State Policy

The Future of Food and Farm Businesses Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic

A field of organic cabbage in the morning. Photo Credit: Three Creeks Farm

All of our lives are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including OEFFA members and supporters concerned about sustainable agriculture and healthy local and regional food systems that are likely to experience disruption in the days and months ahead. Please know that OEFFA remains open for business; this includes our organic certification services as well as our education department. We are not in our Columbus office but are available by phone and email.

We are currently advocating for policy responses to this pandemic that protect farmers, support local food systems, and protect public health. Please take every opportunity to contact your state and federal representatives and urge them to support these policy recommendations. If you are not sure who they are or how to contact them, click here.

We will be providing important updates on how the pandemic is affecting agriculture in the days and weeks to come on this blog, and we have launched a new COVID-19 News and Resources page where we will be sharing updates and resources as well.

In this first COVID-related blog post, we focus on the impact of Governor DeWine’s Executive Order, issued on March 22, 2020, which requires all non-essential businesses to close and directs the public to stay at home. In an effort to help Ohio’s small farmers and related businesses comply with the Governor’s Stay At Home Order, we have compiled this brief analysis.

Please note: OEFFA is not a law firm and this analysis DOES NOT represent legal advice.

Can I farm?

Yes! Farming is identified as an Essential Business under the Director’s Order. Food and beverage manufacturing are also classified as such. See page 5, section 12(c).

Are my workers allowed to come to work?

Yes, travel related to Essential Businesses is allowed. See page 2, section 5(d). Businesses must make sure that employees practice social distancing and comply with the guidelines in section 15 (page 8) wherever possible. Employers are also responsible for taking the listed actions in section 18 (page 8-9) intended to keep employees safe. It may be advisable to develop a letter for your employees indicating that they are in your employ and are working for an essential business. OEFFA has developed a template in-transit letter for agricultural employees you can use.

How can I sell my products?

In addition to grocery stores, certified farmers’ markets and farm and produce stands are considered Essential Businesses by the Director’s Order. However, the decision to open is at the discretion of the individual market. Furthermore, open markets are likely to change operations to comply with social distancing requirements. Please contact your market outlets directly for information on their plans. Travel for groceries and food are identified as Essential Activities for the general public on page 2, section 5(b), so if your market is open, people can come and buy from you.

What is a “certified” farmers’ market?

Unlike some other states, Ohio doesn’t technically have a “certification” for farmers markets. OEFFA and partner organizations interpret this language to mean markets that have registered with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. We will update this information if we get further clarification from the state. If your market is not registered with the ODA, we recommend doing so here.

I want to keep my market open. What do I need to do to keep customers safe?

The Ohio Farmers Market Network is working on a set of recommendations for open markets to follow. Watch our COVID-19 News and Resources page for these recommendations. For now, we recommend reading section 15 (page 8) for the state’s social distancing requirements.

What about other services I may need to operate like tractor repair, banking, insurance, veterinary care, construction trades, etc?

Many of the support industries that farmers rely on, from gas stations, to hardware stores, to veterinarians, to legal counsel are included as Essential Businesses under section 12 (pages 5-7). We’ve gone through the list and highlighted businesses that may be relevant to some farm operations. However, it is important to remember that the Director’s Order “encourages” Essential Businesses to remain open, but does not mandate that they remain open. Some businesses may choose not to open or may open with limited operations. We recommend contacting any business you wish to utilize to see if they are operating and what, if any, changes they may have made. If you need to travel for a good or service essential to your business, that should be considered allowed travel related to an Essential Business.  

I do not farm, but my business serves farmers. Am I considered an Essential Business?

Maybe. In addition to the list of essential businesses on pages 5-7, the Director’s Order also includes the Department of Homeland Security’s “Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce” as an attachment. Page 18 includes a long list of food and agriculture related workers deemed essential by the federal government.

How does social distancing work?

We are all in this together and all of us must do our best to limit the spread of COVID-19. Please carefully read the Social Distancing Requirements in section 15 (page 8) and work to comply as much as possible.

How will this be enforced?

In section 17 (page 8), the Director’s Order gives enforcement power to state and local law enforcement. The Director also delegates authority to answer questions about this Order in writing to local health departments. If you have questions about this Order, please contact your local health department.

We will continue to keep you apprised of additional developments and measures that may affect food and farm operations as well as opportunities to support the important work of growing food sustainably and getting it to those in need.

UPDATE: Since this article was originally published, Ohio has issued an amended Stay at Home Order, effective through May 1, 2020. The links throughout this article reference the original Stay at Home Order. The amended order no longer references “certified” farmers’ markets, instead listing simply “farmers’ markets” among the Essential Businesses and Operations.