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Like starting over: Farms that offer dining scramble amid pandemic

For the past several years a growing number of farmers have added on-farm dining opportunities, allowing customers to visit the farm, order a meal and sit down to enjoy that meal in a peaceful, rural setting.

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many farmers are being forced to find alternative ways to serve customers while keeping money coming into the farm.

With many of these farms opening their seasons this month, farmers are scrambling to sort out the details of how things are going to work, for at least the first few weeks of serving.

“We feel like, in some ways, we’re starting over,” said Marcy Smith, owner of The Stone Barn in Nelson, where they have offered wood-fired pizzas on weekends for 15 years. “There are so many unknowns, but we are preparing ourselves and preparing our staff.”

In previous years, The Stone Barn, S685 Highway KK, Nelson, has been open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from May through October. To start this year, they are offering carry-out only on Saturdays and Sundays.

Smith was hopeful people would make the drive to the farm for pizza, but she said many of their customers come from Eau Claire, Rochester, Minn., and the Twin Cities and are coming not only for the food but the atmosphere as well.

“We’ve had good response to our Facebook posts about our plans,” she said. “Sometimes that means they’ll come out, but it’s a long way to travel for takeout.”

Together Farms

This is the start of the third year of Burger Night on the Farm at Together Farms near Mondovi. Owner Stephanie Schneider said attendance at the year’s first Burger Night on the Farm the first weekend in May was a little disappointing, but attendance in May typically depends a lot on the weather and customers’ schedules prior to the Memorial Day weekend.

Together Farms, W93 Norden Road, Mondovi, is alternating weekends in May between offering burgers using their grass-fed beef on the farm and at the Brewing Projekt in Eau Claire, where they offer carryout from the food truck in the parking lot of the brewery.

Even with the additional dining options available in the city, Schneider said customers seem reluctant to come out due to concerns about COVID-19. However, she said, meat sales have been going well.

“With the weekends at the Brewing Projekt, it’s going OK. It’s doing well enough to pay the bills,” Schneider said. “But if things can’t fully open, I don’t know what the fate of burger night is.”

Schneider said Together Farms is following all Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection regulations for operating while the state’s safer-at-home restrictions are in place, but that it can be difficult to hash out exactly what rules are for an on-the-farm dining business.

Once restrictions begin to ease a bit, Schneider said she is hoping to provide options for diners to make sure they feel comfortable on the farm, even if it’s in limited numbers.

“If they want to wear masks; if they want to take their food to go; we put one of our picnic tables way up at the top of the hill, so you’re being very socially distant at that point,” Schneider said.

“We want to make sure everyone is comfortable and safe and give them options so they can manage their risks a little bit.”

Once restrictions ease a little bit more, Schneider is hopeful Together Farms can get back to offering bar access and music. For the time being, they are giving customers a voucher for future beer purchases with their orders.

“That’s our way of buying everyone a drink for sticking with us through this situation,” Schneider said. “Right now, the ‘together’ in Together Farms is missing.”

Suncrest Gardens Farm

Suncrest Gardens Farm, S2257 Yaeger Valley Road, Cochrane, has made pizza available to order in their online store and asked that orders be placed any time during the week before when the order would be picked up at the farm. Pizzas could be picked up near the barn or delivered to the customer’s car.

Suncrest Gardens Farm owner Heather Secrist said they had originally planned to only offer Saturday pickup, but demand was great enough that they added a Sunday option as well.

“We’re learning as we go and being kind of flexible,” Secrist said. “Being small and able to adjust on the fly is kind of an advantage.”

Secrist said taking orders all week allows them to make sure they have enough staff on hand to cover pizza-making responsibilities on the weekend, but it’s created a little more computer work than would be usual, having to follow up online orders with emails confirming pick-up times.

Another advantage of moving ordering online has been exposing customers to more of what the farm has to offer. As well as finding pizza in the online store, customers see the farm has soups, pasture-raised meats and fruits and vegetables available for sale.

“I’ve been looking for silver linings everywhere I can find them. It makes me feel better,” said Secrist, who has been offering pizza on the farm for 15 years. “This is a nice way to expose people to what we do best on the farm.”

At The Stone Barn in Nelson, Smith said they would be taking orders via email or allowing customers to call ahead or call in once they arrive at the farm. They would accept cash or checks, or people could pull up close to the barn, where they have a Wi-Fi signal, to pay with credit cards.

Hoping for the best

Smith said, in addition to pizzas, The Stone Barn does still plan to have ice cream available to go as well. Their pizzas are made using herbs grown on the farm and, Smith said, they try to source many of their other ingredients from nearby farmers.

“We are just trying to help everybody out as much as we can,” she said. “We’re all going through some difficult times.”

Despite restrictions and the uncertainty about how comfortable customers would be visiting the farm for carryout pizza, Smith said they were looking forward to offering the farm’s pizza for the summer again.

“We’re feeling a little anxious, but we’re ready to get going,” Smith said. “All we can do is hope for the best in a tough situation.”


National
AP centerpiece
Leaders seek some optimism amid pandemic

HOUSTON — As families marked Mother’s Day in a time of social distancing and isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaders balanced optimism they could loosen lockdowns that have left millions unemployed against the threat of a second wave of infections.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicted the American economy would rebound in the second half of this year from unemployment rates that rival the Great Depression. Another 3.2 million U.S. workers applied for jobless benefits last week, bringing the total over the last seven weeks to 33.5 million.

“I think you’re going to see a bounce-back from a low standpoint,” said Mnuchin, speaking on “Fox News Sunday.”

But the director of the University of Washington institute that created a White House-endorsed coronavirus model said the moves by states to re-open businesses “will translate into more cases and deaths in 10 days from now.” Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said states where cases and deaths are going up more than expected include Illinois, Arizona, Florida and California.

Many families faced their first Mother’s Day without loved ones lost in the pandemic. Others sent good wishes from a safe distance or through phone and video calls.

The virus has caused particular suffering for the elderly, with more than 26,000 deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to an Associated Press tally.

At a senior center in Smyrna, Ga., 73-year-old Mary Washington spoke to her daughter Courtney Crosby and grandchild Sydney Crosby through a window.

In Grafton, W.Va., where the tradition of Mother’s Day began 112 years ago, the brick building now known as the International Mother’s Day Shrine held its first online-only audience. Anna Jarvis first held a memorial service for her mother and all mothers on the second Sunday of May in 1908.

“Sheltered safely at home with the family together would be viewed by Anna Jarvis as exactly the way she wanted Mother’s Day to be observed,” said Marvin Gelhausen, chairman of the shrine’s board of trustees, in an address on YouTube.

Good wishes

Matilda Cuomo, the mother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, called into her son’s daily briefing so he and his three daughters could wish her a happy Mother’s Day.

“I am so blessed as many mothers today are,” she said.

Andrew Cuomo, whose state is the deadliest hot spot for the virus in the U.S., said he looked forward to getting back to normal. “We’re going to have fun, and then you can spend more time with me. I know I am your favorite,” he said in a playful dig at his siblings.

He also announced two policy reversals a day after an Associated Press report in which residents’ relatives, watchdog groups and politicians from both parties alleged he was not doing enough to counter the surge of deaths in nursing homes, where about 5,300 residents have died. Nursing home staff in New York will now have to undergo COVID-19 tests twice a week and facilities will no longer be required to take in hospital patients who were infected.

The U.S. has seen 1.3 million infections and nearly 80,000 deaths, the most in the world by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, 4 million people have been reported infected and more than 280,000 have died, over half of them in Europe, according to Johns Hopkins.

Modest easing in U.K.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a modest easing of the country’s coronavirus lockdown but urged citizens not to surrender the progress already made. The country has recorded the most virus deaths in Europe at over 31,900.

Those in the construction or manufacturing industries or other jobs that can’t be done at home “should be actively encouraged to go to work” this week, he said. Johnson, who has taken a tougher line after falling ill himself with what he called “this devilish illness,” set a goal of June 1 to begin re-opening schools and shops if the U.K. can control new infections and the transmission rate of each infected person.

“We will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity,” he said. “We’re going to be driven by the science, the data, and public health.”

Nations’ numbers

Germany, which managed to push new infections below 1,000 daily before deciding to loosen restrictions, has seen regional spikes in cases linked to slaughterhouses and nursing homes. Health officials say the number of people each confirmed virus patient infects rose above 1 again, reflecting a renewed increase in cases. The number must be below 1 for outbreaks to decline.

France is letting some younger students go back to school Monday after almost two months out. Attendance won’t be compulsory right away. Residents of some Spanish regions will be able to enjoy limited seating at bars, restaurants and other public places Monday, but Madrid and Barcelona, the country’s largest cities, will remain shut down.

China, where the virus was first detected, reported 14 new cases Sunday, its first double-digit rise in 10 days. Eleven of 12 domestic infections were in the northeastern province of Jilin, prompting authorities to raise the threat level in one of its counties, Shulan, to high risk, just days after downgrading all regions to low risk.

Authorities said the Shulan outbreak originated with a 45-year-old woman who had no recent travel or exposure history but spread it to her husband, three sisters and other relatives. Train services in the county were suspended.

“Epidemic control and prevention is a serious and complicated matter, and local authorities should never be overly optimistic, war-weary or off-guard,” said Jilin Communist Party secretary Bayin Chaolu.

South Korea reported 34 more cases as new infections linked to nightclubs threaten its hard-won gains against the virus. It was the first time that South Korea’s daily infections were above 30 in about a month.


National
AP
Many must step away from virus news

NEW YORK — Heidi Van Roekel makes instructional art videos for YouTube when coronavirus news overwhelms her. Bill Webb takes his boat out. Stacy Mitchell searches her TV for something — anything — to make her laugh.

Paradoxically, Kevin Reed, a software designer from Kenmore, Washington, has binged “The Walking Dead” after turning off the news. He’d rather watch fake, flesh-eating zombies than a real-life pandemic.

It’s no surprise that news outlets are in demand with a story that directly affects so many people, whether they’ve gotten sick, lost jobs or are locked down at home. A Pew Research Center survey taken the third week of April found that 88 percent of Americans said they were following coronavirus news either very or fairly closely.

Yet that takes a toll. Pew also found that 71 percent of Americans said that they need to take breaks from the news. To watch something else. To do something else. To breathe a little.

“A week and a half ago I just had to throttle it down,” said Webb, a writer and consultant who lives in Sarasota, Fla. “I think you get overwhelmed by it. You’re sitting in your house and there’s nothing you can do about things.”

Mitchell, a consultant in human resources from Dayton, Ohio, said she watches the “Today” show in the morning, the network evening news and tries to catch her state’s governor, Mike DeWine, at least at the beginning of his regular briefings.

But she hit a wall.

“It was just COVID-19 overload,” Mitchell said. “I was very anxious. I had a full-blown anxiety attack and I decided that I was not going to watch more of that stuff.”

Follow the science

Science supports them. Roxane Cohen Silver, Dana Rose Garfin and E. Alison Holman, researchers at the University of California at Irvine who have been studying the affect of prolonged media exposure to bad news following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, wrote an article for Health Psychology magazine in February — before coronavirus was even on the radar for many Americans — warning of this effect.

People who watch too much can have nightmares, feelings of anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, Silver said. In the long run, they’re more likely to report cardiovascular disorders.

Some people who consumed a heavy diet of news about the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 were actually more stressed out than people on the scene, the researchers found.

“The news is distressing,” Silver said. “There are not many uplifting stories. It’s the repetitive bad news that is so draining.”

On and on

The pandemic story is particularly difficult because it’s not a single event that fades with time. There’s no telling how long it will go on. Because of unemployment and stay-at-home orders, more people have time to follow it.

That’s precisely what is happening with Jose Moreno, of San Antonio, a caretaker for his elderly mother. The news makes him overthink, he said.

“When I leave the house, I’m wondering, ‘Am I doing something that I shouldn’t be doing?’ It’s a lot of stress,” he said.

Some news organizations recognize the impact of a steady diet of sobering news and have sought ways to offer relief.

CBS News reporter Steve Hartman, with his regular “On the Road” series grounded, is “teaching” an online class in kindness. On the other side of the world, the Sydney Morning Herald and other Australian newspapers hunt for stories to fit their “Good News Initiative.”

Light touch

During a meeting with fellow editors at The Associated Press one morning in March, running down a particularly distressing list of the day’s stories, Sally Stapleton offered some light in the dark clouds.

She promoted a story about a homebound woman in Norway who asked people on Facebook to send birthday greetings to her children, and people all over the world did. A college student sent home to New York after classes were suspended organized 1,300 volunteers in three days to shop and make deliveries for shut-ins.

The stories got such a positive reaction that “One Good Thing” is now a daily feature. AP journalists all over the world compete to have a story included.

“I just think it’s news,” said Stapleton, global religion editor. “These stories are everywhere, all the time. Mostly we ignore them. This is not a time to ignore them.”

Fox News has similarly collected more than 700 television and online stories showing resiliency under the “America Together” banner. The featured articles have received more than 25 million page views.

“If you’re in a position to spread these stories that warm the heart at a time when there is uncertainty, sadness and fear, I think it’s our obligation to do so,” said Fox News anchor Dana Perino.

News reports

Even people who need to step away from the tough news recognize that it’s essential.

Lucretia King, a private tutor from San Joaquin County in California, has lost her job since the outbreak began. But her husband and son both work, so she follows the news and texts them if there’s anything they need to know urgently.

UCal-Irvine’s Silver stays informed by reading online news sites in the morning and evening, and gets notifications during the day. She said she watches no television.

She doesn’t expect many others will avoid TV altogether — her husband and son certainly don’t — but recommends against keeping the TV or news radio on constantly in the background.

“People should make a conscious effort to monitor their exposure,” Silver said.

Van Roekel, a stay-at-home mom from Los Alamos, N.M., said she limits her exposure to national news to four days a week, and makes sure she stays away from social media before bedtime.

She said her husband has been catching up with old sitcoms and she loves actor John Krasinski’s YouTube series, “Some Good News.” Mitchell and her husband have watched Disney’s “Avengers” movies. King checks out home makeovers on HGTV.

Everyone has a personal stress relief valve.

“You’ve got to take a break for your mental health,” Van Roekel said.