Our Response to COVID-19

An Update from our Executive Director:
April 17, 2020

Dear Friends,

We are so grateful for all the ways folks are supporting our work at this critical time. Last night we just received our first gift from someone paying forward their stimulus check. She wrote, “Thanks friends for all you do! Feds gave me $1,200, so I’m giving it to you. xoxo.” Someone else chose to start a monthly gift of $10/month to support our work through this challenging time, and in the months ahead. Whether you are able to give $10 or $1,200, we are grateful for your investment. Know that we are putting it to use right away growing and sharing healthy food with those who need it most right now.

For those of you who give by volunteering, we can’t wait to have you back with us. For now you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram for video updates from the farm! And for those of you who may have supported us in the past, but are facing new barriers and new challenges… know that we are thinking of you. Many are facing food access challenges for the first time. If we can be helpful in connecting you to resources, including our own programs and food distribution networks, please let us know. You can call 804-266-1914 or email programs@shalomfarms.org.

As things continue to ramp up, we are committed to providing ongoing updates on our work. Below are just some of the ways Shalom Farms is rising to meet the growing need for healthy food in our community:

Our Farms:
Thanks to your generous support and a grant from the Central Virginia COVID Response Fund at the Community Foundation, we have been able to hire temporary farm help during this critical time. We were honored to be among the 25 organizations funded in the first round. To date we have put 41,416 plants in the ground with many more to go! And we’ve been able to donate more than 1,000 transplants to community partners, most going to the Resiliency Garden Initiative. As our harvests start to pick up considerably, we are developing new systems to ensure we can safely harvest and pack thousands of lbs. of food each week with less volunteer labor.

Our Nutrition Distribution Partnerships:
We have been in frequent conversation with our partners at FeedMore and we anticipate growing over 250,000 servings of produce for them in the coming months. We continue to talk with FeedMore and community-based food pantries about the safest and best way to distribute this food. Among the immediate challenges is developing a plan to pack our produce in smaller units. This will reduce the amount of sorting and re-packing that volunteers at FeedMore and other agencies need to do.

Our “Grown to Go” Mobile Market:
With unemployment and underemployment growing at record rates, we are looking at ways to use our versatile Mobile Market vehicle to get healthy food to more people than ever before… including many who have never previously needed our services. We are exploring ways to get pre-bagged and/or pre-ordered produce safely to our most vulnerable neighbors. We are also in conversation with community partners about ways the market locations can be used to distribute other critical resources and information. If weather and resources allow, we hope to move up the start of our Mobile Market season from June to May!

Earning and maintaining trust has always been one of our top priorities. That is especially true during these extremely challenging times. For those of you who trust us to provide you with access to safe healthy food, please know that you are our top priority, now more than ever. And for those of you who trust us with your resources, know that your support is valued, now more than ever, and that we will continue to carefully steward your investment in building a healthy community.

For those of you still in a position to give, whether it is $10 or a $1,200 stimulus check, please know that we are grateful for your generosity and will be putting it to use right away.

With Gratitude,

Dominic Barrett
Executive Director

An Update from our Executive Director:
March 26, 2020

Dear Friends,

We are extremely grateful that we can continue to do our work in these uncertain times. It seems so obvious that food production and food access work would be deemed “essential.” But how often have we taken it for granted?

For many of us this recent panic over empty grocery store shelves and shuttered farmers markets is a tiny glimpse of what thousands in our city have dealt with everyday for years… not knowing if they can access or afford nutritious healthy food. And as many of us turn to online grocery shopping, thousands who participate in SNAP (formerly the food stamp program) aren’t so lucky, as SNAP can not be used for online purchases.

It is an understatement to say that things are rapidly shifting. But we wanted to give you all a few quick updates on where our heads, hearts, and hands are as of today:

Our Farms:
If you have ever volunteered with us, then you know firsthand that volunteers are the engine behind our farming operation. Because of cancellations and safety restrictions, we are anticipating a reduction of 12,000 volunteer hours over the next three months. Some of that is being made up by increases in our Lead Volunteer program and by shifting our program and admin staff to more regular farm work. But this is all happening at a critical time for the farm when 35,000 spring plants are set to go in the ground in the next 4 weeks. We will continue to use best practices and consult experts about how and when to safely increase the use of volunteers. But in the meantime, we will need to hire more seasonal staff.

Our Programs:
We have streamlined our winter distribution efforts and are carefully assessing where we might need to shift our food access efforts over the next three months. We want to be prepared to meet the growing need for our services while complying with all safety regulations. This means listening carefully to our community partners and program participants to ensure we are getting the right food, to the right place, in the right way. And it means we are working closely with state officials to ensure that our mobile market and other distribution efforts are able and ready to operate under any restrictions that may be put in place.

Our Finances:
Our top financial priority is to secure the $25,000 needed to hire 4 additional temporary farm staff to fill gaps over the next 2-3 months. A request to meet this need is currently being considered by a local foundation. Beyond that our focus is on securing funding to ensure we can respond to whatever the unpredictable and unprecedented need looks like this spring and summer. We know that we may need to distribute food in more costly ways to ensure the most vulnerable still have access.

It is too early to know how much the need may increase or how many of our traditional funding streams may dry up in the coming weeks. As we know more, we will share more. But if you are in a position to, please consider making an investment in this work. And know that your gift today means we can respond to the needs of our community tomorrow.

If you have questions about our work, our safety measures, or our financial needs please don’t hesitate to email me at dominic@shalomfarms.org or call me on my cellphone at (336) 263-3654.

With Gratitude,

Dominic Barrett
Executive Director

A Letter from our Executive Director:
March 17, 2020

Rarely have the simple words “we belong to each other” felt more true or more complex. We take very seriously our privilege and role in providing healthy and responsibly grown produce to the communities that need it most. And we have every reason to believe the need will only grow in the days ahead. However, we also take very seriously the role each of us play in “flattening the curve” and curbing this crisis. So for us “belonging to each other” means carefully balancing the demands of food production and distribution with the urgent need for social distancing.

To that end, we will not be scheduling any additional volunteers through at least May 17th. We hope that can change, but we want to err on the side of caution as well as avoid unnecessary scheduling and rescheduling. In the meantime, farm work will be limited to our staff and a small number of previously scheduled adult volunteers – mostly our vetted and trained “Lead Volunteers” – and never more than 7 volunteers on the farm at a time. This means we will be reaching out to many of you to cancel or reschedule your group for a later date.

We will continue to take extra precautions to ensure the long term safety of our community as well as the health of staff, volunteers, and the food we produce. In addition to our pre-existing food safety handling protocols we are also adopting enhanced protocols during all work, especially harvest and packing. These measures include but are not limited to, daily screening of anyone on the farm, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces (like bucket and tool handles) after every use, requiring the use of gloves where appropriate, washing all fabrics daily including gloves after every use, and organizing/assigning work in a way that allows workers to maintain a safe distance from others.

Currently the FDA says there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. We will continue to closely monitor updates from CDC, VDH, VDACS, and FDA. And we will continue to think strategically about the safest ways to get our produce to the community. We have already begun consolidating deliveries, shifting to a drop off system that limits human interactions, and increasing sanitation during delivery.

Most importantly, we recognize the importance of staying home if anyone displays ANY symptoms of COVID-19 or has any reason to believe they may have come in contact with someone who might be carrying COVID-19. To that end, we will continue providing paid sick leave to all employees including part time and seasonal farm staff.

We don’t want to overwhelm your inbox or newsfeed, but we will provide additional updates as appropriate in the coming days and weeks. If you have any questions or concerns, I can be directly reached at dominic@shalomfarms.org. For those currently experiencing food insecurity or looking to volunteer, we recommend our partners at:

Richmond Public Schools: https://www.rvaschools.net/Page/7351
Feed More: https://feedmore.org/

Be good to yourself and each other in the coming weeks…and remember that in almost all cases “being good to each other” right now means avoiding each other and finding other ways to build community.

Thank you,

Dominic Barrett
Executive Director

 

 

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