IMPERIAL COUNTY — Imperial County farmers work year-round to produce crops for the United States and 94 other countries, according to the 2018 Imperial County Crop Report. The weather in in Imperial County is unique because it allows farmers to yield different crops throughout the entire year, whereas most places are subject to shorter seasons.
Through the spread of COVID-19 federal, state, and local governments are closing departments, restricting access to specific locations, cancelling events, and encouraging the public to practice social distancing in efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
Currently, several Imperial County restaurants are offering limited services, restricting dine-in access. County departments are limiting their services to online, telephone, or appointment only. Imperial County Office of Education has closed all public schools and Imperial Valley College is on a level two closure, restricting campus access to students with clinicals or labs.
Imperial County Agriculture is also experiencing changes. However, according to Imperial County Farm Bureau Executive Director, Brea Mohamed, local farmers are continuing to work through the COVID-19 challenges to provide food for Imperial County residents and the rest of the nation.
“Agriculture is still working to feed our communities, here locally as well as on the state and national level. The entire food distribution chain from the farmer or rancher to the retailer and everyone in between are working diligently to meet the increased demands of consumers and get food and farm products to market,” said Mohamed.
Mohamed explained the importance of maintaining a fast-paced work environment despite COVID-19.
“Feeding our communities, state, and country is our passion and mission, and in tough times like these, that really shines. We have been proactive in adjusting our daily activities to keep our employees safe during this time while also supplying a safe and plentiful food supply,” said Mohamed.
According to Mohamed, the local farmers have made changes to accommodate and protect their employees while also maintaining a steady supply of produce for the nation.
"Employers are taking measures to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Many of the recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus are things that we are already doing on the farm for food safety purposes, like hand washing and disinfecting. Additionally, the idea of social distancing isn’t anything new for our industry. While in a field or working in a feedlot, many of the day to day operations easily allow for social distancing," said Mohamed.
Mohamed also explained how essential agriculture is during the pandemic.
"Farming and food processing are hands-on industries in which workers cannot work remotely. Our workforce is critical in this time to ensure that we are able to continue harvesting, processing, and transporting food to feed the nation. Agriculture has been deemed essential to the US food supply chain during the coronavirus pandemic. So, our farms and ranches are able to continue to put food on the tables of Americans, even while much of the rest of the State is ordered to stay at home," said Mohamed.
Despite President Donald Trump's border closure, agricultural employees from Mexicali will still be able to attend work.
"President Donald Trump announced today, Friday, March 20, that the US and Mexico have agreed to temporarily close the border to nonessential travel to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Agriculture employees are deemed Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers as per the US Department of Homeland Security," said Mohamed. "Thus, the closure does not apply to agricultural employees. Our employees who live across the border can continue to come to work every day, and they take pride in the role that they are playing in this crisis."
Mohamed encouraged Imperial County residents to show appreciation for those who have been identified as essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
"In this time especially, it is important for us all to appreciate the hard work and dedication exhibited by every employee of these essential critical infrastructure industries, including our farmers, ranchers, agricultural employees, and everyone else who is helping put food on our table during this hard time we find ourselves in," said Mohamed.