Prepping for strawberry pickers: Local farm taking precautions during COVID-19 pandemic


MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — In about seven to 10 days, Rutherford Farms will host guests eager to get their hands on the yearly batch of sweet, homegrown strawberries. However, this year’s picking event will look a little different.

Owner of Rutherford Farms, Steve Rutherford, says as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold, he started to coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control, the Tennessee Department of agriculture, local government and other agencies to get in compliance with guidelines to ensure safety while people visit the farm and buy fresh produce.

With strawberry season being a very popular time for the farm, Rutherford has had to make some changes on how they conduct the strawberry extravaganza.

“We’ve talked about the 6-foot spacing between everybody and we can facilitate that because my strawberry rows are planted on 6-foot centers, so when we send folks to the field we’re going to have them one to an isle and all facing in the same direction.”

Maintaining the 6-foot rule is the key.

Getting innovative, Rutherford is ensuring the 6-feet rule when it comes to buying the berries, by placing a table in front of his stand–keeping that key distance between employees and guests.

Rutherford is also taking extra precautions when handling money.

After guests weigh their baskets, they will drop their money in boxes that are later sanitized.

“At the end of the day when we empty the money boxes — I will use plastic gloves  put the money into a bag. We’ll put Lysol in there and let it sit for another three days.”

If people need money back, Rutherford says they will use money exclusively from the bank that they know has not been touched for three days to prevent transmitting the disease.

Farm harvesters are taking necessary precautions before handling the fruit, by conducting an assessment and are diligent about washing their hands — something they have already done for years.

One part of the business that will remain the same besides the berries is the range of prices.

Rutherford says he recognizes that times are tough, especially for people who may have been furloughed or laid off from a job due to COVID-19 repercussions, so his prices for strawberries will remain the same as they have been for the last several years.

Rutherford encourages families to partake in the strawberry picking, a great way to get some fresh air, but asks people to abide by their rules and to stay home if they are feeling ill.

“Yes, you can come out here, but remember if you’re coughing, have a fever, [or] think you might be a carrier; please, please don’t come until you’re over this. We’ll be glad to take care of you but leave your problems somewhere else.”

To find out when the strawberries will be ready to be harvested, click here.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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