By Kevin Walker
LANSING, Mich. – “In a year of unforeseen challenges, we have discovered the power of unity,” said Dorothy Pelanda, director of the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture. “Seven of us, with one goal,” said Ryan Quarles, commissioner of the Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture. “The food and agriculture industry has shown remarkable resilience during the pandemic,” said Bruce Kettler, director of the Indiana Dept. of Agriculture. “Wear a mask, it’s such a simple step,” said Gary McDowell, director of the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).
These were among the messages put out by seven different state departments of agriculture late last month in a video release, all in an effort to shore up and encourage the sort of public health mitigation efforts that state governments have been promoting since the beginning of the covid-19 crisis. The states include Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kentucky. In a followup interview with McDowell last week, the MDARD director said that all seven of the ag department heads putting out a collective message could have a “more positive impact and we think it’s working. Michigan is well positioned now. I applaud our governor, she’s really been out front with all this.”
The ag leaders emphasized that washing hands, using hand sanitizer, social distancing and wearing masks will help keep the region’s food supply chain strong. And they thanked the region’s ag workers for doing their best to keep things safe.
McDowell acknowledged that not everyone has been in favor of the mask requirements and other mandates undertaken by Gov. Whitmer, including massive business shutdowns that helped drive the state’s unemployment rate to historic levels last year. “It’s a mixed bag,” he stated. “It became really political; some people support the measures, some people don’t.”
The Michigan Farm Bureau’s Manager of Agricultural and Farm Safety Services Craig Anderson said there is a good deal of “fatigue” out there with regard to covid-19 rules and mitigation measures in the farm worker community. “Certainly there’s fatigue out there and that fatigue extends from different messages getting sent out from basically the same source over time. It puts people in a questioning state,” he said. “Generally, most people are wearing masks. Even before covid, people in different ag positions often wore face coverings, anyhow. The fatigue that’s set in is a little difficult to overcome. There has also been inconsistent messaging from state and federal officials.”
According to Anderson, agricultural workers often ask if they have to wear a mask all the time if they are around other people on the job sometimes. This is where some of the fatigue sets in, he said. But he added, there is less resistance to mask wearing overall than there was last spring.
According to both McDowell and Anderson, the government is trying to get vaccines to inoculate against covid-19 into people’s arms as quickly as possible. Agricultural workers who are also front line workers, and other ag workers who have no choice but to continuously work near other people, are slated to get vaccinated beginning this week. Keweenaw Bee Co. proprietor Tom Rosemurgy last week described himself as being sort of “in the middle” when it comes to how people have reacted to covid-19 mitigation measures these past 10 months.
Rosemurgy lives in Houghton County in the Upper Peninsula and serves as the police chief in a nearby community. About a year ago he received a state grant to help him beef up his supply of bee hives. And, despite some setbacks to area businesses that have blown back on him, his honey business has been going well.
“We’ve got really three camps here. There are those who literally haven’t left their homes since mid-March – they’re scared to death. At the other extreme there are people who absolutely refuse to wear masks. Then there are those in the middle. I’m sort of in the middle,” he said. “My role is as a chief of police. I just want things to get back to normal.”
Rosemurgy said he has lost some 50 percent of his bulk sales to restaurants, due to their being closed down. And, for some reasons that are not entirely clear, Rosemurgy has had trouble getting enough glass and plastic ware to use as containers for his business, which he thinks could be due to hoarding. On the other hand, he hasn’t had trouble overall selling his honey and the product doesn’t go bad. “I can always sell my honey,” Rosemurgy said. “My goal is to get to the point where I don’t run out of honey.”
To view the video news release, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKV-ztj-kMw