A half dozen people wear orange plastic gloves and keep their distance from each other as they harvest lettuce, kale, beets and other crops at the UC Davis Student Farm. Their bounty will help feed the Davis community in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Like everyone else, we’re trying to respond as best we can in these uncertain times,” says Katharina Ullmann, Student Farm director, taking a break from the day’s harvest.
Most operations at UC Davis have been suspended in response to California’s stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the infectious disease. Ullmann and a small, essential crew of staff and student employees work carefully to tend fields that feed local groups and provide a place where students can experience sustainable agriculture.
“As of right now, the FDA says there’s no evidence COVID-19 is a food-borne illness, so we feel comfortable at this time continuing to provide food for the community,” Ullman explains. “We’ve instated heightened health and safety measures to minimize risk of transmission. No one is coming out here if they show any signs of illness, of course, and we have strict rules for washing hands for at least 20 seconds.”
Also, the crew all wear single-use gloves, stay at least six feet apart and sanitize every tool and surface that people touch.
About 120 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscribers benefit from the farm’s harvest, as do groups that support students like the UC Davis Dining Services and the ASUCD Pantry and Aggie Compass – the Basic Needs Center.
“I truly apricate the commitment of everyone at the Student Farm to keep things going during this insane time,” wrote one grateful CSA subscriber in an email last week. “I know I am better prepared to ward off the virus if I am eating super fresh, healthy vegetables!”
Ullmann can’t predict what operations will look like in the coming weeks and months. Like other universities in California, UC Davis will conduct classes online this spring, which will no doubt impact the number of students who are able to learn-by-doing at the Student Farm.
“We usually enroll 60 to 90 student interns each quarter who all work at the Student Farm. Given that we’ll be moving some of our programming online, we don’t know yet how many students will be able to participate,” Ullman says. “We’ll have a clearer picture in the next couple weeks.”
In the meantime, a skeleton crew will harvest spring crops, plant summer vegetables and share their produce with the Davis community.
“We’re grateful we can still be out here farming,” Ullman says, turning to join her crew in the field. “Food unites us.”