The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) has received inquiries about the requirements for Vermont Pick-Your-Own (PYO) operations during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All Vermont farms offering Pick-Your-Own this season must follow the requirements and best practices laid out in the Pick-Your-Own Restart Plan. Find answers to frequently asked questions below.
Chritmas Tree Operations
Q. What guidance applies to Christmas tree farms?
A. It depends upon the operation’s specific activity. Importantly, every business is required to follow ACCD’s work safe guidance, so those health and safety requirements apply to all types of business activity. Please see ACCD’s applicable health and safety requirements at the following link: https://accd.vermont.gov/news/update-new-work-safe-additions-stay-home-s... . In addition, more specific guidance applies when it governs a particular business activity. As an example, a tree farmer follows ACCD’s retail guidance when selling trees. See https://accd.vermont.gov/news/update-new-work-safe-additions-be-smart-st... And, a tree farmer with a cut-your-own operation follows the Agency’s Pick Your Own (PYO) Restart Plan, which is available here: https://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/agriculture/files/doc_library/Pick... . If a tree farmer has another distinct business operation—like a restaurant—then ACCD’s more specific applicable guidance applies to that part of the business.
Q: The guidance reads: “PYO customers are prohibited from areas of the farm not involved in the PYO farm operation.” Does this mean that PYO customers cannot visit my farm stand after picking?
A: No. The prohibition means customers cannot wander around your farm or visit parts of your farm that are not specifically open to customers. PYO customers may engage in other commercial activities on the property. However, it is important to remember that different guidance applies to different activities. As soon as someone is no longer participating in the PYO operation, different guidance may come into play.
Q: Is it okay to have visitors explore the farm during the ongoing state of emergency?
A: The guidance describes PYO requirements. Farms are essential and are also open for business, but customers should not be wandering the farm beyond PYO boundaries. The objective of all guidance during this public health emergency is to reduce the risks from the congregation and possible transmission. Customers can visit other parts of the farm that are open to consumers provided applicable guidance for those activities is followed. For example, if customers buy items from the PYO operation or farm stand and then sit and eat on the property, the farm should follow outdoor restaurant guidance. If someone is given permission to recreate on the property, then outdoor recreation guidance should apply. These nuances are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and we strongly encourage growers to review ACCD’s guidance and reach out to us if you need any further clarity as to what guidance applies for distinct activities.
Q: I only invite visitors onto my farm for PYO. We do not have a farm stand or any other commercial business on our farm. Do I need to prohibit customers from other areas of the farm not involved in the PYO operation?
A: Yes. The intent of this guidance is to urge farms to not allow customers to wander around the farm and beyond the boundaries of where PYO customers can be managed to reduce the risks of congregation and transmission.
Farm Stands, Creemee Stands, and On-Farm Enterprises
Q: How does this guidance affect farms with multiple enterprises on the farm, in addition to a Pick-Your-Own (PYO) operation?
A: PYO guidelines only apply to the PYO part of your operation. Once a customer is no longer participating in the PYO operation, the distinct guidelines applicable to other operations—like a farm stand—are in effect.
Q: What guidance applies to PYO customers who make their purchases in a farm stand where other food and agriculture products are also regularly sold?
A: If a farm has a farm stand, and also sells its PYO crop through the farm stand, then ACCD’s consumer retail guidance for critical retailers applies to the farm stand. If the farm either exclusively or separately sells its PYO crop(s), then the Agency’s PYO Restart Plan guidance applies.
Q: What consumer retail guidance applies to critical retailers, such as farm stands and grocery stores?
A: Critical retail businesses must follow the same health, safety, and training requirements as all other businesses, which are outlined in ACCD’s Work Safe Guidance. Critical retailers, such as grocery stores, that continued operations under the Stay Home, Stay Safe order do not need to reduce occupancy to continue operating.
Q: Do you know what this means for those of us who sell creemees?
A: The answer depends upon whether creemee sales are part of your PYO operation or instead, part of a different farm activity.
The PYO Restart Plan pertains to PYO operations only, not to farm stands or other regular farming activities. The following restriction applies to PYO operations: "To limit in-person contact and the risk of contamination, the on-site consumption of food—including crops being picked—is not allowed. In addition, customers are not permitted to congregate on-site before, during, or after picking. PYO customers are prohibited from areas of the farm not involved in the PYO farm operation."
- If a farm serves creemees to PYO customers as part of the PYO operation, they should be purchased on the way out and consumed off-site (per the above guidance).
- If a farm sells food through a farm stand or serves food and has some tables, then farm stand (consumer retail guidance for critical retailers) and/or restaurant guidance applies and the farm stand is not a PYO operation. For all retail—including critical food services—curbside pick-up remains the preferred method.
Q: Can I give PYO customers wagon rides around the farm fields while they wait for their turn to pick?
A: As long as all customers wear face masks (akin to the public transportation requirement) and those customers who are visiting together stay at least 6 feet from all other customers visiting together and 6 feet from any employees, this could work. The requirement to limit the number of employees in vehicles does not apply to an open-air wagon.
Q: Is this mandatory guidance?
A: Yes, it is the expectation that all VT PYO operations will comply with the Executive Order and follow the PYO Restart Plan guidance issued by AAFM. In some instances the guidance mandates requirements (usually by using ‘shall,’ ‘must,’ or ‘will’), at other times the guidance indicates best practices and strong preferences (generally by using ‘should’ or ‘preferred’).
Q: Are PYO operations that sell produce considered essential retail operations or non-essential (the guidance refers to non-essential operations needing to limit their capacity, but I thought food was considered essential)?
A: Farms provide critical services and selling food is critical retail. In other words, those services are essential. However, PYO operations are distinct in that they may bring many consumers together on farms for self-harvest. Moreover, farms may choose to otherwise harvest and sell their crops. Given their unique role, PYO operations are expected to follow the non-essential retail guidance and AAFM’s PYO guidance. PYO operations are open and welcomed but have a modified set of rules designed to fit their unique character.
Q: Is there any funding available to help farms comply with this guidance?
A: There is no funding specific to supplementing PYO farm operations at this time. However, farms may be eligible for other COVID-19 related financial assistance opportunities. Please visit our website at https://agriculture.vermont.gov/covid-19-information/grants-loans-relief-payments to learn more, and contact AGR.CovidResponse@vermont.gov with any questions about financial assistance resources.
Q: Are there plans to revisit this guidance at a certain point to update the PYO guidance for apple orchards?
A: We do not have a specific timeline for reviewing the guidance, but the State is regularly evaluating all operations and will continue to make science-based decisions in light of evolving conditions. In the meantime, it is still helpful for VAAFM to receive feedback on the guidance so that when we have an opportunity to make changes, we have input from growers about how potential modifications could be most helpful to your operation. Please send questions and feedback about this guidance to AGR.CovidResponse@vermont.gov or 802-585-6225.
Q: How are other Vermont PYO operations adapting their operations to meet this guidance?
A: To learn more about the different approaches that some farms are taking to reduce risk, please visit the Sector Guidance: Pick-Your-Own webpage to watch a recorded webinar offered by NOFA-VT in partnership with Vermont farmers, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, and UVM Extension to help growers plan adjustments to their u-pick operations in summer 2020. On this webpage, you’ll also find a variety of resources that might be helpful to you when you are planning for the new season, including PYO best practices, printable sign templates, resources for building low-cost handwashing stations, and more.
Q: I’m feeling confused about this guidance. Who can I call to learn more?
A: Please contact AGR.CovidResponse@vermont.gov or (802) 585-6225.