Keene’s one and only farm stand is open right on schedule this season.
Green Wagon Farm put out its first produce for sale June 16, having taken all of the necessary precautions to do so safely.
“We knew we had several months to prepare,” said Kaisa Jarrell, who operates the farm with her father, Bill, from June through October; the farm has been in business for 27 years.
When the pandemic arrived, she and her father were the only ones working at the farm — in the greenhouse seeding, doing mechanical work on tractors, etc. The farmland is split into two different locations – Court Street in Keene as well as fields and greenhouses in Surry. During the winter and early spring, the majority of their time is spent in Surry tending to seedlings in the greenhouses.
In addition to the part-time farm stand crew of five to six people, the farm has participated in the H2-A program, a visa program that allows for foreign workers to do seasonal agricultural work, for 11 years. Crew members come from Jamaica. Every year they work and live here during the farm season.
“Travel was a major concern [this year],” Jarrell said. “We were lucky to get the field crew here a week early.”
When they arrived, they were in quarantine for two weeks but allowed to do outdoor activities, just not in the greenhouse.
“They are here, happy and healthy,” Jarrell said. “I check in with them often.”
The farm has been working full steam growing its more than 40 seasonal fruit and vegetable crops, starting with strawberries this month. They base what they grow a lot on customer feedback. This year, Jarrell grew more sunflowers as opposed to her larger mixed bunches because they are more affordable. She also grew more basil plants this year.
“People are doing a lot more home gardening,” she said. The farm stand is always at the mercy of the weather. “We’re preparing ourselves,” she said.
Among the changes at Green Wagon this year are increased indoor tomato production, thanks to a grant received last year from ARCS to rebuild and expand a couple of the farm’s tomato greenhouses.
“We can [harvest] them earlier and they are protected,” Jarrell said. “There’s no spraying and we’ll have them longer because they are in the protective environment. It’s easier to control.”
The farm has also beefed up its onion production. And in addition to strawberries early on, the farm sells root veggies at the stand and to the Monadnock Food Co-op.
“It’s a great storage crop,” Jarrell said. “Come fall, people will want to stock up on things like that. They don’t want to run out of food.”
Jarrell is referring to the second wave of the pandemic, which is rumored to arrive this autumn. As far as the first wave of the pandemic goes… the farm stand has it covered. The stand updates what produce is available every day on Instagram and a page was added to its website (thegreenwagonfarm.com) detailing its COVID safety plan.
Among the new guidelines are to stay home if you’re sick, first of all. When customers arrive, they are asked to maintain social distance, aided with signs placed six-feet apart when waiting in line. Signs mark the place to enter and exit the stand as well as guide customers to avoid touching what they don’t intend to buy — a staff member can help, if needed.
New cleaning and sanitizing protocols have been put in place at the farm for stand staff and field crew that will always be employed going forward, and a hand-washing station was added for customers. Of course, employees wear cloth masks (with farm stand motifs sewn by Jarrell’s aunt, a seamstress).
Another significant addition to the stand this year is the acceptance of both credit cards and SNAP/EBT benefits as payment; the machine that accepts the SNAP/EBT payments was paid for with money from the Cheshire County Conservation District. It’s the first year at the stand for both, and cash and checks are still accepted. Also, this year marks the first time the stand won’t sell or accept reusable shopping bags, although recyclable items (boxes, paper bags, etc.) are used.
As most other local merchants have reduced their hours during the pandemic, Green Wagon Farm closes at 2 p.m. on Sundays as opposed to its normal 5 p.m. The current COVID-19 safety plan may change and/or evolve during the season depending on the progression of the pandemic and any state mandates, as outlined on the Green Wagon Farm website.
In the event that the stand becomes too crowded, which Jarrell anticipates following the corn harvest in August, the number of people allowed at the stand at one time may be limited and people asked to wait in their vehicles.
“Since we’ve updated, there hasn’t been an issue,” Jarrell said. “People follow the flow of traffic and they are in and out.”
She added that so far, nearly 100 percent of customers wear a mask while shopping and checking out.
“I feel everybody is banding together and they have been very complimentary about how we’ve set things up,” she said. “It’s humbling.”
Other than wearing a mask, Jarrell has one more request from customers: “I hope everyone will do a rain dance.”