month.

This year, he doesn’t plan to be present at any farmers markets, but the farm stand will be open on his farm, he said.

“The biggest challenge right now is getting (protective gear),” he said. In other words, protective suits, masks and gloves that are often used in farm work.

Echoing Wagner’s concerns about the virus ultimately impacting the ability to procure work supplies, Olney said, “It’s had a dramatic effect in our supply chain.”

But, regardless, both growers are finding ways to roll with the punches.

“Farmers are used to this,” Wagner said.

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